When my 14-year old sister and I head to the hamburger Hall of Fame that is In N' Out, she always orders her same, standard selection: a cheeseburger, merely with meat, cheese and a dab of ketchup. No crisp lettuce, ripe tomatoes, grilled onions or best of all, the "heaven in your mouth" spread.
Her burger of choice is like Kim Kardashian without makeup.
Along the same lines, when the Los Angeles Lakers and Boston Celtics conclude the NBA Finals war in tonight's do-or-die Game Seven, the difference between L.A.'s 16th title and Boston's record-18th banner will not be the "burgers," but rather the "toppings."
Among the "burgers" are the Black Mamba, who is bound to strike as only Kobe Bryant can, and Pau Gasol, who will surely put everything on the line in order to shed his "soft" sticker for good. Conversely, Paul Pierce will likely inner his 2008 Finals MVP approach; Kevin Garnett is all but assuredly going to be the defensively-menacing, emotionally-strung soldier that he has been; and Ray Allen will presumably pick up where he left off after averaging 21 points in the series' previous three games at Staples Center.
In other words, the stars will be stars. Between them are eight NBA championships, 16 Finals appearances, and more salivation at their mouths than a dog who has been teased with a prime-rib steak for over an hour.
They understand the magnitude of this game. They recognize the situation and its subsequent stakes. They know what it would mean to hoist the Larry O'Brien Trophy, just as they know what it would mean to bethink their burning feelings of an opportunity lost, a best-selling book left unfinished.
But for all the proverbial food they will bring to the table, Game Seven will come down to each team's supporting casts, which will inevitably need to supply the plates, cups and silverware in order to enjoy the meal.
For the Lakers, Derek Fisher, Lamar Odom, and Ron Artest will be the primary keys to the Purple and Gold's championship car. Each player has been obviously inconsistent thus far in this series.
Fisher was plagued with foul problems for most of game five leading to a series-low four points. Odom accumulated more fouls than points in games one and two combined, and has recorded just one double-digit rebound game after racking up seven in rounds one through three. And Artest has posted shooting nights of 1-for-10 in game two and 2-of-9 in Game Five, while allowing Pierce to break free for productive performances in Games Four and Five (19 and 27 points, respectively).
For Boston, meanwhile, Rajon Rondo, plausible starting center Glen Davis, and Rasheed Wallace must put the "X" in X-factors if the Celtics franchise wants to remain undefeated in Game Sevens of the Finals.
Just as L.A.'s role players have been up and down, so too have these three.
Rondo has come down to earth after toying with the Celtics' first three opponents, and is emerging as the next great Beantown baller. "Big Baby" has at times appeared all grown up (he averaged a shade over 10 points throughout the first four games); but, on other occasions, he has seemed painfully inexperienced (he did not net a single point in both game five and six). And Wallace's role—predominantly on defense—will be magnified with the sudden loss of Kendrick Perkins.
All in all, the patties will be cooked, the buns toasted, the cheese hot and melted, and the ketchup applied and spread.
The question ultimately becomes: Which team's burger will resemble my sister's?
You can contact Josh Hoffman at JHoffMedia@gmail.com.