Bryant, Lakers finish off Magic in five games for 15th championship
After his jump shot cleared the outstretched hand of
Equal parts respected and reviled, Bryant finally emerged from
"It felt like a big old monkey was off my back," Bryant said. "It felt so good to be able to have this moment. We tried not to envision it too much because you just get too excited. You try not to think about it, just think about playing the game, and for this moment to be here and to reflect back on the season and everything that you've been through, it's the top of the list, man."
After winning his 10th title, Lakers coach
"I'll smoke a cigar tonight in memory of Red," Jackson said after the Lakers received their championship trophy.
The Lakers, whether they were led by
Jackson returned a year later, and the Lakers made the Finals in 2008, where they fell to Boston in six games. This year, the Lakers nearly mirrored last year's Celtics, winning the first two at home, dropping Game 3 on the road and storming back from a seemingly insurmountable deficit to win Game 4. The only difference? The Lakers didn't need a sixth game.
The Magic led for most of Sunday's first quarter, and they had a 40-36 lead in the second before Lakers guard
Bryant scored a game-high 30 points and finished with a 32.4-point average for the Finals.
The Magic will be left wondering what might have happened had Howard made either of two free throws with 11.1 seconds remaining in Game 4 or if Van Gundy had ordered them to foul immediately after those missed free throws. Instead, Fisher drilled a three-pointer to force overtime. Later, Fisher hit another three to seal the win, and Van Gundy lamented his decision to avoid a free-throw-shooting contest. "That'll haunt me forever," Van Gundy said after Game 4.
If the Magic make prudent moves this offseason, they have the nucleus to return to the Finals next year. Howard will be just 24, and the Magic should have plenty of talent around him. "Certainly Orlando is very capable of coming back to the Finals," Jackson said Sunday. Jackson's team may have provided the motivation the Magic will need to return. Shortly after the game, Howard chatted with point guard
But the Lakers wanted it more. As Fisher dribbled out the clock, Bryant turned and pumped both fists. Seconds later, the Lakers piled into a group hug. Bryant stood in the middle of it all.
"I just don't have to hear that criticism, that idiotic criticism, anymore," Bryant said of never having won a title without Shaq. "That's the biggest thing. I don't have to hear that stuff anymore. ... It feels like I'm dreaming right now. I can't believe this moment is here."