So, you wanted 125-124? You wanted Kobe Bryant to score 40 points and break a triple digits tie with a leaner, or a stepback? You wanted a basketball beauty pageant?
Phoenix and Orlando could have given you that. The Boston Celtics and Los Angeles Lakers, meeting in a Game Seven for the fifth time, delivered the ugliest of motion pictures. The main characters mimicked Charlize Theron in "Monster" more than the multi-dimensional actress in an Oscar dress, polished by makeup artists and gussied up for a glamour shot.
You wanted sexy? Get it back from Justin Timberlake. These two storied franchises refused to do sexy Thursday night.
The Lakers won 83-79 in an ugly affair that viewers will not forget. So ugly that it was beautiful. So ugly that it resembled a spontaneous slam poetry session in a desecrated war zone.
So ugly that the hectic, trigger-happy finish made Pau Gasol and Derek Fisher weep. Their faces turned from perspiration magnets to waterfalls. Their eyes flooded like dams breaking open over a village.
So ugly that Bryant could not hide behind his wall of terse language and sarcastic stares when the buzzer sounded. This time, he could not mask the ecstasy of it all.
Jovial, for real.
He jumped like Tarzan onto the scorer's table and opened up to his adoring fans in a way he rarely has. He screamed as if he had busted through a stone wall, his hands swollen, his ego and reputation vindicated from the horror of 2008.
So ugly that even Jack Nicholson could not escape the melee. Kevin Garnett, chasing a loose ball, flew into the courtside seats and bowled over the Oscar-winner's son to get it. The Lakers, much to the delight of the roaring Staples Center crowd, showed more guts than Jack did.
The Celtics and Lakers wrestled in the mud, each throwing handfuls of it at the other side's most appealing features. Blood and sweat replaced lipstick. Dirt upstaged delicacy. Sludge swallowed all hints of rhythm. Power thumped finesse.
When they had moved enough earth with their hands, they brandished shovels and dug deeper. Beneath the surface, each squad uncovered some unlikely heroes.
Rasheed Wallace appeared first, starting in place of the injured Kendrick Perkins. He hit more banks than Bonnie and Clyde en route to 11 points and eight rebounds.
Even with his big-game experience and pedigree, no one anticipated he would become an early offensive catalyst. A few first-quarter buckets helped push the Celtics to a 23-14 lead.
In an amazing feat, he survived a brutish, winner-take-all battle without accruing a technical foul. He did not even give basketball junkies a token "Ball Don't Lie."
Brian Scalabrine, who totaled zero minutes in the first six games, played 51 seconds. In 24 of those, he locked down Lamar Odom and afforded Boston an extra possession at the end of the second quarter.
Glen Davis? Oh baby, his six points and nine rebounds were big.
Doc Rivers pulled everything but the rabbit from his hat.
Jackson also witnessed unexpected heroics.
Ron Artest—the guy Lakers fans screamed at not to shoot so many times this season—drained a contested three with one minute left. He harangued Paul Pierce, recorded five steals, and dropped 20 career-defining points.
Artest is a champion now. Let that soak in for a second. "Artest" and "champion" in the same sentence. Yep. Trevor who?
He thanked his psychiatrist as confetti rained down. He said before this series he would not take charges because flops might lead to brawls. He once referenced a pickup game in which a competitor was so angry he stabbed another in the heart with a table leg.
Artest took charge Thursday night and can now take a stab at a new legacy.
Moments after Artest's triple, Sasha Vujacic, not Bryant or Fisher, swished the biggest free throws of the season. That Jackson inserted him into the lineup with a title in the balance speaks to the bizarre nature of the game.
There was nothing lucky about Odom's seven rebounds. A hobbled Andrew Bynum corralled six boards.
Sexy? Not in this house. Not on this night.
The celebrated stars forgot how to shoot.
Bryant made just six of 24 field goals and was three of 12 at the half. He channeled John Starks more than Michael Jordan. He managed 23 points only because he attempted 15 free throws and converted 11 of them. Bryant clanged one of those freebies with less than four minutes left.
Ray Allen's perimeter touch fell off a Santa Monica pier and drifted to the Pacific Ocean. He did bag a late three-pointer that forced the Lakers to sweat the outcome a few seconds longer but connected on just three of 14 shots. He, too, bricked a critical fourth-quarter free throw. He misfired more than Dick Cheney on a hunting trip with lawyer buddies. The open looks absorbed more iron that a weightlifter chugging an energy-infused smoothie.
