I didn’t get to see Game 7 live. One of the tragedies of these 2010 NBA Finals has been the scheduling – in the Land Downunder, not one Finals game was played on a Saturday or a Sunday. Very frustrating. I followed the game on the play-by-play, and later that afternoon I read all the recaps and post-game articles.

I read all the stories of Ron’s redemption and his best-on-court performance in Game 7.

I read all the stories of how Gasol exorcised the demons of 2008, and how he has now permanently shredded the “soft” tag that haunted him for so long.

I read all the stories on Kobe Bryant, how his nightmare Game 7 shooting almost cost the Lakers a championship against their arch rivals. The stories on Kobe cementing his legacy as the greatest Laker ever, his legacy which now bears one more title than Shaq and Duncan. I even read the stories of those insisting Kobe had somehow tarnished his legacy with this selfish performance, how he wasn’t deserving of the Finals MVP, how this Game 7 should forever end the comparisons between himself and Michael Jordan.

And after reading all that, I sat down and watched Game 7.

Was Artest really the best player on the floor? Did Gasol really deserve the Finals MVP? How many bad shots did Kobe really take in this game? The answers are in my Game 7 diary.

1st Quarter

9:41 - Sheed has made his second straight jump shot, a perfect start for Boston who’s fans were wondering how they’d cope without Perkins. My prediction of Sheed being the game-breaker was looking good at this point. My prediction about his blow to the Celtics rebounding department was also coming true – they were getting murdered on the boards, defensive and offensive. The Lakers had already had 6 offensive rebounds by this point!

8:18 – Kobe takes his first shot and misses. Over the first five minutes of this game Kobe is feeling out the defense, looking to get his teammates involved. Celtics throwing double teams at him and Kobe is passing out of them nicely. He looks like he’s reading the game well.

7:24 – Rondo makes his second straight bucket and is looking really switched on. The light goes off in my head that he could very well be the Finals MVP if the Celtics win (which of course I know they didn’t, but this is a retro-diary remember, so I will stay in present tense thank you)

6:54 - Kobe takes his first questionable shot of the game. Lots of over-dribbling, ending in a double-teamed fade away jump shot from the corner. On the next possession he again draws a double-team, but passes to Gasol who scores.

4:55 - Fisher drains a jump shot off an Artest assist, via Kobe. Another example of Kobe reading his double-team nicely (this time a triple-team).

3:53 – Rondo throws a perfect alley-oop pass to KG. Celtics are up by 4 and have successfully taken the crowd out of it. It’s exactly what you want to do in a Game 7. Other than the poor rebounding, this has been a perfect start for Boston.

2:01 – Kobe’s 2nd questionable shot of the game. A pull-up three early in the offense, the kind of shots that drive coaches crazy. There was no need for Kobe to shoot it, especially when the Lakers offense is looking a lot more dangerous running through Gasol. And they’re clearly making a conscious effort of running most plays through Gasol.

0:13 - Kobe’s third questionable shot of this game, a falling away corner jump shot while being double teamed. At this point Kobe is 1-7 and is clearly struggling, but you can’t say he’s playing terribly. He’s tried to get others involved and could have easily ended up with 4-5 assists at this point if the Lakers were shooting well. You also have to credit the Celtics defense, notably Ray Allen who has done a fantastic job so far.

First quarter ends with the Lakers down 23-14. Not the start Phil Jackson would have envisaged.

2nd Quarter

11:11 - Odom gets fouled and goes to the line. The Lakers are shooting a stunningly bad 25% from the field, but it doesn’t feel that way because of their rebounding effort. Lamar converts one and the Lakers are down 23-17.  Kobe heads to the bench.

10:17 - Artest muscles his way inside to get an offensive board and put-back, making it 23-19. Ariza wouldn’t have been able to do that.

8:48 – Kobe came back in at the 9:22 mark, and makes an instant impact with a great feed to Gasol who scores, cutting it to 23-21. The Lakers offense actually looked like it was moving better during the two minutes Kobe was off the court. You get the feeling Kobe needed to see that and get his head straight before coming back into the game.

Worth noting that at this stage both teams are shooting horribly, but the defense is stellar. I don’t remember watching a Finals game featuring two sides defending this well since Spurs-Pistons in 2005. It is tough, physical, blanketing defense, and thankfully the referees have adjusted and are letting it play out at a nice pace. About time.

8:22 – Artest makes the steal and layup to level the scores at 23-23. It’s a 9-0 run for the Lakers and Artest has lead that charge. He is the best player of the game so far. The crowd is getting into it and the Celtics haven’t made a shot for five minutes. The game looks ready to explode in the Lakers favor.

