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"I had 20 points, and I still think we did this as a team," said Artest, whose 3-pointer with 1:01 to play was the Lakers' last field goal of the season. "We fought together. This was one of the best games in, I don't even know, man. I don't want to be in a game like this, where the game can go either way. ... I'm just like, OK, what did I get myself into?"
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.
Paul Pierce had 18 points and 10 rebounds for the Celtics, who just couldn't finish the final quarter of a remarkable playoff run after a fourth-place finish in the Eastern Conference. Kevin Garnett added 17 points and Rasheed Wallace had 11 before tiring while starting in place of injured center Kendrick Perkins, but Boston flopped in two chances to clinch the series in Los Angeles after winning Game 5 back home.
"We were scratching and clawing, trying to do everything we could to try to pull this out," said Ray Allen, who had 13 points on 3-of-14 shooting, his legs worn out from chasing Bryant on defense. "We had an opportunity to win, but it just didn't go our way down the stretch. I don't think we ran out of steam. Lady Luck just didn't bounce in our corner. ... There were a lot of tears, a lot of tears."
The Celtics had never lost a seventh game in the finals. Despite nursing a lead through most of the night while holding the Lakers to that ridiculously low shooting percentage, Boston couldn't close it out on the coast, becoming just the seventh team to blow a 3-2 finals lead after winning Game 5.
Boston faces even more offseason uncertainty than the Lakers, with Allen's free agency and coach Doc Rivers' decision atop the list.
"There's a lot of crying in that locker room," Rivers said. "A lot of people who care. I don't think there was a dry eye. A lot of hugs, a lot of people feeling awful. That's a good thing. Showed a lot of people cared."
The Celtics had much more poise from the opening tip in Game 7, playing vicious defense that forced Los Angeles to miss 21 of its first 27 shots. Bryant and Gasol were a combined 6 for 26 in the first half.
But forget how it looked early on, because history will. Bryant even did something Jerry West and Magic Johnson never could: He beat the hated Celtics in Game 7 of the finals.
"Close is not enough," said Glen Davis, whose six points and nine rebounds were the Celtics' only contributions from their bench. "You've got to win it. I don't know what's going on with who's coming back, but I'll be ready when training camp comes around."
NOTES: The Lakers will hold a parade Monday, with the team riding floats from Staples Center down Figueroa Street to the USC campus in downtown Los Angeles. A rally at the Coliseum last year attracted 95,000 fans, but the Lakers are skipping the arena in favor of a more interactive celebration. ... Home teams improved to 14-3 in Game 7 in the finals. No road team has won a title in Game 7 since 1978.
Copyright 2010 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
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