Enough with the games.
The Los Angeles Lakers toyed with the Oklahoma City Thunder and Phoenix Suns to the tune of six games apiece. They slept through a sweep against the Utah Jazz.
Now they’re wide awake. This is what they have been waiting for all season long.
Bring on the Boston Celtics and the NBA Finals.
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Kobe Bryant had 37 points and Ron Artest chipped in 25 as the Lakers held off a late rally by the Suns to wrap up an a thrilling Western Conference Finals series.
Bryant ended up scoring nine points in the final 2 minutes of the game, including a beautiful 23-foot fall-away jumper with Grant Hill’s hand in his face with 34 seconds remaining. The shot, and his play in the closing moments, could only be described as “championship poise.”
Phoenix Suns’ star point guard Steve Nash was impressed with Bryant’s efforts.
“Those aren’t shooters' shots, they’re scorers' shots,” Nash said of Bryant’s ability to score. “Those are best-player-in-the-game type shots.”
Suns’ coach Alvin Gentry also weighed in on Bryant’s play:
“I always thought he was the best player in basketball.”
Still, Laker forward Lamar Odom offered the best possible description of Bryant’s play after the game:
“Kobe’s so good, he makes incredible normal for us.”
The statement could be taken one step further. The Lakers are so good, they make Finals appearances seem normal for us. They will now be headed to their 31st NBA Finals, the most in NBA history.
Now the biggest rivalry in basketball history will have another chapter added.
The Lakers and Celtics have shared bragging rights of the last two championships. The Lakers beat the Orlando Magic a year ago, and the Celtics beat the Lakers for their rings two years ago.
Bryant hasn’t forgotten.
“We’ll see how much we matured,” Bryant said when speaking on the match-up. “They challenged us extremely well in the finals a couple years ago. Now is a chance to see how much we’ve grown.”
By winning a title last year, Bryant finally got the “you can’t win without Shaq” gorilla off his back. Now, he has a chance to rid himself of the smaller chimpanzee-looking “you can’t beat Boston” monkey that’s been hanging on him since 2008.
While we all know that a victory over the Celtics would be all the sweeter, Bryant tried to play if off after the game.
"A championship's a championship," Bryant said. "It'll be my fifth ring if I'm fortunate to get it."
A fifth ring would put him in elite company. Magic Johnson and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar currently have five rings apiece, the most all-time among retired Lakers jerseys hanging in the Staples Center.
It would also cement him as the without-a-doubt greatest Laker in the history of the franchise.
Bryant wrapped up the conference finals with his 10th 30-point performance in the last 11 postseason games, moving ahead of Jerry West and into a tie with Abdul-Jabbar for second most all-time.
The NBA Finals start at 6 p.m. Thursday on ABC.