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L.A. STORY: LAKERS ROLL

THE BALTIMORE SUN

ORLANDO, Fla. - -Kobe Bryant had that one hole in his impressive resume, that one unanswered question everyone seemingly held against him.

Sure, he had three NBA championship rings. But could he win one without Shaquille O'Neal?

We finally got our answer Sunday night.

Bryant coolly and efficiently led his Lakers past the Orlando Magic, 99-86, in Game 5 of the NBA Finals, giving Los Angeles its 15th NBA title while winning Finals Most Valuable Player honors. Phil Jackson won his record-breaking 10th NBA title as a coach, surpassing the nine Boston Celtics legend Red Auerbach won from 1950 to 1966.

"I won't have to hear that idiotic criticism anymore," Bryant said.

"It was annoying. It was like Chinese water torture. I was just like, it's a challenge I'm just going to have to accept because there's no way I'm going to argue it. it's not going anywhere until you do something about it. We as a team answered the call."

The championship came one season after the Lakers lost to Boston in the NBA Finals. Bryant committed himself to bringing a title back to Los Angeles and showed a renewed intensity throughout the playoffs. His kids called him "Grumpy" because he was so serious about winning a title.

Bryant and O'Neal teamed to win NBA titles for the Lakers from 2000 to 2002, but after O'Neal was traded to the Miami Heat in 2004, the Lakers officially became Bryant's team.

He finally delivered that solo championship, scoring 30 points in Game 5. Four teammates also scored in double-figures - Lamar Odom added 17 off the bench, Trevor Ariza had 15, Pau Gasol 14 and Derek Fisher 13.

Bryant double-pumped his arms as the final seconds ticked away, overjoyed and relieved.

"I felt like a big, old monkey was off my back," Bryant said. "It felt so good to be able to have this moment. Right now, I'm just ecstatic."

The Magic proved it wasn't ready for the big stage. All-Star center Dwight Howard was held to 11 points. Rashard Lewis (18 points on 6-for-19 shooting) and Hedo Turkoglu (12 points) struggled, too. Orlando, which relies so heavily on the three-pointer, made only eight of 27 attempts. The Lakers, meanwhile, made 50 percent (8-for-16) from beyond the arc.

Though there were plenty of Lakers fans in the crowd, the arena turned silent after a stunning second-quarter performance by Los Angeles that put the game out of reach.

The Lakers went on a devastating 16-0 run in the period, turning a four-point deficit into a 12-point lead in the span of 3:42.

Los Angeles outscored the Magic 20-6 in the final 6:49 of the quarter and led 56-46 at halftime.

It was a good ride for the Magic, which beat the defending champion Celtics and top-seeded Cavaliers en route to its second NBA Finals appearance. But Orlando ended up hurting itself, as costly mistakes let Games 2 and 4 slip away.

Coach Stan Van Gundy brought back injured All-Star point guard Jameer Nelson for the Finals, but Nelson's return disrupted any rhythm the Magic had at the guard position, and Van Gundy has taken heavy criticism for it. He didn't have much to say to his players after the loss.

"I don't know if you can console anybody," Van Gundy said. "It's very difficult. I feel the same way they did. I thanked them for what they did this year, and that was about it."

The Lakers had no such chemistry problems. And no such issues with their coach, whose 10 titles came with the Chicago Bulls and Lakers.

"Having won 10 championships is a remarkable accomplishment, there's no doubt about it," Jackson said. "I've always said this: The journey is what's really important, and it's important for the players and the coaches to watch these kids come together and form a unit. This was no exception."

Though Bryant has an option to terminate his contract with two years remaining, he reaffirmed Saturday that he intends to re-sign with the Lakers.

Now that he has won without O'Neal, perhaps the big question becomes -- how many more can he win on his own?

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