On Sunday night Kobe Bryant led his Lakers to a decisive 99-86 road victory over the Orlando Magic, and to his ever-so elusive 4th championship. The series victory gives Kobe his 4th championship, and more importantly his 1st without Shaq, something he has been wanting to accomplish since Shaq left.
After stealing a victory in Game 4, a game in which the Magic essentially handed the game to the Lakers, many people thought the Lakers wouldn’t show up in Game 5, expecting an easy victory to come in Game 6 back home in Los Angeles. However, the Lakers surprised many by playing one of their best games of the playoffs, including a showing of stifling defense and crisp offense with great ball movement. Kobe led the Lakers with 30 points, but also distributed the ball well. Pau Gasol had another great game, further establishing himself as one of the best big men in the NBA. This series, and the playoffs overall, clearly illustrate the development of Kobe Bryant not only as a great player but also as a leader. A couple of years ago, Kobe might have played differently in the playoffs, and might have tried to win the game by himself. However, he played like a true leader and took the shots when his team needed him to, and passed the ball and made the right plays when he faced a double team. His level of play was considerably higher than his level of play in last year’s 4-1 finals defeat to the Celtics, where he appeared to try to win the game by himself, having very little faith in the abilities of his teammates.
Kobe worked well with Pau Gasol and Bynum, often feeding them down low off the drive, and successfully kicked the ball out to Trevor Ariza and Derek Fisher when faced with the double team. He has clearly grown and matured as a player, and took control of the series and of his team when it needed him most.
The championship also gives Lakers Coach Phil Jackson 10 championships as a Coach, passing former Celtics coach Red Auerbach with the most championships as a coach in NBA history. This is clearly an amazing accomplishment, and while many will point to the fact that he has had the luxury of Coaching superstars such as Jordan, Kobe and Shaq, he has always done a great job of controlling the personalities and of getting the most out of both his superstars and his role players, in the effort to produce the best team possible. His decision at the beginning of the year to start Trevor Ariza and have Lamar Odom come off the bench was very controversial, but ended up working out very well for the team. After calling Kobe “uncoachable” in 2003, he worked well with him this year and let him take the reigns as leader of the team in the finals.
This championship may be the most impressive of all for Kobe Bryant and Coach Phil Jackson. Who knows how many more they will win together.