Pierce finished 5-of-15.
Gasol was 6-of-16.
Among the future Hall of Famers, only Garnett demonstrated the accuracy expected of a star in a Game Seven. He canned eight of his 13 shots.
The Laker reserves finished 3-of-14.
The Celtics reserves, comparatively, were on fire. They made two of their five attempts. Davis delivered both buckets.
In these championship clinchers, the depth of the hole in the ground matters more than the length of the shovel.
The Lakers survived a dismal 32 percent shooting night because their determination to snare rebounds matched the daunting size of their frontline.
Gasol's mental toughness proved greater than his physical brawn. He buried the unwarranted "soft" label with 19 points and 18 rebounds. You could argue the Spaniard as the MVP of the game and the series.
Fisher returned from the locker room in the fourth quarter to knot the score at 64 with another Finals 3-pointer, his second of the series and the 42nd of his career. He boasts the highest cumulative 3-point percentage in Finals history.
His number may never hang in the Staples Center rafters. His leadership and poise, which helped secure five of those 16 championship banners, cannot be denied.
From Russell Westbrook to Deron Williams to Steve Nash to Rajon Rondo, the Lakers' oldest player faced a murderer's row of point guards in this postseason. His sagacity kept pace with all of them when his legs could not.
The young speedsters might win a foot race by a lot. Fisher can still win a mind race when it counts. His brain works faster and better in these monumental jousts.
The ramifications of the final score are far reaching. For the aging Celtics, this was a last hurrah.
Boston ownership cannot justify handing the 34-year-old Allen an expensive multi-year deal this summer after his mammoth, Game Seven clangfest. After setting the record for makes in a row, he flirted with the all-time mark for consecutive misses. Will he return?
Rivers wants to spend more time with his family in Orlando. He might prefer to watch his sons play basketball more than the Celtics. His future remains in limbo.
Assistant Tom Thibodeau, the architect of Boston's bruising defense, accepted the Chicago Bulls' head coach position last week.
Wallace competed like a big man on his last legs, making his final stand. He could opt for retirement in a few weeks. Rivers admitted as much at the podium. Boston's coach welled up, too.
GM Danny Ainge must deal with six other free agents, including Nate Robinson and Tony Allen. Both reserves played pivotal roles in the Celtics' postseason fight to the finish.
Garnett cannot limp from October through February much longer. The 82-game grind takes its toll. His odometer has racked up thousands of minutes.
Bostonians may have just watched this group's sorrowful goodbye.
Jackson, the NBA's all-time winningest coach, now owns more rings than fingers. He will undergo a battery of medical tests in the coming days that may determine whether he returns.
Was this his last sideline rendezvous? Even after a 16th title, Owner Jerry Buss might hesitate to fork up $12 million more for Jackson's continued services.
Fisher becomes a free agent July 1. Will GM Mitch Kupchak let the playoff hero walk in favor of a younger, more consistent regular season point guard, or will he keep the clutch shot maker around as the ultimate tutor?
No one wears a suit and porno-film mustache quite like Adam Morrison. Who will replace him as lead cheerleader and benchwarmer?
Hey, someone had to keep the bench warm in this ice-cold affair.
It was muddy, mucky, merciless, and anything but mundane.
There were bricks and more bricks. A late flurry of threes and foul shots saved the final score from being 70-something to 60-something.
The Lakers emerged from the rubble as the league's best...again.
Arms locked, elbows swung, angry players clinched fists, and desperation filled the arena like smog does the L.A. air.
The Celtics will wash away the mud with dejection and regret. The Lakers washed off theirs with champagne.
A bubbly bath never felt so good.
When the ugliness ended, one team was left to ponder what it almost did as a fourth seed. The other will spend the next week in full party mode.
The Lakers, no longer stuck in the Celtics' mud, have earned those glamour shots. Many of them will include the Larry O'Brien trophy.
Phoenix and Orlando would not have sparred this way. They made winning look good until the two conference champions exposed their numerous flaws by mucking up their snazzy images.
So, you wanted a shootout? Wrong time. Wrong series. Wrong teams.
L.A. and Boston squared off in a slugfest to remember. Those who watched it will not forget its mysterious beauty.
An ugly night ended with gold. For the Lakers, that's sexy enough.
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