Posted Jun 16 2010 7:42AM
LOS ANGELES -- It is no longer about the journey, it's now about the destination. What they did before means nothing, what they do next means everything.
Lakers-Celtics, 2010 NBA Finals, Game Heaven. Or hell, for the loser.
"It's going to be hard for both teams," said Celtics coach Doc Rivers.
"It's really a high-tension situation," said Lakers coach Phil Jackson.
Forget for a moment what you saw, and imagine instead what you'll see come Thursday, championship on the line. We'll see if the Celtics can overcome the very likely loss of Kendrick Perkins, their starting center, who fell in an awkward heap five and a half minutes into Game 6 and had to be helped off. He's diagnosed with a sprained right knee, which medically sounds like a hangnail, but Rivers knows better.
"It doesn't look great," he said.
We'll see if the Lakers enter their building once again with a purpose, as they did last night, with their season on the line. Showing the grit that was missing the previous two games, and no doubt the fear of being eliminated, the Lakers ripped the Celtics apart like lions at feeding time. They led by 20 at the half, 25 after three quarters, causing the fashionably late at Staples Center to miss a great game, all 90 seconds of it. The Lakers were on the floor, the glass and one step faster on the ball all night long. Lakers 89, Celtics 67 was a romp, and not totally unexpected, given the circumstances.
We'll see if the pride still beats within the Celtics, especially their Big Three, the trio of veterans who know their championship clock is ticking. In this series, Ray Allen made eight shots from 3-point range in Game 2, and Paul Pierce outdueled Kobe Bryant in Game 5 to bring a 3-2 series lead to L.A., and Kevin Garnett finally sprung a youthful leak over two games in Boston. But they haven't always been on a high level at the same time. Does that change, here at the summit, when the Celtics need it most?
"They have a locker room full of guys who've had phenomenal careers," said Derek Fisher, "and I think they'll recognize this is a moment you sometimes never see in your career."
And mostly, we'll see Kobe Bryant, the game's best player, in a Finals Game 7, first time in his four-championship career. Kobe has scored 30 or more points three times in this series, but his finest performances came in losses. Meaning, while he certainly hasn't tried to save his best for last, it could happen. Better happen, for the Lakers' sake. Your dream Game 7 scenario: Close game, two minutes left, Kobe's eyes narrow and lips tighten.
This is the only rightful conclusion for these storied franchises, looking to extend their glory in this, basketball's bitter and beautiful rivalry. Really, what could be better? The Lakers have won 10 championships since moving to Los Angeles. The Celtics 17. Both teams have won the last two years. This is only the third time in 21 years that a Game 7 was necessary in the Finals. But the Lakers and Celtics share four of them all told, with the Celtics sweeping, most recently in 1984, the height of the NBA's Golden Age.
Depending on how it goes down, this one can align itself with the rest. Right with 1962, when Frank Selvy missed an open 12-footer with seconds left in regulation that would've won it for the Lakers. They lost in OT. And 1966, when Jerry West and Elgin Baylor shockingly shot 3-for-18 in the first half, dooming the Lakers. And 1969, when balloons were placed under the ceiling upon orders by then-Lakers owner Jack Kent Cooke. They were supposed to fall at the buzzer, celebrating a win, but the only thing that fell was the ball, on a lucky shot by Don Nelson that clinched Bill Russell's final title. And 1984, in steamy 91-degree heat at the old Garden, when mouthy Cedric Maxwell told his mates to "climb on my back, boys" and then scored 24 points with eight rebounds and eight assists.
Here in 2010, both teams have shown flaws and flashes of brilliance, neither able to establish much in terms of a healthy advantage throughout the series. Which now will be defined by a single evening.
"We're probably both in a game that we'd like to be in," said Rivers. "I think if you told the teams this is where you had to be, we'd both take it."
So what will this one come down to? Well, officiating, for sure. Expect to see someone named Crawford in a game of this magnitude. And free throws; did you know Rajon Rondo is three for his last 13? And rebounds, the Lakers had 13 more in Game 6, with Pau Gasol grabbing 13. And matchups: Ron Artest on Pierce, KG on Gasol, every darn Celtic in the building on Kobe.
And injuries, to the big men. Andrew Bynum, after a spirited start, played only the first minute of the second half before having his creaky right knee checked. There was more swelling, and more concern for the Lakers. As for Perkins, the Celtics are just hoping Rasheed Wallace (0-for-7 shooting in Game 6) still has a pulse, because if not, Shelden Williams might see 14 minutes again.
And coaching. Jackson, owner of 10 NBA titles, has never worked a Finals Game 7. Meanwhile, what additional defensive schemes will the Rivers-Tom Thibodeau combo cook up?
It awaits on Thursday, when urgency will strip all of the participants bare and show us their true basketball character. We'll see who wants the ball and who wants to hide, who brings it and who leaves it, who wants the championship and who's willing to wait until next year.
Strangely, the one player who'll carry the most weight is treating it, at least publicly anyway, like a Tuesday night in January. Did you hear how pumped Kobe is for this?
"No different to me," he huffed. "I'm not going to go crazy over it. I know what's at stake, but I'm not trippin'."
OK, well, that's just Kobe putting on a poker face. We'll see if he declines the chance to go "crazy" in the fourth quarter. Let's not pretend we don't know what's at stake here: A fifth ring for Kobe, bringing him one closer to Michael Jordan. Another banner for Boston to raise. And a game to remember, possibly, for everyone involved.
To steal from Kobe, this could be a special trip.
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