The most difficult aspect of being the last team on the basketball court not to hoist the Larry O’Brien trophy is that you have the entire off season to think about what you could have done to change the outcome.
This off-season will be a difficult one for the Boston as they consider what they could have done differently to win the NBA Championship. Further complicating matters, the coaches and players will carry the additional burden of worrying about their future together as a team.
The Celtics perfectly executed their game plan. The game was there for them to win and establish their legacy as one of the best teams in the history of the league.
Kobe Bryant played into the hands of the Celtics. Bryant shot early, often and without any regard for the consequences of his actions.
The Celtics took advantage of Bryant’s poor decisions and raced out to a 23-14 first quarter lead. The team that led after the first quarter in the first six games of this series eventually went on to win the game.
Boston now needed to keep applying pressure to Los Angeles. Could the Celtics keep the Lakers from exploding in the second quarter to keep the half time score under 50?
Boston could not get on track to start the second quarter. The Lakers scored the first five points in the quarter to bring Los Angeles within four of Boston; Celtics Coach Doc Rivers sensing a run called a time-out to stem the tide.
Los Angeles however kept coming at Boston. Bryant fired a misguided long range jumper from the corner that found nothing but air that is until Ron Artest scooped the missed and put in a lay-up.
The Lakers now had the lead at 25-23 and now the question was whether the Celtics were going to answer Los Angeles.
The old guard of Boston was not yet prepared to concede to Los Angeles.
Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen, Paul Pierce and Rasheed Wallace took on the responsibility to score and as the second half came to a close, Boston had battled back and lead at halftime 40-34.
The raucous crowd at Staples Center was stunned as Boston had Los Angeles on the ropes.
Both coaches undoubtedly told their respective squads about the importance of a strong start to the third quarter. The conventional wisdom was that if the Lakers were to get back into the game they would need to assert themselves to open the third quarter.
The Celtics heard Doc Rivers and they pushed the lead to 13 points with 8:23 left in the third quarter.
The Los Angeles Lakers began to look as if they were a desperate team. Of course, sometimes teams are more dangerous when they are desperate.
Could Boston really come into Staples Center and win the NBA Championship on the road?
Ron Artest turned up the defensive heat on Paul Pierce. The Boston offense became stagnant and the passes which were sharp in the first half were now sloppy allowing the Lakers to intercept passes.
The energy of the Celtics was clearly waning.
The Lakers kept pounding the Celtics on the boards. Before the third quarter ended, the Lakers made four baskets off of missed shots.
Lakers Coach Phil Jackson’s familiar refrain that Championship Rings are all about Rebounding had clearly sunk in as Boston couldn’t keep Los Angeles out of the lane. Ultimately, the Lakers ended up out-rebounding the Celtics 53-40 and grabbed 23 offensive rebounds.
As the fourth quarter began, the question was whether the Celtics could coax a couple of baskets by Pierce or a couple of three pointers by Allen to get to the finish line?
Boston attempted to hang tough with Los Angeles but it became clear early on in the fourth quarter that the Lakers had more in the tank.
While it might be painful for Celtics fans to hear, at the five minute mark in the fourth quarter it was evident that the Lakers were going to win the game or that the Lakers were going to lose the game from self-inflicted injuries; the Celtics however were not going to be able to exert their will to win the game.
Boston being a team of consummate professionals battled to the very end to see if the Lakers would hand them the game with their bad free throw shooting. Going into the fourth quarter, the Lakers were shooting an anemic 60% from the line.
However with the title on the line, the Lakers got dialed in and preceded to shot over 80% in the fourth quarter from the free throw line.
Close but no cigar for the Celtics.
Wallace appeared to wring as much effort as he could from his 35 year old body but it was clear on several plays his back was aching. Will Rasheed’s back cause him to retire? Garnett’s post game comments seemed to suggest that Rasheed was done.
Allen had his moments in the series like his torrid shooting performance in game two in which he set the NBA Finals record for three point shots. Allen however also missed several wide open looks in games six and seven that could have provided the margin of victory.
This past season, Allen made $19 million dollars. While Allen has expressed a desire to return to the team, can Boston afford to resign the 34 year old guard?
The leader of the team, Doc Rivers, has not been subtle about suggesting that he would like to take a hiatus from coaching to spend time watching and enjoying his children. Boston Assistant Coach Tom Thibodeaux has already accepted the head coaching position with the Chicago Bulls.
The Head Coaching position with the Celtics appears to be in flux.
Questions will also be asked about the long term productivity of the remaining cornerstones of the franchise. Garnett played well but this may be the year that Gasol becomes his equal if not eclipse him on the big stage.
Pierce, still a regular season force to be reckoned, was kept under wraps by Artest for the most of the Finals. Will Pierce remain one of the ultimate closers in the game?
This off-season will be long for the Celtics.
If Wallace and Garnett could have squeezed a few more defensive stops, the Celtics might have been celebrating.
If Allen and Pierce could have knocked down a few more shots, Boston would have been hosting a victory parade.
A couple of plays in the favor of the Celtics and they would have been hailed as an experienced veteran team instead the question being asked is whether the window to win NBA Championships has passed this aging team.
Yes, the off-season for the Celtics will be long. After only one day the off-season already seems to have lasted an eternity.