7:41 - Kobe’s 4th questionable shot. He slipped while dribbling and had to heave it from three-point range – in fairness he had to shoot it because the shot-clock was winding down. But as has been the story so far, Artest wins the offensive rebound and scores for 25-23 lead. One of those bad shots that’s quickly erased, thankfully for Kobe.

6:36 – Ray misses a wide open three. Like, wide open.  Ray continues to make Game 2 look like the biggest fluke in NBA Finals history. He’s also looking a little tired, understandably so when you consider all the screens he has to run around and the fact he’s chasing Kobe at the other end. Which reminds me, where is Tony Allen? Wasn’t even sure he’d been on the court till I checked the play-by-play. Zero impact from Tony so far.

6:22 - Gasol misses an open jump shot after a nice feed from Kobe. Not trying to be all pro-Kobe, but he could have easily had 5+ assists by now.

5:20 - Lakers now shooting 28% and only down 2. Jeff Van Gundy says this is “unheard of”.

4:53 – Kobe drives hard into KGs body to draw the foul. Don’t remember the last time I saw him deliberately barrel into a player that hard searching for a foul- usually he tries to finesse that finish at the rim and get the and-1.  Tonight he’s not bothered with finessing.

3:55 - Artest makes a big three to tie the game at 29-29. Yes, neither team has hit 30 yet.

3:05 – Wallace blocks Gasol. He’s been defending him superbly all night, as I expected. This is one of the reasons I’m rooting for Sheed to win his second ring, because the guy is unappreciated. Charles Barkley once said that Rasheed Wallace “might be the greatest player of all time”. Charles Barkley is also an idiot, but I understood what point he was trying to make. As a Power Forward, Sheed has every skill you’d want. A beautiful post game, the ability to stretch the floor and shoot from distance, and a terrific one-on-one defender. When he puts it all together – which admittedly hasn’t happened for a while – it’s a thing of beauty. As a Pistons fan I can tell you, I’ve watched him absolutely school Tim Duncan, Garnett, Dirk, Amare, Gasol… you name it. A second ring for Sheed would cement his legacy as one of the best power forwards of the last decade, and that is a reputation that he deserves.

2:34 - Kobe rattles in a long J after a nice pump fake on Ray. He’s 2-11. Shooting poorly without question, but overall still making an impact on this game and bobbing up when he needs to. Lakers down 33-31

2:10 – Sheed banks in another turnaround jump shot over Gasol. Undefendable.

1:43 - Pierce hits a 3 and just like that the Celtics are back up 7, 38-31.

1:22 - Pierce and Artest get tangled under the rim, and Sheed comes over to place peacemaker. Now I’ve seen it all.

34.1 -I take that back. Scalabrine checks in. Now I’ve seen it all.

13.0 – Kobe’s 5th questionable shot of the game. Takes a sideways-moving three while trying to draw foul on Ray. Refs didn’t make the call and Kobe is now 3-14. Worth noting that Gasol is 3-12 at this point, and with himself and Kobe shooting a combined 6-26 you’d say they’re lucky to be down 6 points at the half. Celtics lead40-34.

Hard to choose a Finals MVP at this point, even though Kobe is still marginally in front. No one has taken over this game yet. I’m liking where the Celtics are, but thanks to the Lakers continually punishing them on the boards you get the sense it’s just a matter of time before they slowly take over.  Twenty-four minutes left to decide the 2010 NBA Champ.

3rd Quarter

11:47 – Rondo to KG again. Celtics up 8, and these two reading each other beautifully.

11:29 - Artest cleans up the offensive glass again and scores for his 14th point. He leads all Lakers.

10:59 - Ray Allen misses again and is just 1-7 from the field. He is playing terrrible.

10:36 - Kobe takes a very long three and bricks it. Not a questionable shot because he was relatively open and we know Kobe can hit those.  But it is a sign of how difficult it is for Kobe to get good looks, when his best bet is a 28-foot three.

10:25 - KG scores and is fouled. He sinks the free throw to give Boston a 9-point lead. Crowd getting nervous in Staples Center.

10:08 – Kobe’s 6th questionable shot of this game. Tries to shoot a long fadeaway over two defenders. These are makeable shots for Kobe, but they’re the kind of shots he usually takes/makes when he’s on a hot streak, i.e. fourth quarter of Game 6 against Phoenix. These are not smart shots when you’re trying to find some offensive rhythm.

