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Sweet 16th for Lakers

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Sweet 16th for Lakers

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LOS ANGELES – It was a Game 7 classic – and this time it went the Lakers’ way.Kobe Bryant, the finals MVP, scored 23 points despite 6-of-24 shooting, and the Los Angeles Lakers won their 16th NBA championship Thursday night, dramatically rallying from a fourth-quarter deficit to beat the Celtics 83-79 in Game 7 of the NBA Finals.Bryant earned his fifth title with the Lakers, who repeated as NBA champions for the first time since winning three straight from 2000-02. Coach Phil Jackson added his 11th, matching Bill Russell’s total and possibly putting a cap on his remarkable career if he decides to leave the Lakers.“This one is by far the sweetest, because it’s them,” Bryant said after the Lakers beat Boston for the first time in a Game 7. “This was the hardest one by far. I wanted it so bad, and sometimes when you want it so bad, it slips away from you. My guys picked me up.”Ron Artest added 20 points for the Lakers, who didn’t exactly show a champion’s poise while making just 21 shots in the first three quarters, even hovering around 50 per cent at the free throw line.Yet with Bryant driving the lane to earn eight free throws and Pau Gasol finally coming alive with nine of his 19 points in the fourth quarter, Los Angeles reclaimed the lead midway through and hung on with a few more big shots from Gasol, who had 18 rebounds, and a remarkable clutch performance by Artest, a first-time champion as the only newcomer to last season’s roster.He might be into a budding dynasty, with most of the Lakers’ core locked into long-term contracts. With their fifth title in 11 seasons, the Lakers moved one championship behind Boston’s 17 titles for the overall NBA lead.After downplaying the NBA’s best rivalry for two weeks, Bryant acknowledged that this banner will loom just a little larger than the rest in the Staples Centre rafters, given the opponents, the Game 7 stakes and the history they just made. The teams have met in 12 NBA finals, but the Lakers won for just the third time.Paul Pierce had 18 points and ten rebounds for the Celtics, who just couldn’t finish the final quarter of a remarkable play-off run after a fourth-place finish in the Eastern Conference. Kevin Garnett added 17 points, but Boston flopped in two chances to clinch the series in Los Angeles after winning Game 5 back home.“Listen, give the Lakers credit,” Celtics coach Doc Rivers said. “They were terrific.” (AP)