Game 7: Lakers 83, Celtics 79

LOS ANGELES — Earlier this season, Lakers owner Jerry Buss referred to them simply as “our rival,” unable even to utter the words “Boston” and “Celtics.” Buss said he could not wait for the Lakers to win three more championships and move past Boston for most in NBA history.

The Lakers came into Game 7 of the 2010 NBA Finals with 15 titles to Boston’s 17.

After a remarkably intense, physical and dramatic do-or-die game Thursday night, Buss and the Lakers have consecutive championships and are just one away from matching the Celtics. The Lakers prevailed, 83-79, despite trailing by 13 points early in the third quarter — somehow finding their proper blend of effort and savvy at the season’s most critical point.

In those final minutes of the season, the Lakers finally found their poise, played with passion but patience, and put the Celtics on their heels and then in their graves.

The intensity was such that even the Lakers’ usual rock, Kobe Bryant, was frenetic from the start. He was rushing as much as all his teammates and was so scattered that the Staples Center crowd took to chanting “Ko-be!” for a much different reason than usual. With 9:00 left and the Lakers down, 59-55, Lakers fans were hoping to inspire him for change … and Bryant did immediately produce three free throws for a tie score on one of his old moves of swinging his shot into the outstretched hand of defender Ray Allen.

Before that, though, there was Bryant’s flighty teammate Lamar Odom yelling at Bryant after he stuck a jumper out of a timeout after starting the game 3 of 17 from the field: “C’mon!” Shortly thereafter, there was Bryant’s mother, sitting courtside, looking over to a friend after Bryant just fumbled the ball away without any defense near him and saying: “I can’t believe it.” She did not mean just that one play.

Allen answered Bryant’s three free throws with a 3-pointer after missing eight of his first nine shots. But the Lakers kept crawling back with swarming effort on defense. When Derek Fisher canned a 3-pointer with 6:12 to play after Pau Gasol missed two free throws, the game was reset to 64-64.

Bryant was plowed getting the next rebound and hit two free throws for a 66-64 Lakers lead. Then he swished a 17-footer from the right side — going to one of his pet shots, the drifting-right jumper from near the right elbow, for a 68-64 lead.

Finally pushing the boulder high enough on Celtics mountain to take the lead was re-energizing for the Lakers … and frightening for Boston.

The Celtics were trying to run through the three teams with the best records in the NBA in the regular season. After Boston downing Cleveland and Orlando, they pushed the Lakers to the limit. The Celtics managed to rattle the Lakers’ two stars most of the last night, but their execution finally got close to their will toward the end.

Gasol (18 rebounds) and Bryant (15) helped the Lakers to 53 rebounds in a series where every game was won by the team with more boards. Boston as a team had just 37 rebounds in Game 7.

Gasol had 19 points on 6-of-16 shooting, and Bryant had 23 on 6-of-24 shooting. The ugly numbers wound up pretty enough.

Gasol hit a monumental shot on a double-clutch layup that crawled over the rim for a 76-70 Lakers lead with 1:30 left — a shot he doesn’t make if the 2008 NBA Finals loss to Boston doesn’t drive him into the weight room. Gasol also came up with a powerful offensive rebound of Bryant’s miss after that — then passed to Bryant for him to sink two free throws with 25.7 seconds left, giving the Lakers an 81-76 lead.

Boston, playing without starting center Kendrick Perkins because of his right-knee injury, got 11 points from fill-in Rasheed Wallace — and double-figure scoring from the four other starters. But 2008 Finals MVP Paul Pierce (18 points on 5-of-15 shooting) failed to carry Boston’s offense down the stretch.

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