9:47 – Rondo swoops into the lane and sinks a floater. Celtics offense just looking easier and their making better, quicker decisions. Their lead is at 11 and the Lakers call time-out.

Kobe is 3-16 at this point. Based on my questionable shot count, he should be a more respectable 3-10. Most of those other shots are good looks for Kobe. Also worth noting that Perkins injury is looking irrelevant at this point, thanks to Sheed’s quality play.

8:23 – Rondo offensive board and score, Celtics up 13. This game is one Celtics bucket away from becoming a blow-out. You can feel it.

6:55 – Gasol spins and lays it with left over Sheed. 49-41 Lakers. And just like that the Lakers are back in it. Crowd is fired up again.

6:29 - KG scores to respond. Celtics back up by 10. Again, Celtics offense just looking easier. I attribute a lot of that to Rondo. He really has become a true point guard in every sense. It is the one position on the floor where the Lakers are simply out-matched. If you think about it, winning a championship with Derek Fisher as your starting point guard at this stage of his career, without a serviceable backup PG, is pretty amazing.

5:38 – Lamar Odom is alive after all. He grabs a defensive board, runs the floor and dishes to Artest, then follows up Artest’s miss with the put-back. Lakers only down 6 and look like they’ve weathered the Celtics best shot.  Crowd going a little crazier. Lakers are staying in this game and it has nothing to do with what Kobe Bryant is doing.

4:47 - Pierce drains a massive eff-you three and the Celtics are back up 54-45. On the prior possession Kobe turns it over after jumping in the air and having no one to pass to. His body language isn’t good at this point – very frustrated, looking for someone to take the blame. On that occasion it was his fault only.

3:47 - Odom drives hard left to the hoop for a big bucket. Lakers back within 7, 54-47.

3:08 - Kobe gets inside to score his fourth field goal. He had driven and kicked to a wide-open Lamar Odom just seconds earlier but Odom turned down the shot. Kobe is 5-20 at this point. Seems to have tuned into the flow of the game a little better, and hasn’t taken a questionable shot for a good seven minutes. Lakers down 56-49.

2:06 - Big Baby grabs a board off Rondo’s  missed FT, only to have Artest wrestle it right out of his hands. Who else has the strength to do that?

Jeff Van Gundy – “This is one of the most poorly played games you’ll ever see, from an offensive stand point…and one of the hardest competing defensively at both ends that you’ll ever see”. Couldn’t agree more. That is exactly how you sum up this game in once sentence.

1:33 - Ray misses again and is now 1-9 from the field. Shannon Brown and D-Fish have been chasing him all night and he’s been chasing Kobe. The dude is just worn out.

1:10 – Odom gets another offensive board and put back, Lakers down 57-53. Lamar has been absolutely huge this quarter. This might be the most underrated 10 minutes of his career. I didn’t hear much at all about Lamar in all the post-game hoopla. His energy has been huge and it’s the kind of hustle and effort that the Lakers have desperately been waiting for from their bench. I for one didn’t think Lamar would play well in Game 7. He’s proving me wrong so far.

Celtics finish the quarter leading 57-53. It was a crazy quarter. Boston took the momentum early to lead by 13, and could have so easily stretched it to 17 or 18. But the Lakers just made big plays when they needed to – rebounds, steals, put-backs, you name it. Gasol, Artest and Odom leading the way for LA.

Kobe has been doing a great job on boards. People forget that Rajon Rondo is a rebounding threat, and when he gets offensive boards it usually results in a quick Celtics bucket. A lot of Kobe’s effort tonight has been spent keeping Rondo off the boards. A great lesson on how offensive-minded players can continue to make an impact on the game even when they’re shooting like crap. You see the same effort from Carmelo Anthony these days, who can pull down 12-15 rebounds when his shot isn’t falling. Kevin Durant did the same thing in Game 3 against LA when he shot 8-24 – he ended up with a career-high 19 rebounds in that game.

4th Quarter

11:43 - Gasol scores and gets the and-1. Big Baby fouls him on the reach – Perkins wouldn’t have. Gasol then blows the free throw, the Lakers shooting a dismal 9-17 from the free throw line tonight. Celtics lead 57-55

Have to say that Artest is just doing a super defensive effort on Pierce at this point. Can’t say enough about it. This is the form that won him the Defensive Player of the Year in 2004. He clearly can still channel that defensive energy when he has to. He has been amazing tonight, truly the Lakers best player on the court.

