The NBA Closer is written by Matt McHale, who has a funny feeling the Spurs aren't going to repeat this year. When he's not stating the glaringly obvious, he can be found mocking someone or something at Basketbawful. Enjoy!
"Follow your dreams. You can reach your goals. I'm living proof. Beefcake. BEEFCAKE!!" It's hard to believe that we're less than a year removed from Kobe Bryant embarrassing himself and his teammates on some random dude's video phone, calling the Lakers' front office "a mess" in a semi-staged radio interview, flip-flopping on trade demands, and then stating flatly - regarding a potential trade destination - that "At this point I'll go play on Pluto." Now he's the league MVP and his team is heading to the NBA Finals. Will this become the new model for team success? Should Tracy McGrady blast Yao Ming for always getting injured and let Houston GM Daryl Morey have it for not surrounding him with better players? Should Amare Stoudemire tell Steve Kerr he'd rather go play on Cybertron than watch Shaq shamble up and down the court in Phoenix? I don't know. But it's a whole new world out there, and after last night's series-clinching victory over the defending champion Spurs, it's starting to feel like that world belongs to Kobe and the Lakers.
Mamba scored 39 points and almost doubled his free throw output for the series (5-for-5) in L.A.'s 100-92 win, slowly and methodically tearing Bruce Bowen's heart out like a Thuggee cultist. But while it may have seemed like a one-man show at certain points, Kobe simply had more help and more young, healthy, athletic bodies than Tim Duncan. Pau Gasol finished with 12 points, 19 rebounds, 5 assists and 4 blocked shots, and he helped harrass and frustrate Duncan into another off shooting night (7-for-19). Lamar Odom (13 points, 5-for-10, 8 rebounds) did a little of this and a little of that. Vladimir Radmanovic, Sasha Vujacic and Luke Walton all overcame their personal hair tragedies to hit some big threes. And Ronny Turiaf was just really freaking happy to be there. My point? The Lakers were superior. And Gregg Popovich knows it.
Said Pops: "(The Spurs) just played a team that was better. That's why the Lakers won. The better team won. You get a seven-game series, you win four games, you're the best team."
TD led San Antonio with a T-D of 19 points, 15 rebounds and 10 assists, but he became increasingly frustrated by his inability to get it going on offense. That frustration culminated late in the game when he tried — and failed — to use a little elbow magic on Gasol's face to get to the hoop. Tony Parker added 23 points (11-for-22), and the Spurs also got contributions from Michael Finley (13 points, 2-for-3 from downtown), Brent Barry (11 points, 3-for-5 from distance) and Kurt Thomas (11 points, 7 rebounds).
But they didn't get what they needed the most: A big game from Manu Ginobili. Manu scored only 9 points on 3-for-9 shooting, committed 3 turnovers, and missed a wide-open three-pointer that would have given San Antonio a one-point lead in the final minutes. Ginobili's transformation into Jim Paxson circa 1989 is as much a reason as any that the Spurs' bid to repeat met with a grisly demise.
And now the Lakers get to rest and relax while they wait to see which 80s flashback they're going to get in the Finals. To be continued...