There once was a time when fans from around the league questioned the Lakers’ toughness inside. At around that same time period there were murmurs that Kobe Bryant couldn’t win a championship on his own, without Shaquille O’Neal.
Those notions were put to bed in 2009 when the Los Angeles Lakers dominated the Orlando Magic four games to one. The Lakers looked like men playing amongst boys in one of the most lopsided finals’ in recent memory (dating back to when Jason Kidd and co. were swept by the Lakers).
But lest we forget, the final series against Orlando may arguably have been the Lakers’ easiest series on their path to a 15th championship in franchise history.
First up was the Utah Jazz, an opponent the Lakers have handled easily in the past two post-seasons. As usual the Lakers provided too many match-up problems for even the great Jerry Sloan to adjust to. In addition to the Black Mamba, Pau Gasol and the usual suspects, this series was Shannon Brown’s coming out party.
The next series against the Houston Rockets was one of the strangest series I’ve ever witnessed as a life-long Laker fan. The Rockets managed to get a split at Staples Center, but not without a price; then Rocket-Ron Artest was thrown out for jabbering at Kobe; Shane Battier was left with a crimson mask courtesy of Sasha Vujacic, and Luis Scola was punished by Derek Fisher’s elbow while setting up for a screen.
Led by the Black Mamba the Lakers willed their way to a 108-94 victory in Game 3. Near the end of the game Rockets’ center Yao Ming broke his foot, effectively ending his season (and shelving him for the next season as well).
With Yao out, the rest of the series should have been a breeze right?
Wrong. The Rockets embarrassed the Lakers in both Games 4 and 6 on their home court as a result of Aaron Brooks’ blinding quickness and Battier’s leadership and clutch shooting. The Lakers’ erratic performance had an ESPN writer diagnose them as bi-polar. Thankfully, the Lakers’ disorder did not affect them at home as they blew out the Rockets in the deciding Game 7. Coach Phil Jackson called this series a “season changer.”
To this day it still boggles my mind how Carl Landry, Aaron Brooks and Shane Battier led wire to wire against that Laker team, but in the end the Lakers advanced to the Western Conference Finals.