11:07 – Kobe comes back in. You get the feeling Kobe is going to take over, now that he’s calmed down a bit, and that the game is close. He misses his first shot, but it was a well-balanced shot that he knocks down most of the time. This is why the 6-24 shooting line has been blown out of proportion. Some of it was terrible shot-taking, some of it just Kobe shooting poorly, and some of it stellar defense on Boston’s behalf. There’s no singular reason Kobe was miserable on the offensive end tonight – anyone trying to make it all about his selfishness if off the mark.

10:42 - Sasha has been giving some good minutes in this game. Lots of hustle and flailing arms and emotional looks of disbelief.

9:58 – Another Lakers offensive board, which is tipped out to Kobe on the perimeter. Inexplicably he just loses the handle on the ball. Ray picks it up and is eventually fouled by Kobe at the other end. Kobe is knocked to the ground, just sitting there, a hopeless expression on his face. The guy must be thinking absolutely nothing can go right for him tonight. Cant shoot, can’t hold the ball, and committing bad fouls to send the Celtics to the line. A lot of players would quit under that pressure. Visions of Chris Webber…

9:02 - Rondo with another beautiful over the top pass to KG . The third time that’s worked tonight. Celtics lead 59-55.

8:46 - Kobe draws foul on Ray for three free-throw attempts. This could get him going. Drains all three.

8:28 - Ray makes a ridiculously tough tough shot over Kobe. Celtics back up 3. Is this when Jesus Shuttleworth finally starts to heat up?

7:29 - Artest makes an inside bucket and is fouled. Great pass by Gasol. Artest makes the FT and ties the game. Staples Center crowd  is going nuts. You sense that if the Lakers hit the front it’s over.

7:13 - Ray misses his first FT of the Finals. Unbelievable.

6:49 - Sheed picks up his 5th foul on a Gasol offensive Rebound. Gasol misses both. Only one word going through my mind at this point… choke. Gasol has missed 5 of 7 from the line so far tonight. Anyone campaigning for him to win Finals MVP should remember that. Missing bad shots is one thing, but missing from the charity stripe is unforgivable in a Game 7

6:29 – Ray makes two free-throws, Celtics back up by 3.

6:14 - Fisher for three, BANG! Mike Breen’s signature call stamps this as a classic shot. Of course we knew Fisher would do this at some point. Game tied at 64-64. I’m watching this replayed when I know the result and I’m still feeling goosebumps.

5:56 - Kobe makes a big defensive board and gets fouled. Goes to the line and sinks them both. It’s the Lakers first lead since the second quarter.  To say the Celtics need a bucket now is an understatement.

5:21 - Kobe sinks a jump shot, Lakers up 68-64. Kobe hasn’t taken any bad shots this quarter. It’s been a team effort. If you watched this quarter separate to the rest of the game, you’d think Kobe was doing a great job, and if anything being too passive. He is also looking exhausted.

We go to the commercial break with Mark Jackson saying something ridiculous about rolling a dice and craps. He is an idiot.

4:38 - Gasol hits two FTs after a Garnett brain-fade on defense. Lakers are up 6 and rolling. Van Gundy’s solution for the Celtics offense: “they need Larry Bird”.

4:17 - Kobe pulls down his 15th rebound in traffic. Seems like he’s gobbling up every rebound for the Lakers in this fourth quarter. Ray missed a bunny there, just a terrible game for him.

3:59 - Kobe’s 7th questionable shot of the game. Not a bad shot by his standards, a fadeaway mid-range J over Ray Allen. But took too many dribbles and didn’t even both trying to get anyone else involved.

3:43 - Pierce hits a clutch bucket from his money spot at the elbow. Don’t know why they haven’t tried to get more of that from PP in the 4th. They were his first points of the quarter! I’ve been ragging on Ray, but Pierce hasn’t been much better, and the Celtics need him creating shots for himself if they’re going to win. Ray doesn’t have the ability to do that as well as Paul.

3:31 - Kobe goes aggressively to the hoop and Pierce fouls him. Ten years ago Kobe dunks that emphatically. Kobe makes a FT. Lakers up 71-66.

Mark Jackson says this is the best he’s ever seen the Lakers defend. Might be the smartest thing he’s said all night. I couldn’t agree more. I did not think the Lakers could defend like this for 48 minutes. That’s essentially the reason I picked the Celtics to win these Finals. If you ever want a textbook example to prove that “defensive wins championships”, look no further than this Game 7. It’s the perfect example because the Lakers have absolutely sucked offensively. It’s all defense.

3:08 - Beautiful pass from Sheed to KG for the dunk, Celts down 71-68.

