With the Los Angeles Lakers embarrassing the Boston Celtics last night in Game Six, winning 89-67 to force a seventh game, it was a good thing I have retained my amateur status as a sportswriter. Had I been a professional, with a deadline, I would have come up just as short as the Celtics did.
After the game mercifully came to an end, I looked over the notes that I had taken throughout and sat in front of my laptop, just staring blankly.
I had nothing.
I could not come up with one coherent thought. It was an awful concoction of anger, shock, disappointment, and frustration, mixed with a touch of pure fear of what might now happen in a Game Seven.
Even today, with a night (ok a few hours) to sleep on it, I still am struggling to properly find a way to describe last night’s game.
It is sort of a blur.
Ray Allen knocked down a three-pointer early in the first quarter, ending an 0-21 streak he had from beyond the arc. His trey put Boston ahead 12-10 about five minutes into the game. So far, so good.
Everything would change in the next two minutes.
The Celtics were not keeping up with the Lakers, on either end of the court. Kobe Bryant, fully aware, seized the moment.
He tore off six straight points, in the process reclaiming the lead for the Lakers, something they would never relinquish. Pau Gasol then added another hoop, for an 8-0 run.
All the momentum was fully behind the Lakers at that point.
Then, at the 5:30 mark, Kendrick Perkins went up for a rebound. Andrew Bynum went over Perkins back, and Perk came down awkwardly.
The big center immediately went to the ground, and before Bryant could even finish complaining to the officials about the foul call, Perkins was already pointing at his knee.
Anyone who has followed the Celtics or Perkins, knew right away, it was not good.
Perk had to be carried off the court, he did not return, and his status for Game Seven is doubtful.
Whether Perkins’s injury impacted the Celtics mentally or not, I do not know (and if it did, that is still no excuse. Teams have to be able to overcome injuries).
I do know that the game was slowly slipping away before the injury. After the injury, all that changed was the pace, as the Lakers raced away from the Celtics.
After one quarter, the score was 28-18, with LA finishing the quarter on an 18-6 run. Boston’s 18 points in the quarter was a horrid offensive showing. In a sign of just how bad the game went for the Celtics, they would actually score less than that in two of the final three quarters.
A Jordan Farmar dunk after a Paul Pierce turnover put the Lakers ahead 45-25, their first 20-point lead of the game. The Celtics never came within 17 the rest of the way.
As a fan watching, I kept hoping for any sort of run, something to at least make me think the Celtics could make a game of this. It never came.
At halftime, I tried to keep my spirits up, reminding myself of Boston's record comeback in Game Four back in 2008, and that the Celtics nearly overcame a 17-point deficit in Game Three this year.
But then came the third quarter that was truly disheartening.
The Celtics actually were outplaying the Lakers, getting a few stops on defense and coming up with good looks on offense. But they missed several easy shots, and ultimately, they were unable to make any dent whatsoever in the Laker lead.
The Lakers got the complete team effort that had been missing during the three games in Boston. LA hammered Boston on the boards, outrebounding the Celtics 52-39, came up with 13 steals, and knocked down six three-pointers.
Bryant led the way with 26 points and 11 rebounds. He did it on only 19 shots, his lowest total of the series, more proof that the Lakers are at their best when he is not forced to jack up 25-plus shots (even if he makes most of his attempts).
Pau Gasol nearly notched a triple-double, with 17 points, 13 rebounds, and nine assists. Gasol’s effort should have been expected. Against Boston this season, including the regular season, Gasol is averaging 22 points, 11 rebounds, and shooting 56-percent from the floor in the games in Los Angeles (compared to 14 points, 9 rebounds, and 44-percent shooting in Boston).
The two Lakers who received the most criticism after the games in Boston, Ron Artest and Lamar Odom, also played well. Artest hit three three-pointers, finishing with 15 points, and Odom had eight points and 10 rebounds.
For Boston, offensively in the first half, the Big Three of Ray Allen, Kevin Garnett, and Paul Pierce combined for 29 of the team’s 31 points. They shot 13-27, but their teammates were a miserable 1-14. For the game, the trio shot 19-42 (45.2 percent) for 44 points. The rest of the Celtic team was 9-42 (21.4 percent).
Rajon Rondo simply played the worst game he has played maybe all season. His final stats do not tell the story (10 points, six rebounds, five assists). He appeared to play the game as if it was a preseason contest in the Vegas Summer League, rather than Game Six of the Finals.
Rondo led the team with 15 shot attempts, making just five. Many of his shots were attempts where he was just throwing the ball up towards the hoop, or settling for jump shots early in the shot clock.
He had more than a few pass attempts that had me scratching my head as to what was going through his mind. Rondo was out of sorts all night long.
An example came early in the game. Rondo pushed the ball up the floor, and as the Laker defense collapsed around him, Pierce found an open space behind the three-point line.
When Rondo is going good, this is an easy pass to a shooter in rhythm. Instead, Rondo threw an awkward bounce pass, that threw off the timing of the play. Pierce still could have made the shot, but it was just indicative of the poor nature of Rondo’s point guard play last night.
All of this of course sets up the do-or-die Game Seven.
Has there ever been a Game Seven in the NBA Finals with more on the line than Thursday night?
It will be a battle for the NBA Championship first and foremost.
It will also be a battle for the greatest franchise of all time debate. A win gives the Celtics a two-championship lead over the Lakers, and adds to their dominance against LA in the Finals.
A Laker win pulls them within one, and gives LA back-to-back titles and seven championships since 1987 to Boston’s one.
I do not think one game can damage a legacy, unless someone pulls a John Starks-type performance. But a win will add a great deal to the Hall of Fame resumes of Bryant, Garnett, Allen, and Pierce.
There was talk entering the series that Rajon Rondo may be the best point guard in the NBA. That argument has taken serious blows throughout this series. But if Rondo plays well and leads the Celtics to a victory, suddenly his case becomes that much stronger.
If there is a good thing for the Celtics, it is that they have bounced back after every bad defeat throughout these playoffs. After losing by 29 points to the Cavaliers, Boston won Game Four; after losing by 21 in Game Five to Orlando, the Celtics wrapped up the series in Game Six. And after a poor effort in Game One against the Lakers, losing by 13, Boston won Game Two.
I am clinging to that thought at the moment, because otherwise, I am not feeling too confident about Boston’s chances.
This team completely surprised me with their run in the playoffs. I hope they have one more surprise left in them.
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