Lakers clinch 16th title


LOS ANGELES, June 18- Kobe Bryant scored 23 points and Pau Gasol had 19 points and 18 rebounds as the Los Angeles Lakers rallied to beat the Boston Celtics 83-79 for their 16th NBA championship.Forward Ron Artest finished with 20 points and five steals for the Lakers who battled from behind Thursday to beat the most decorated franchise in NBA history and capture their second-straight championship title.

"This is the sweetest," said Bryant, who collected his fifth championship ring and was named MVP of the series. "It is the sweetest because it is against them (Celtics) and it is the hardest one by far."

Bryant and Artest helped spark the fourth-quarter rally as the Lakers fought back from a 13-point deficit in the third to win game seven and take the series four games to three.

It was a stunning turnaround for the Lakers in front of a boisterous crowd of 18,997 at Staples Center arena.

"I told them to keep rebounding the ball, keep getting those loose balls," said Laker coach Phil Jackson, who won his 11th NBA championship ring. "Ron Artest was the most valuable player of our team tonight."

Bryant struggled in the first half, scoring just eight points as the Celtics led by six points, 40-34, at the half and 57-53 heading into the fourth.

But the Lakers hung around and Bryant caught fire in the fourth quarter sparking the offence and dominating the rebounds under his own basket.

"Tonight it (hype) got the best of me," Bryant said of his early struggles. "I wanted it so bad sometimes you want something so bad it slips away from you.

"But my teammates picked me up and I can’t say enough about Spain (Gasol). That guy is unbelieveable and we wouldn’t have won it without him."

The win was sweet redemption for the Lakers who still had a bitter after taste following their humiliating 2008 finals loss to the Celtics.

Bryant had more rebounds than Boston’s Ray Allen, Kevin Garnett and Rasheed Wallace combined. He finished with a game high 11 defensive rebounds as the Lakers outrebounded the Celtics 53-40 on the night.

"We started to crash the boards," Bryant said. "Whoever won the rebounding in this series won the game. I wanted to get in there and grab as many as I could."

Paul Pierce had 18 points and 10 rebounds and Kevin Garnett scored 17 points for the Celtics who kept it close right the final buzzer but couldn’t stop Bryant down the stretch.

Rajon Rondo finished with 14 points and 10 assists for the number four seeded Celtics who were trying to become biggest underdog NBA finals winner since the sixth seeded Houston captured the crown in 1995.

"It was a tough game for either team to lose." said Celtic coach Doc Rivers. "It was tough getting shots, both teams played great defence.

"I thought a lack of size at the end of the day was the difference.

"We are not going to be the same team next year so I told my guys I was proud of them."

The Celtics played without injured centre Kendrick Perkins who had started all six previous games in the finals.

Former Detroit Piston Wallace started in place of Perkins in what Rivers said could be the final game of Wallace’s career. Wallace finished with 11 points, eight rebounds and two blocks shots.