2:47 - Kobe double-teamed but makes a great feed to Gasol who gets fouled by KG (his 5th). Makes both FTs. At this point you have to ask yourself the following question: who gets double-teamed late in a game when they’re shooting 6-24 from the field? Doc Rivers is insisting with the double and triple teams even at this point. Why? Because we all know Kobe will keep shooting.

It goes back to what I said a few days ago. A 0-5 shooting stretch from Kobe can quickly become a 6-11 stretch. Kobe treats every offensive possession as its own entity, regardless of how many he’s just made or missed. It’s simultaneously his greatest and most flawed attribute. It’s what allows him to score 30 points in a quarter, 60 points in three quarters, or 81 in a game. It’s also what allows him to keep shooting without hesitation when he’s 3-17 from the field. It’s a quality born from his competitiveness and his stubbornness. It’s a quality that separates him from all others who have ever played the game.

2:20 - Stupid blocking foul by Pierce at the mid-court against Gasol. Sends him to the line. Gasol makes one to put the Lakers up 6.

1:46 - Great block by Gasol on Pierce, who’d just made 2 free-throws and was trying to get some momentum going for himself. Celtics turn it over, down 4. Gasol is everywhere right now.

1:30 - Wow. Gasol with a crazy tough shot over Sheed, Pierce AND KG. Looked like an impossible shot, and Gasol runs down the floor giving his trademark angry caveman scream. Upon watching the replay it seems he may have traveled – that is a tough call for the refs to make in that position.

1:23 – SHEEEEEED! Sinks a big trey to cut it to 76-73.

1:01 – Unbelievable. Artest responds with a three. The exact same shots he’s been bricking all playoffs. He knows this and kisses the sky.

51.3 – Ray another three! Could it be that the worst Finals game in history ends up with the best finish? These last few plays have made me realise how much we miss Game 7s. There really is nothing like them.

31.5 - Kobe’s 8th questionable shot of the game, and it comes at a terrible time. A hoisted three after milking 10 seconds off the clock. Again, it was the type of shot we know Kobe can make. He had an open look thanks to a perfect Gasol screen. It was arguably his cleanest look of the entire game. But the real question is, why does he take that shot? It’s the thought process behind it that bothers me. Take away his 8 questionable shots and he’s 6-16 from the field – this should have been Kobe’s shooting line tonight.

Of course, Gasol bails him out with the biggest rebound of the game. He passes to Kobe who drives to the hoop and draws Sheed’s 6th foul. My hopes of Sheed being the hero of this game are gone.

Kobe is really sucking oxygen right now, 6-7 from the line in the fourth so far. For all his struggles in this game, there is no question that these are the two biggest FTs of his career. Which is amazing if you think about the career he’s had. He makes them both.

Is he the Finals MVP? You can certainly mount an argument for Gasol, who was very consistent across the Finals. In fact, if you go by the 3-2-1 votes we’ve been handing out every game, both Gasol and Kobe are tied at 7-7 coming into this game. My problem with Gasol was that at times he was too passive and was dominated by the Celtics bigs. Kobe Bryant on the other hand was never passive – he was aggressive through 48 minutes of every game in this series, including the losses. I think it’s a case of Kobe being “more noticeable”, similar to how AFL Brownlow Medal winners always seem to be midfielders. I believe the final MVP vote tally was 7-2 in Kobe’s favor. I would feel more comfortable if it was 5-4, because Gasol really wasn’t far off the mark. But Kobe was the best player through the first six games of this series, and despite his woeful shooting in Game 7, he did just enough with his 15 rebounds and 10 last-quarter points to deserve the trophy.

16.2 - After a missed Ray three, Rondo secures the rebound and drains a three himself. Unbelievable. These Celtics just never quit, and that’s why I love watching them.

11.7 - Sasha is fouled. Stunning moment coming up. There is no one player Celtics fans hate more than Sasha Vujacic. He carries the emotion of that 2008 Finals as much as anyone – I could tell this from speaking to him last year when I was in LA. He was also absent from most of the Lakers 2009 title run, so this is a big moment for him.

Also worth noting that Sasha wasn’t on the floor five seconds ago. Phil subbed him on for Artest just for this inbounds play.

Machine knocks both of them down. Clutch.

After Rondo’s missed three Odom throws it up court, Kobe grabs it, and he’s swamped by his teammates. They all run to Kobe. It’s the kind of reaction you expect when he nails a game-winner, or on those super-human nights when he refuses to let his team lose.

On this night Kobe did none of that. On this night he was all too human.

And his teammates weren’t going to let him lose.


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