Coming into Game Six, the Lakers hadn’t faced an elimination game in over a year.
Maybe they had forgotten what it felt like. Maybe they just needed the push.
Maybe they had forgotten they actually were capable of losing. If you were watching Game Five, you know that anyone would be hard pressed to argue that conclusion.
In Game Five, the Lakers looked like a team of sub-par role players incapable of doing anything but watching their leader go to work. They looked like...the Cleveland Cavaliers.
Glad that’s over.
The Lakers weren’t able to bounce back with a dominant performance because they did any singular thing particularly well. They shot only 41 percent from the floor, scored only 89 points, and the 17 assists they posted were three under their postseason average.
Sure, the Celtics shot only 33 percent, but they also missed a ton of easy looks at the basket. Yes, the Lakers beat out the Celtics by a 13-rebound margin, but many of those rebounds weren’t grabbed cleanly.
So, what exactly was the biggest difference for the Lakers?
They fought tooth-and-nail for virtually every rebound they collected, they were an inch quicker than the Celtics to various loose balls, they got into the Celtics’ heads with their physical play, and they fed off Kobe Bryant’s excellent decision making and the suddenly bloodthirsty crowd at Staples.
The Lakers fought like their legacies depended on the series’ outcome, and, well, they did and still do.
Going into Game Seven, all of the aforementioned themes (including the harsh but truthful No. 1) will determine whether the Lakers claim a second consecutive NBA Championship title or whether the Celtics deface the Staples Center by claiming the NBA title on the Lakers’ centerpiece logo.