Call it tempting fate.
Call it a fatal attraction.
Despite a 2-9 series record against the Boston Celtics in the NBA Finals, the Los Angeles Lakers find themselves in a familiar predicament, matched against Boston in Game Seven—a situation where the Lakers are 0-4.
Consistency will meet intensity in the most anticipated NBA finals matchup of the 2000s. The best team, player and head coach of the 2000s (Lakers, Kobe Bryant and Phil Jackson) will be on display as Boston tries to prove that teamwork and defense wins championships while the Lakers battle history to enhance their legacy.
Coaches in the Spotlight
The only NBA coach with 10 championship rings, Lakers head coach Phil Jackson’s reputation as a coach of superstars instead of a superstar coach will finally be tested in a winner-take-all NBA Finals Game Seven.
Similarly, Celtics head coach Doc Rivers faced the same labels and stereotypes after welcoming Allen and Garnett in the summer of 2007.
The media microscope will be aimed at Jackson and Rivers and their adjustments, substitutions and play-calling.
Jackson didn’t sit an injured Andrew Bynum in a non-elimination Game Five—Bynum scored six points and only grabbed one rebound in 32 minutes—but the Lakers coach rested Bynum in the second half of Game Six (the Lakers were up 17 points at halftime).
Jackson also rested the playoff-proven Derek Fisher for most of the game, as the 35-year-old point guard only played 15 minutes and should be fresh and ready to play major minutes down the stretch in the decisive Game Seven.
How Jackson monitors Bynum and manages the Lakers rotation will be an interesting aspect of the game.
Rivers has plenty of huge decisions to make in Game Seven.
If the Lakers continue to leave Rondo open for outside jumpers, he has to decide whether to direct his point guard to shoot or drive to the lane to create a better shot for himself or his teammates. There’s also the possibility of giving Robinson—a less-shy outside shooter—more minutes.
So far Rivers hasn’t tipped his hat on who will start in place of Perkins, but Glen “Big Baby” Davis and Rasheed Wallace are the most likely candidates with Shelden Williams also prepared for more playing time.
Wallace is a wild-card and Celtics head coach Doc Rivers has to decide how many minutes to give the oft-troubled and foul-prone veteran who brings some offensive versatility to their lineup.
All three players should play more than usual and how Rivers alters his rotation to make up for the loss of Perkins will be critical.
Tony Allen has played good defense on Kobe Bryant but Ray Allen is a better offensive player. Doc Rivers will have to decide how to maximize both players' abilities in Game Seven.
Internal Affairs: Looking Inside for Answers
There are plenty of outside threats in the NBA Finals: Bryant, Allen, Rondo and Paul Pierce.
Yet interior play has been the main key in this series as the team with the rebounding edge has won every game of the series.
Other inside issues include the matchup between the Celtics’ Kevin Garnett and the Lakers’ Pau Gasol, Kendrick Perkins’ absence from Boston’s starting lineup and Andrew Bynum’s health.
There have been three games in Boston and three games in Los Angeles and home-court advantage has been kind to Garnett and Gasol.
Garnett has averaged 11.3 ppg and 4.7 rpg in Los Angeles but upgraded to 18.7 ppg and 7.3 rpg in Boston.
Gasol has averaged 21.7 ppg, 11.7 rpg and four blocks per game in the Staples Center while his averages dipped to 15.3 ppg, 9.3 rpg and 1.3 bpg at Boston’s TD Garden.
Gasol would seem to have the advantage playing at home in Game Seven against a depleted Celtics frontline but the Lakers haven’t forgotten that Garnett was magnificent in the 2008 Finals clincher finishing with 26 points, 14 rebounds and four assists.
The centers for both teams are nursing right knee injuries but Boston has declared that Perkins is out for Game Seven with a torn PCL and a torn MCL while a less-than-100 percent Bynum will probably start again for the Lakers.
The Celtics were noticeably devastated after losing Perkins for the rest of the series in the first quarter of Game Six. His seven points and seven rebounds a game in Games One thru Five doesn’t give proper credence to his effect in the paint.
Perkins isn’t afraid to throw his weight around, issue a postseason-type foul and do all the dirty work that’s required on a defensive-minded, team-oriented Celtics squad.
Bynum has shown the will and courage of a champion while playing on a knee that constantly swells, has to be iced, drained and will require surgery in the offense.
Bynum only played 16 minutes in Game Six and he should be well-rested for Game Seven although his performance has been trending downward since an amazing performance in Game Two when he notched 21 points, six rebounds and seven blocks in 39 minutes.
While the Lakers are accustomed to playing without Bynum—he didn’t play in 17 games during the regular season after missing 32 games in the 2008-09 regular season—the seven-footer hasn’t missed a playoff game the last two postseasons when the Lakers have need him most.
Perkins has been a mainstay in Boston’s starting lineup and though Boston’s Big Three haven’t lost a playoff series, they haven’t won a series without Perkins since they united in 2007.
The Tag Team vs. The Deeper Team
Almost every NBA Finals team features a dependable, dynamic duo and this year’s version is the Lakers’ Bryant and Gasol. Bryant leads all scorers with a 29.5 ppg average and Gasol is second in scoring at 18.5, first in rebounding at 10.5 rpg and first in blocks at 2.7 bpg.
Bryant has been the most consistent player in the NBA Finals and his all-around play staved off elimination in the Lakers’ 89-67 victory in Game Six.
Realizing that the team with the rebounding edge has won every game of the series, Kobe led by example with 11 rebounds and 26 points and Gasol added 17 points and 13 rebounds, his fourth double-double in the Finals.
The Celtics have illustrated the benefits of teamwork, defense, effort and desire in their three wins.
Facing an 0-2 deficit in Game Two, Boston’s Rondo and Ray Allen showed the characteristic Celtics grit that has helped the franchise claim the most championships in league history. Rondo logged a triple double with 19 points, 12 rebounds and 10 steals and Ray Allen’s eight 3s and 32 points were huge in the 103-94 Boston victory.
Surprisingly in Game Four, Davis (18 points) and Nate Robinson (12 points) combined to give the Celtics a one-two, inside-outside power punch off the bench for a 96-89 win.
In Game Five, solid games from Paul Pierce (27 points), Kevin Garnett (18 points, 10 rebounds and five steals) and Rajon Rondo (18 points, eight assists and five rebounds) led to another victory.
With everything on the line in Game Seven, will quantity (Allen, Garnett, Pierce and Rondo) trump quality (Kobe and Gasol)?
Will reliable options (Kobe and Gasol) overcome a variety of options (Allen, Garnett, Pierce and Rondo)?
The back-and-forth Finals has been exciting as Los Angeles had an early series lead before Boston came back to gain a 3-2 advantage in Game Five.
The series was tied at one, two and now three games apiece.
After Thursday’s game there will be no more ties except the ones that bind the Lakers and the Celtics, the two best franchises in NBA history.