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NBA Finals - Game 5 recap

L.A. Lakers 99, Orlando 86  -- Lakers win series and world championship, 4-1
The last game of the NBA season lacked a single shred of drama, but for title-starved Kobe Bryant, a smooth ride to the victory stand carried the sweet taste of career-defining redemption.
The Los Angeles Lakers closed down the Orlando Magic on Sunday night at Amway Arena, coasting to the finish line by nursing a double-digit lead for the final 17-plus minutes of regulation. After Trevor Ariza (15 points) and Derek Fisher (13) fueled a 16-0 Laker run in the second quarter, L.A. forward Lamar Odom (17 points) hit two threes midway through the third quarter to squelch any willpower still residing in the hearts of the sagging, flagging Magic, who clearly failed to recover from the stomach-punch setback suffered in Thursday's Game 4. The Lake Show snared a 66-55 lead with 5:52 left in the third quarter, and from that moment onward, Orlando was never able to come within single digits of the team that not only defended its Western Conference title in 2009, but aced its Finals exam as well.
Of all the students who passed this supreme test of professional basketball for the Lakers, none were happier than Bryant, the man who chased away so many lingering demons in this series.
Kobe was his typically solid self in Game 5, throwing down 30 points while grabbing 6 boards, handing out 5 assists, and swatting away 4 Orlando shots. Despite late-game misfires for most of the Finals, the Black Mamba set a tone for the best-of-seven battle by owning Game 1 and then getting his teammates involved as the Magic devoted more attention to stopping him.
In a deliciously ironic twist of fate for Laker fans, Bryant's inability to personally deliver daggers in Game 4 allowed Fisher to re-emerge as an appreciated figure after enduring a largely unsatisfying postseason. Equally so, Bryant's struggles from the field also magnified the exploits of Ariza, who made himself a ton of money while also claiming an NBA crown. The progression of this series represented a full-circle journey for Bryant and the Lakers under coach Phil Jackson, who won his 10th NBA title to pass Red Auerbach for sole possession of first place on the all-time list: Whereas previous seasons ended with Kobe doing everything and his teammates coming up short, 2009 marked an occasion in which the Laker superstar didn't have to put the world on his shoulders. Smart, team-oriented ball was enough for No. 24 to win his fourth world title, because this time around, his teammates picked up the slack.

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How different this scene in Florida was from the picture painted in Boston's TD Banknorth Garden one year ago. The 2008 NBA Finals concluded with the charmin-soft Lakers receiving a 39-point pummeling from the newly-crowned Celtics. Kobe's first trip to the Finals in four years ended with the same searing sensation that characterized the 2004 Finals against Detroit, the unforgettable feeling of an unexpectedly decisive defeat on the biggest of stages. Kobe knew what it was like to behold a championship-clinching game bereft of any suspense, but in his last two journeys to the NBA's world championship challenge, the Laker superstar sat on the short end of the score.
Pardon Kobe for making the 2009 season conclude with a whimper, but Phil Jackson's prized pupil had to relish the tame ending to this encounter with Orlando. The ability of the Lakers to break the Magic's will; to be the tougher team in a Finals series; to be the team with the better role players and the deeper bench; to be the team that shared the ball better and responded under pressure, will soothe Kobe's soul just as much as his first title attained without the services of shadow-casting Shaquille O'Neal, his first title in seven very long years.
It's hard to believe, in a very real sense, that the Lakers, their supreme shooting guard, and their 10-time champion coach hadn't cradled the Larry O'Brien Trophy since 2002. But now that glory and grandeur have returned to Lakerland, everyone in the purple and gold empire--flush with the pride of a 15th championship for the NBA's second-winningest franchise behind the Boston Celtics--can finally say that life has returned to normal in the City of Angels.
The Lakers have made the long trek back to where they feel they belong. If Hollywood hoops fans didn't get any box-office drama when their favorites finally made the Orlando Magic disappear for good, this was one time when a movie-loving population couldn't have felt shortchanged at all.


By Matt Zemek
Pro-Basketball Fans staff-writer

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