The season is over and if you are a Magic fan, the offseason will provide sleepless nights playing the “what if” game. If you are a Laker fan, you are ecstatic and saying this is about redemption, experience and us having one of the best players in the history of the game in Kobe Bryant and the best coach ever in Phil Jackson.
The Lakers proved that, despite many opportunities given to the opposition, they are indeed the best team this year. I disagree with Stan Van Gundy on the experience factor. Van Gundy said experience meant nothing and that it’s just basketball. Experience played a huge factor in this series. Had it been a non-factor, Orlando would be headed back to Los Angeles with a 3-2 lead in the series.
Let’s play the “what if" game...
- The Magic do not miss five out of six free throws in the third and fourth quarter when they had the lead.
- The Magic do not turn the ball over three times with a two-point lead late in the game.
- Courtney Lee makes one of his two blown layups in Game 2.
- Hedo Turkoglu makes one of his four missed free throws in the 4th Quarter
- Dwight Howard makes one of his two free throws with 11 seconds left, giving the Magic a four-point lead.
- Jameer Nelson is not in the game in favor of Courtney Lee to defend Derek Fisher on his game-tying shot.
I look at those mistakes and say it is all about experience and that is why the Lakers in my estimation beat a more talented team.
Game 5 was the perfect example of lack of experience. A veteran team would not quit fighting because they were down 3-1 in a series like Orlando did last night.
So if I am Van Gundy, I would eat those words and preach this whole offseason about the experience of getting so far and losing against a team that lost in the same fashion the previous year and beat us the next year based on experience.
The Lakers, on the other hand, showed the experience, confidence and leadership needed to finally win their 15th title. Kobe Bryant can finally kick that elephant off his back. The one thing I love about Kobe is that he can never say he did not try hard at anything. I heard stories about how he never went out on the road as a young player and watched hours of video tape. I heard during the Olympics that he flew to Vegas around 6 am one morning and asked Blazers head coach Nate McMillan to work him out at 9 am. Nate had to stop the workout and inform Kobe they had 30 minutes to get to a meeting. It was 1:30 pm. That’s the beauty of being great and only experience teaches you that. Remember, Kobe was working out this hard after just finishing a grueling series against the Boston Celtics.
I will admit that I am not a Laker fan, but I am a Kobe Bryant and Phil Jackson fan. When I look at those two individuals, I marvel about how focused, determined and smart they are. Kobe probably is the most committed and intelligent athlete ever. We sometimes get too caught up in his basketball genius, but is there a more informative and thought-provoking interviewee in sports?
He has just done something in my mind that only Hakeem Olajuwon has done and that is put a team on his back throughout the playoffs and win a championship. I have always been a Kobe fan, but now I definitely believe he will go down as one of the Top 5 players ever.
I have repeatedly said over the last five years that Phil Jackson is the best coach of all time. He handles players better than any coach I have ever seen. I get tired of pundits who say he had Jordan, Shaq and Kobe. Well, you must remember there were coaches who also had those three and did not win. The man is a brilliant coach and in my estimation his 10 NBA titles will stand forever as a record.
I can honestly say that if he were coaching the Orlando Magic, they would be celebrating today and that’s just how good he is.
I will not finish this article without giving props to Pau Gasol and Trevor Ariza. They were tremendous when needed. Gasol was physical defensively and productive on the offensive end. Ariza won the series with his 13-point outburst in the third quarter of Game 4 and his defense on Hedo Turkoglu was impressive.
So although I picked the Magic in six games, I have to admit the Lakers showed toughness, commitment and, most importantly, a desire to win despite of the roadblocks in their way.
This will go down as one of the best playoffs ever. The Bulls-Celtics series was a classic. The Rockets showed how good they could be despite not having Tracy McGrady and Yao Ming.
The Magic win in Boston Garden over the Celtics and the close games in the Cavalier series were must-see TV. I will miss the debates and tension I have experienced the last two months, but I look forward to going through it all over again in 2009-10.
One thing is for certain... The Los Angeles Lakers are NBA champions for the 15th time in franchise history and this one will be remembered as the best because Kobe Bryant proved once and for all that he can put a team on his back and reach the promise land only reserved for the greatest players ever.