Ted Green: Lakers respond to all of their critics
I'm not crying about the Lakers today. Everyone lives in the end, even (I would think) through the victory parade.
But oh boy, was it ever poignant in Orlando, where the Lakers not only won the NBA title, but in a game that served as a real microcosm, a forum in which the team answered every major criticism leveled at it from Los Angeles to Bristol, Conn. Such as:
Pau is too soft: De veras? If he's soft, how come I get more dunks on my office Nerf hoop than Superman had in the entire NBA Finals? Though still a beautiful finesse player at the core of his Spanish soul, a stronger, fitter, more physical Gasol bodied up against the heavier Dwight Howard all series, never once backing down from the young beast with the cartoon shoulders.
Lakers have no killer instinct: Says who? They beat the Magic twice in Orlando, even though the Magic previously hadn't lost at home since before St. Patrick's Day. And in the closeout, the Lakers were natural-born killers, blowing them out with ruthless, lethal efficiency, never letting the home team or home crowd get a sniff over the final 30-plus minutes of the penultimate game.
Kobe as a ball hog who doesn't trust his teammates: The ugly tendency that at least mildly colored his iconic career is now just the odd brain cramp instead. More often than not, he'll kick the ball to open shooters, like Trevor Ariza in the second quarter when a wide-open Trevor quieted Amway Arena for good with two dagger triples that busted Game 5 into little pieces. It was also Kobe who passed out of a post-up double team to Derek Fisher in Game 4 for the overtime triple that keyed that victory, too. By the way, I admired the Kobe who dropped 81 on the Raptors. But I like this Kobe even better.
And, Phil Jackson doesn't do anything; He just sits there: Preparation, quiet resolve, clever game planning, having the complete confidence of your players and instilling a deep will to win ... those are qualities you tend to lose sight of when PJ sits there so stoically, sometimes with that bemused little smile on his face, like he knows something you don't. In fact, he does. And now he has done the near impossible: made the legendary Celtics curmudgeon, Red somebody, choke on one last cigar in memorium.
And finally, did anyone else notice that with just 40 seconds to play and the trophy in the bag, the Lakers on the verge of a career-defining title for Kobe and a history-making one for Phil Jackson, ABC's usually professional and likeable Mike Breen literally spent 90 seconds to two minutes rhapsodizing about the sheer brilliance and amazing season enjoyed by ... the Orlando Magic!
One word: Huh? It was like Breen, who works for the Knicks, was auditioning for the Magic play-by-play job. At the final buzzer, he stopped just short of saying: "And the Orlando Magic, oops, I mean the Lakers, are 2009 NBA champions!"
Maybe, like Laker haters far and wide, he had run out of words. That's how it is when the criticisms don't apply anymore.
-- Ted Green
Green formerly covered the Lakers for the L.A. Times. He is currently senior sports producer for KTLA Prime News.
Photo: Lakers Kobe Bryant, left, and Pau Gasol celebrate in the closing seconds of the Lakers' Game 5 victory over the Orlando Magic on Sunday. Credit: Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times