Thursday, June 17, 2010
Staples Center, 9 p.m.
RADIO: WEEI 850 AM
Millions of numbers are crunched during an NBA season, from measurements at the combine to standings during the season, to probabilities and statistics based on nightly occurrences. None of that matters anymore.
When the clock strikes 9 p.m. Thursday night and the Celtics and Lakers meet at mid-court on the Staples Center floor, there is a single digit that will reign supreme. On this night, 'one' will be the magic number.
Two dominant cores, each playing for one of the two most storied franchises in NBA history, need only one win to achieve all-time greatness, and they both have only one game to do so.
For the first time since 2005, we are certain of the night the NBA's season will come to a close. We've got a historic Game 7 looming on the horizon, as this game holds rare significance.
Each team's current foundation is seeking its final step toward entering the prestigious category of two-time NBA champions, leaving Thursday's Game 7 as the most important game these historic franchises have played in years.
"Historic," says Lamar Odom. "When you're talking about these organizations and these teams, what they stand for, the pride. This is what you envisioned when you were a kid playing in your backyard. This was what it was all about."
What it's all about Thursday night is a do-or-die game, where the winner takes all and the loser trickles off to the abyss. The enormity of Game 7s normally brings the best out of both teams, and as Kevin Garnett notes, that's something he expects to happen Thursday night.
"It's all out," says Garnett. "It's for the marbles, it's for everything, all out. You save nothing. You leave nothing."
The Celtics' goal was to do that in Game 6, but instead they delivered a "clunker," as Doc Rivers branded it. Luckily for them, their performance back in Boston afforded them two opportunities to close out the series in Los Angeles, the second of which is Game 7.
Clunkers haven't been a common theme for the Celtics during this postseason, but on the rare occurrence that one surfaced, Boston has done a terrific job at bouncing back in the following game.
On May 7, the Cavaliers pounded the C's by 29 points in their Game 3, leaving Boston in a 1-2 series hole against the league's best regular season team. But the Celtics immediately responded with a 10-point win in Game 4 and closed out the series in six games.
After taking a 3-0 lead over Orlando in the Conference Finals, the Magic reeled off two straight wins over the Celtics and had the nation buzzing about the historic collapse Boston was on its way to completing. Or not -- the C's won Game 6 by 12 points and slammed the door on that idea, advancing to the Finals.
Now it's time to bounce back from a Game 6 dud that saw the Celtics score only 67 points and look discombobulated at both ends of the court. They will have to do so without their starting center, as Kendrick Perkins will be unable to play due to a right knee injury that he suffered just 6:30 into the first quarter of Game 6.
With Perk not suiting up, that leaves a heck of a responsibility on the shoulders of Boston's regular reserves. Rasheed Wallace and Glen Davis are the likely candidates to start, but Rivers has been coy in publicly releasing his decision on the matter. Davis has often delivered during fill-in situations, but Wallace is most likely to get the nod considering the size and length of LA's starting frontcourt. Either way, both should garner considerable playing time and will need to play much better than they did in Game 6, where they combined to shoot 0-for-10 from the floor.
"It's like I told our guys this morning," said Rivers, "somebody has a great opportunity tomorrow, and that's the way we have to look at it."
Boston's bench as a whole was a near non-factor during that game, as they did not score a point until the fourth quarter and were greatly outplayed by the likes of Lamar Odom, Jordan Farmar, Sasha Vujacic and Shannon Brown. If that performance is duplicated, the C's will most likely be watching Los Angeles celebrate at the end of the night.
But Boston's roster is loaded with talent and veteran savvy, two characteristics that have helped the team respond in difficult situations (as previously noted) throughout these playoffs.
We will see Thursday night if the team can come together Ubuntu-style one last time in 2010 and deliver an 18th banner to the franchise.
The opportunity to make it happen has come down to one game and one game only. As Garnett likes to say, there's "nothing more, nothing less" than this one historic night.
With Perkins out of the lineup, Boston's frontline is going to be playing on a much tighter leash than it has in quite some time. The normal rotation has sprinkled minutes on four bigs, and now one of them will be watching from the sideline.
This means that the remaining three, who are Garnett, Wallace and Davis, will be asked to play extended minutes to make up for the 25 MPG that Perkins normally racks up. Yes, Brian Scalabrine and Shelden Williams will likely see time on the floor, but Rivers would much rather limit the rotation to the regulars in Game 7.
There is one factor, however, that could prevent him from doing so. Foul trouble has plagued Boston's big men during the Finals, especially Wallace, and if that trend continues in Game 7 the C's could be hampered down low.
"Well, [it'd be] nice," Rivers said of the possibility of Sheed avoiding foul trouble. "You would hope, but he has been in foul trouble most of the games, so you have to go into the game anticipating that, really, and being ready to adjust if that happens."
If foul trouble does become an issue, we might see the Celtics go to a smaller lineup rather than playing bigs who have essentially been inactive for months. If the C's can somehow avoid that foul trouble down low, the frontline should be able to perform at a high level.
There is no avoiding the glaring statistic that whichever team has won the rebounding battle in the first six games of this series has also won the game. Tuesday night, Boston was massacred on the glass.
The Celtics are undersized in comparison to the Lakers, and that fact looms even larger with Perkins inactive. Boston was out-rebounded 30-13 in the first half of Game 6, and that helped Los Angeles open up a 20-point halftime lead that crushed the Celtics' psyche.
In Game 7, the C's will need to play with the energy, passion and hustle that they displayed in Games 4 and 5 in Boston. Those are the characteristics that can overcome size and length, and the C's will need to display them on the regular to win this decisive game.
Keep it comfy in the fourth
The obvious goal Thursday night will be to come out of the gates early, set the tone of the game and take an early lead. Doing so will quickly put the issues of Game 6 in the past and give the entire team a heightened level of energy.
Whichever team does so early on will likely have an edge in the game, but don't expect a blowout. Both of these teams are highly competitive and are going to empty the tank in this final game of the season. When two evenly matched teams do so, the odds of having a close score are very, very high.
If the Celtics can play from ahead in the final minute(s) of the game, it will be a huge plus if they can maintain a two-possession lead. Let's face the reality of who is on the other team. Kobe Bryant is the greatest big-shot maker of this era, and there's no one even close behind him. If the C's do have a lead, the worst thing they would want is to see the ball in Bryant's hands in a one-possession game with the game on the line. He's been otherworldly with his success in those situations, and there's no reason to think that would change in Game 7 of the Finals.
Boston has already seen Bryant hit one buzzer-beater against them this season that propelled LA to a win, and they'd be happy to avoid the possibility of another one Thursday night.