Highlander Archives: The road to the Lakers’ 16th championship

Going into the fourth quarter of Game 7 in the 2010 National Basketball Association (NBA) Finals, the Los Angeles Lakers had their work cut out for them. Things were beginning to look bleak for the 19,000 fans that had filled up Staples Center in support of their hometown team. Up until that point, no team who had lost the first quarter of Game 7 had been able to secure the championship title, and the Lakers had been trailing for a whole three quarters. However, hope was reignited when the Lakers were able to shrink the Boston Celtics’ 13-point lead to a mere four points before the end of the third quarter. 

All it took was one quarter to alter the course of Lakers history and see the rise of multiple Lakers players. Everything came together in those final minutes. The Celtics’ defense was faltering and they were handing the Lakers free points with excessive fouling. Meanwhile, the Lakers flipped the switch and dominated offensively. In the end, the Los Angeles Lakers triumphed over the Boston Celtics 83-79 and marked the second time in franchise history the team was back-to-back champions. This win would also be the first time that the Lakers were able to defeat the Celtics in Game 7 of a championship series.

The Celtics and the Lakers have one of the most storied rivalries in NBA history. The two teams have met a record 12 times in the NBA Finals and rank at the top of the league for the most number of championships in the NBA — the Celtics with 17 and the Lakers with 16. In the early 2000s, much to the disappointment of fans, the rivalry seemed to have fizzled for a while. The rivalry wouldn’t be renewed until 2008 when the Lakers suffered a bad defeat against the Celtics in the 2008 NBA Finals. With such a long history of competition and a need for revenge, this win meant all the more for the Lakers and their fans. It meant continuing the legacies of Lakers and Celtics legends before them by maintaining such an iconic rivalry. 2010 also marks the last time these two teams have met in the finals and the last time either team has won the NBA Finals. 

Game 7 of the 2010 NBA Finals saw the rise of other Lakers players when the star duo of Pau Gasol and Kobe Bryant, the then two leading scorers, struggled to put up points. With Bryant especially going a surprising 6-of-24 from the field, this pushed Metta World Peace, Derek Fisher and Lamar Odom to step up. World Peace and Odom scored consistently throughout the game while Fisher would pull up with clutch three-pointers. Fisher in the middle of the fourth quarter delivered a crucial three-pointer that changed the whole momentum of the game and put the Lakers up by four. World Peace also sank two free throws to finally tie the game in the beginning of the fourth and provided an important three-pointer of his own later that quarter to push the Lakers’ lead to six points. After sinking the biggest shot of his career, World Peace earned the title of honorary most valuable player from then Lakers coach Phil Jackson. 

Despite the bumps in the road in Game 7, there is no denying Kobe Bryant’s contribution to the Lakers’ 2010 championship title. Even with his low field goal percentage in the final game, Bryant was the top scorer of the night with 23 points and 15 total rebounds. This win was especially significant for Bryant because not only did it bring his championship ring total to five, but he also earned his second consecutive NBA Finals MVP award. Bryant’s fifth ring meant that he finally pulled ahead of former teammate and rival Shaquille O’Neal and it marked the second time he was able to secure a championship without him. 2010 was Bryant’s final championship title before his retirement in 2016 and his eventual passing in 2020, making this one all the more special and bittersweet for fans. 

The years following their 2010 win saw the Lakers team change in ways they would have never expected. Head coach Phil Jackson announced his retirement, Bryant would be plagued by injuries and key players like Gasol and World Peace would eventually be traded away. The team would miss the playoffs completely for three years in a row and wouldn’t see a real revival until 2018. Despite the hurdles the more recent teams face, the Los Angeles Lakers have always been a team that rises to the occasion in the face of adversity. While their 2010 title was their last, hopefully the legacy from that team and legends before will push modern-day Lakers to finally raise a new banner in Staples Center.