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Bill Plaschke

'A dream come true' awaits fairy-tale ending

May 30, 2008|Bill Plaschke

From Finished to Finals.

The most improbable Hollywood twist in a franchise built upon them took another spin Thursday, an entire city now whirling in its wake.

From Loons to June.

Months after they began a season with one whining diva and seven dwarfs, the Lakers are bringing a legitimate fable into the NBA Finals.

From Shock to Awe.

With a 100-92 victory over the San Antonio Spurs, the team that began the season as an NBA joke is now just four wins from an NBA championship.

No more punch lines, just punch, a dozen playoff wins in 15 playoff games.

No more laugh track, just tracks, huge and imposing, most recently on the backs of the defending NBA champs, who were buried Thursday for the fourth time in five games.

"We have so many ways to win," said Jordan Farmar, shaking his head in the wonder that envelopes his city today.

They seemingly used them all in the Western Conference finals clincher, a game that was a metaphor for a season.

The Lakers won after a horrendous start left them trailing in the second quarter by 17 points.

"My heart's still pumping, that adrenaline is still running," Lamar Odom said later.

The Lakers won after pulling ahead by a point at the end of the third quarter with improved play by Pau Gasol, then Kobe Bryant owned the fourth, in which he scored 17 points as the crowd roared with his every twitch.

"He's the best closer in the game," Luke Walton said. "We just let him do his thing."

Four wins in five games against the reigning best team in the NBA and now . . . could the Lakers really finish this season taking their place?

Late in Thursday's game, the crowd chanted, "We want Boston, we want Boston!"

Be careful for what you wish.

Do the Lakers really want to play the healthy Celtics instead of the battered Detroit Pistons in the Finals beginning Thursday?

Whoever they play, for the first time in this postseason, the Lakers will not have home-court advantage.

But for the fourth time, they will have home-run advantage.

Nobody's season has involved a bigger, wilder swing than the Lakers.

Nobody's season has connected harder.

"A dream come true," Bryant told the crowd afterward. "The answer to a prayer."

Last summer, remember, Bryant's prayer was that he leave everyone.

Now, his prayer is that everyone follow him.

"We all share in this," Bryant said. "It is not me at the forefront. That's just not how we roll."

We've asked it before, we'll ask it again, there's no real answer, but it remains a real question.

How did this happen?

How did a dysfunctional team on the verge of collapse become a bunch of happy, hugging dudes on the verge of history?

They celebrated Thursday's victory like college kids who have just gone to the Final Four, donning souvenir T-shirts and caps while hopping around the court during the postgame trophy ceremony.

For a franchise qualifying for its 23rd Finals since coming to Los Angeles, it was very un-Laker like.

For a team that barely knew or trusted each other nine months ago, it was also absolutely perfect.

"Crazy," Walton said. "I've been here five years, and it's been crazy every day."

How did this happen?

How did Mitch Kupchak go from being the most ridiculed sports figure in Los Angeles to receiving the conference championship trophy from -- you guessed it -- Jerry West?

If you don't think that trophy was a torch, then you haven't been watching.

If you don't think Kupchak's ability to both weather a Kobe Bryant storm and create a Pau Gasol storm isn't the biggest reason the Lakers are here, then you haven't been listening.

"We've been to a lot of these Finals," said Kupchak, ever the voice of reason. "But now you have to win four more."

For the younger Lakers, indeed, it's all about closing, finishing, finding the energy and intensity to drive that last championship stake.

That was the theme Thursday, where, in a building full of bandwagon-jumping celebrities such as Cameron Diaz and Sean "Diddy" Combs, no star was bigger than one who wasn't there.

His name is Alec Baldwin, and his intimidating role as a star salesman in the movie "Glengarry Glen Ross" was featured as one of Phil Jackson's pep talks.

Jackson showed the team the video in which Baldwin's character waves around two brass balls before challenging other salesman to close the deal.

"The money's out there, you pick it up, it's yours," shouted Baldwin in the movie. "You don't, I got no sympathy for you!"

He continued, "You want to go out and close . . . close, it's yours! If not, you'll be shining my shoes."

In the end, the only shoes that were shining were the Lakers as they squeaked around the slower Spurs.

The money was there, and they picked it up, with three consecutive baskets by Farmar pulling them closer in the second quarter, then Walton and Vujacic adding energy as they pulled even closer.

Then, of course, there was Bryant, who calmly nailed a three-pointer 15 seconds into the fourth quarter for the beginning of the end.

"Yeah," said Bryant of the Baldwin video. "We got the message."

So did the San Antonio Spurs. So did the rest of the NBA. So did we.

--

Bill Plaschke can be reached at bill.plaschke@latimes.com. To read previous columns by Plaschke, go to latimes.com/plaschke.

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