When Kendrick Perkins went down in the first quarter of Game 6 of the 2010 NBA Finals, the course of the series inevitably shifted.
The Celtics suddenly lacked the big-man depth to compete with the long-armed Lakers and imploded in the final three quarters of Game 6. A 20-point halftime deficit for the Celtics swelled to a 27-point Laker lead, and the Lakers set up a Game 7 on Thursday night with an 89-67 victory.
After the game, Celtics' coach Doc Rivers attempted to downplay Perkins' injury, saying he only had sprained his knee. There was no hiding the severity of the injury the next day; Perkins showed up at practice and admitted he had torn two ligaments in his right knee .
Without Perkins, Boston will enter Game 7 without its most imposing physical force down low, and without its most effective defender of the Lakers' Andrew Bynum. While ESPN's John Hollinger thinks the Perkins injury could end up being a positive for the Celtics , chances are, the public opinion will heavily favor the Lakers in seven.
Now, if the Celtics end up winning Game 7, they'll render this entire article moot. Seriously, stop reading this if the Celtics have won the title.
But if the Lakers end up winning Game 7, here's the question that hasn't been asked yet: Will Perkins' injury detract from the Lakers' championship in any way?
That's not to say the title will go down with an asterisk in the record books—obviously, injuries are a natural part of sports, no matter how unfortunate the timing may be. The Celtics will still dress 12 players for Game 7. They'll still have 48 minutes to go out, compete and win a championship. If the Lakers emerge victorious, they'll have earned every bit of their back-to-back titles.
Despite all of that, will this series end up becoming one of the greater "What if?" moments in recent sports history if the Lakers win?
If there's one thing athletes cherish about winning a championship, it's the challenges they overcome in their ascent to the title. The emotion you see pouring out of athletes on the trophy podium comes from those players knowing they spilled every drop of sweat, blood, and energy they could humanly muster to achieve their goals.
Athletes also love beating the best to earn their championship(s). When Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson lock horns, the title ends up meaning more . The same goes for Roger Federer/Rafael Nadal and Magic Johnson/Larry Bird.
Had Magic gone down in Game 6 of the '84 Finals, would Celtics fans hold that '84 championship in such high reverence?
When players and teams aren't afforded the opportunity to compete against the best en route to a title, their championships tend to be viewed as slightly tainted.
Clearly, the Lakers will openly celebrate their 16th championship, if it comes to be. Kobe Bryant will tie Magic Johnson's five championships, lurking one behind His Airness. Ron Artest will finally wear the championship ring that likely haunts him in his dreams, getting six years' worth of demons off his back in the process.
But will the Lakers, despite their elation, still feel slightly unfulfilled… even cheated? With Perkins not manning the post in the ultimate game of the Finals, will the Lakers feel a sense of guilt for their sudden advantage?
Pau Gasol had his best game of the Finals in Game 6, ending one assist short of a triple-double with 17 points, 13 rebounds, nine assists, and three blocks. Gasol's best game and Perkins' injury occurring on the same night are not a coincidence.
The Celtics could end up throwing an unpredictable lineup at the Lakers to stifle their Game-6 momentum, but there's no reason to believe the Lakers won't continue sticking to their own game plan.
Unfortunately for the Celtics, that plan calls for getting their big men (particularly Bynum) going early. And if the Boston bigs pick up cheap fouls early, which they have managed to do pretty consistently throughout the series (especially the first two games in L.A.), they'll have to go into the Shelden Williams-Brian Scalabrine section of the bench. (Also known in Boston as "Code Red.")
Going into Game 6, all the Celtics had to do was win one of two in L.A. and they'd leave as champions. With Perkins' knee in tatters, the Celtics' championship dreams aren't in much better shape.
But what would have happened had Perkins not torn his knee on Tuesday night? Would the Celtics have been able to muster the strength to steal another game in L.A.?
Assuming the Lakers remember to exploit their newfound post dominance, they're all but guaranteed to roll to their 16th championship on Thursday night.
Will that championship hold as much luster for the Lakers, knowing that Perkins' injury opened the door for them to swoop in and steal it from under the Celtics' noses?