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Fran Blinebury

Kobe Bryant and the Lakers return to L.A. with the weight of history on their shoulders.
Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE/Getty Images

History breathing down necks of these Lakers

Posted Jun 14 2010 6:14PM

If history, as it is often said, is a living, breathing entity, then that's more than a half-century of a hot, ugly, gruesome past the Lakers can now feel panting on their necks.

This is not just Paul Pierce slinging in elbow jumpers or Rajon Rondo hustling for offensive rebounds and converting put-back buckets. It is Don Nelson's jumper kicking high off the back iron and falling straight down through the hoop and Sam Jones' stumbling shot dancing around the rim as if it were a Tibetan prayer wheel before finding the bottom of the net.

After a fourth-quarter collapse in Game 4 and a soul-less effort in Game 5, that's not merely a puddle of Big Baby's slobber on the floor, but a widening pool of regret and recrimination that could earn Kobe Bryant & Co. their own wing in the Hall of Horrors that has always been Lakers vs. Celtics.

The longer L.A. and Boston keep playing in this series, the more you have to be convinced that it will turn out like most of the previous NBA Finals meetings where the Lakers are poor, old Charlie Brown and the Celtics are sneering Lucy yanking away the football.

That's pretty much the way it has always gone since the league's two most storied franchises first met up (Minneapolis vs. Boston) in the 1959 Finals. There has been Selvy's (missed) Shot, the Balloon Game, Henderson Steals the Ball, the Heat Game, McHale's Clothesline and the Great Comeback of '08 and so many others.

Now you see Kobe score 19 of his 38 points in a stunning third-quarter performance and what you remember is the surly scowl he wore as he stomped off into the locker room, the angry epithets he was heard to hurl at his teammates before the door swung closed and the sense of failure and frustration that hung in the air.

This is precisely the way it has happened so often before when the Royal Rumble has closed out another long, long NBA season. Elgin Baylor scored 61 points in a single game for the Lakers in 1962 and the Celtics won the title. Jerry West averaged more than 40 points a game in 1965 and 1969 and the Celtics won the title.

So here they are again, with the undisputed individual star wearing purple-and-gold supposedly meant for kings and the Celtics making him shamrock green with envy for their sense of unity, understanding of team.

Was there any doubt that this was a different Lakers team, one that had grown since the last meeting with Boston in 2008, after Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum exploited their superior height and big man skills to win the opener to take a 1-0 lead and L.A. won Game 3 in Boston for a 2-1 lead?

But this is looking more and more like 1984, when Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, James Worthy, Pat Riley and the rest of the Showtime Lakers had a deeper reservoir of talent. The Celtics got into their heads (Henderson's steal) and into their faces (McHale on Kurt Rambis) and Boston managed to wrangle away another championship trophy with a combination of smarts and guts and just want-to.

The same vacant stare that was evident in that Hall-of-Fame-bound 1984 bunch has become a part of the uniform for this 21st century edition of the Lakers. A year ago, Kobe and the Lakers seemed to have all of the answers and all of the ways to wriggle out of the corners in the Finals against a new-to-the-dance Orlando team. But there are too many miles, too many scars on these Celtics to be blinded by the spotlight.

Going into the more recent past, after taking their 2-1 lead and supposedly the upper hand in the series, the Lakers have resembled the team that built the 24-point lead in Game 4 of 2008 and was on the verge of evening that series up at 2-2, only to blow it in the largest collapse in Finals history. Then, of course, the Lakers surrendered meekly with a 131-92 thumping in the Game 6 clincher.

There are zombie movies that don't have as many lifeless bodies wandering across the screen than the Lakers right now. From Gasol turning back into soft "Euro Pau" to Lamar Odom playing like he couldn't even keep up with one of the Kardashians on the court to Ron Artest's portrayal of the Absent-Minded Professor, there are Lakers who can't find the answers because they don't even seem to know the questions.

How does Bryant prop them all up and pull them together without alienating the entire roster by going one-against-the-world?

Can Bynum's knee really make that much of a difference?

Now they return to the Staples Center, where the Lakers have been virtually indomitable in the playoffs, except in that Game 2 loss to Boston.

The challenge for the Celtics will be to close it out now, to treat Game 6 as if it were already Game 7.

The last time a team returned home trailing 3-2 in the Finals and won, the Rockets beat the Knicks in 1994. Of course, that took Hakeem Olajuwon blocking a John Starks jumper with two seconds left in Game 6 and then Starks putting up an historic 2-for-18 clunker in Game 7.

History says you can't wait. History says you only get so many chances to close. History says the home team has a whopping advantage in Game 7.

History also says the tormented Lakers are 0-4 against the Celtics in Game 7s.

That's a lot to have breathing down your neck.

Fran Blinebury has covered the NBA since 1977. 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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