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Art Garcia

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Neither Kobe Bryant nor any of Boston's Big Three have ever experienced a Game 7 in the NBA Finals.
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Celtics and Lakers could be headed for historic Game 7


Posted Jun 12 2010 7:26PM

Kobe Bryant has never played in one. Phil Jackson never played or coached in one. Ditto for Doc Rivers or Boston's Three Party.

Few, in fact, have even experienced it.

A Finals Game 7.

This isn't to assume that the 2010 Finals are headed to the ultimate must-win after four games. Predicting a winner-take-all at this point after these playoffs produced just one Game 7 in three rounds and 14 series -- Atlanta-Milwaukee (first round) -- and four sweeps may appear foolish.

Game 7s in The Finals are a rare bird to begin with, especially in the 2-3-2 era. There have only been three since the format that gives the "underdog" three straight home games was adopted 1985. San Antonio-Detroit in 2005 was the last championship series to go the distance, with the Spurs taking the seventh game at home.

The Lakers and Celtics, though, are on that path tied 2-2 going into Game 5 Sunday night in Boston. In order for this thing to end in six, one side has to claim the next two affairs. Judging by the see-saw nature of the first four, all signs are pointing to a Game 7 in Los Angeles on Thursday.

Should that happen, it adds another salivating chapter to this unparalleled rivalry. The league's most storied franchises haven't met in a Game 7 since Larry Bird's Celtics bested Magic Johnson's Lakers in 1984. Boston also prevailed in three other Game 7s against the Los Angelinos -- 1962, '66 and '69.

So the Celtics have history, at least, on their side should this series get maxed out. Boston's perfect 4-0 mark in Game 7s against the Lakers includes winning one in Los Angeles in 1969. L.A.'s Staples Center would be the venue if the current best-of-3 evolves into a best-of-1.

Momentum has been hard to hold in this series. The Lakers have taken the edge twice -- 1-0 and 2-1 -- only to have Boston tie the series each time. Each team has won on its rival's home court. The principals don't seem surprised by the even split through four games.

"I kind of anticipated this was going to be a back-and-forth series like this," said Jackson, pursuing his 11th title in his 13th Finals trip as a head coach. "I said this the other day, it's a lot of teeter totter here, despair and elation, but we're going to try and establish the fact that we're going back to L.A. with a 3 2 lead. We believe we can do it."

Doc Rivers sees plenty of similarities between both teams. Stress both.

"Both teams are good," Boston's skipper said. "Both teams are defensive minded. Both teams have the ability to make defensive runs. I think if both teams were offensive minded you would see one team get blown out in this series.

"You can be up 12 in this series and then a team can get 10 or 15 straight stops and get back in the game. Both teams have shown they have the ability to do that. You know, I think we're pretty evenly matched."

Such parity lends itself to a Game 7, which would be the last new experience for two squads stocked with characters that have experienced just about everything else in the NBA. Jackson has been on the verge of Game 7 seven times as a coach. (His two Finals trips as a player with New York ended in five games -- one win and one loss.)

Six times his teams have been leading 3-2 in The Finals and six times they've closed the series out in Game 6. The first five came with Chicago, with the Lakers closing the door in 2000 against Indiana. Jackson's Lakers trailed Boston 3-2 two years ago only to have the Celtics end it at home.

Rivers is in the Finals for the second time as a coach, and so are many of his key guys. Rasheed Wallace is the only player on either side to experience a Finals Game 7 -- he was part of the Pistons' team that came up short in its repeat attempt five years ago.

As for Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, Ray Allen and Rajon Rondo, they would be navigating uncharted waters should the Celts split the next two. Securing the franchise's record 18th title would mean winning in Los Angeles and beating the Lakers for the second time in three years.

That's the stuff of legend ... which brings us to Kobe. Bryant has repeatedly said he's not concerned with his legacy or what another championship would mean for his place among the game's pantheon of all-time greats. He's already secured a spot, even if he appears to care less.

Believe what you will on that front, but should No. 24 capture No. 5 in No. 7, well, Mr. Underbite gnaws off another piece of history. A repeat to go along with a three-peat, beating Boston (the Lakers have done so only twice in 11 previous Finals meetings) and a certain second Finals MVP.

Michael Jordan never had the face the dramatics and the finality of a Finals Game 7. The fact that MJ ended five of his six championships in six underscores his unmatched killer instinct. Kobe may indeed will the Lakers to wins over the next two games or it could be Boston regaining the title with the same push.

Or it could come down to Game 7. Considering what we've witnessed so far and what many hope to see, that just feels right.

Art Garcia has covered the NBA since 1999. You can e-mail him here and follow him on twitter. The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting.

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