Tue, Jun 16, 2009 - Page 20 News List

NBA PLAYOFFS: Lakers win 15th NBA championship

NO SHAQ REQUIRED Kobe Bryant scored a game-leading 30 to confound skeptics who said that he couldn’t win the title without former teammate Shaquille O’Neal

AFP , ORLANDO, FLORIDA

Los Angeles Lakers center Pau Gasol looks to pass as Orlando Magic center Dwight Howard, left, looks on during the first half of Game 5 of the NBA finals in Orlando, Florida. Gasol collected 14 points and 15 rebounds.

PHOTO: EPA

The Los Angeles Lakers won their 15th National Basketball Championship with a 99-86 victory over the Orlando Magic on Sunday behind Kobe Bryant’s game-high 30-point performance.

Bryant added five assists and six rebounds as Los Angeles went on a 16-0 second-quarter run to win the best-of-seven series four games to one in front of a crowd of 17,461 at Amway Arena.

Pau Gasol collected 14 points and 15 rebounds and Trevor Ariza scored 15 points for the Lakers, who hadn’t won the title since 2002, the last of three consecutive crowns.

Bryant was chosen Most Valuable Player of the finals for the first time in his career.

The Lakers’ second quarter burst erased a 9-0 first quarter deficit. They hit eight straight shots in their run, taking advantage of a balanced attack to get five players in double figures against the offensively challenged Magic.

“It is sort of surreal to watch this thing count down,” Lakers coach Phil Jackson said. “To see these guys out on the floor. They did such a good job from the middle of the second quarter to bring this thing home. This is a learned team, they are experienced.”

Not only did they find salvation after last year’s loss to the Boston Celtics, but Sunday’s win allowed Jackson and Bryant to lift some heavy burdens off their shoulders.

Experience and superior execution won out on Sunday as Jackson collected his 10th championship ring to surpass Red Auerbach for the most titles by an NBA head coach and Bryant proved he could win a championship without the help of Shaquille O’Neal.

“I will smoke a cigar tonight in memory of Red,” Jackson said.

Bryant had to play through the pain of an injured right hand, jamming it in the opening quarter while trying to squirm away from the double team of Rashard Lewis and Courtney Lee.

Bryant was bent on proving he could win a fourth championship and his first without O’Neal. The dynamic duo won three-straight titles together between 2000 and 2002.

“It feels good because people were saying I couldn’t do it without [O’Neal],” Bryant said. “You prove people wrong. I think we as a team answered the call because they understood the challenge I had.”

This was the first postseason matchup between the Lakers and the Magic, who were making just their second finals appearance in 14 years.

Dwight Howard had 11 points and 10 assists and Lewis scored 18 points for the Magic, who had knocked off the defending champion Celtics and the LeBron James-led Cleveland Cavaliers to get to the finals.

The Lakers shot 43.8 percent, including a whopping 50.0 percent from three point range. The Magic shot just 29.6 percent from the three-point line, missing their first seven attempts before finally making one with just under two minutes left in the first half.

“We didn’t handle the frustration very well,” Magic coach Stan Van Gundy said. “[The Lakers] had an answer for everything.”

The Lakers took the lead for good 42-40 on a 26-foot three pointer by former Magic player Ariza with 4:54 left in the first half. The Lakers led by 10 points at halftime and 76-61 at the end of the third quarter.

In their second consecutive finals appearance, the Lakers atoned for last year’s humbling loss to Boston in six games.

Bryant had the killer instinct down perfectly on Sunday as the game’s best closer helped seal the Magic’s fate.

The Lakers got a scare five minutes into the opening quarter when Bryant appeared to have reinjured his right hand.

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