Wednesday June 16th, 2010

LOS ANGELES -- It was inevitable, wasn't it? An NBA Finals, played between two of the league's cornerstone franchises, is headed for a Game 7 after the Lakers blew out the Celtics 89-67 to even the series at 3-3 on Tuesday.

1. Kobe Bryant needed help. On Tuesday, he got it. Conventional wisdom suggested -- OK, insisted -- the Lakers weren't going to win Game 6 if Bryant was the same one-man show he had been in the previous two games. He didn't have to be that in this one. Though only three Lakers finished in double figures, nine scored at least four points. Ron Artest shook off a horrendous, well, series to score 15 points (on 6-of-11 shooting), while Pau Gasol (17 points, 13 rebounds and a playoff-career-high nine assists) won the individual battle with Kevin Garnett (12 points, six rebounds and a minus-18 rating). Bryant racked up 26 points -- on only 19 shots, his lowest shot output of the series.

2. So how about Artest? While the Lakers were on the brink of elimination, Artest was faced with spending the offseason with SCAPEGOAT tattooed to his chest. Artest wasn't the reason L.A. fell into a 3-2 hole -- the Lakers' problems were deeper than that -- but his ill-advised shots and bizarre inclination to dribble in and out of traffic made him an easy target. That target got a little smaller after Game 6, with Artest knocking down open shots and hounding Paul Pierce all over the floor defensively.

"Ron kick-started us with a couple of threes and got confidence in what he was doing," said Lakers coach Phil Jackson. "Defensively, he felt more comfortable with what we were trying to do out there. It wasn't just a little quarter burst or a little half; I thought he continued to play the right way."

3. A tale of two benches To say the Lakers won the battle of the benches would be an epic understatement. L.A.'s reserves chipped in 25 points, led by Sasha Vujacic (nine) and an invigorated Lamar Odom (eight). Boston's bench didn't even score until Nate Robinson banked in a reverse layup with 9:56 remaining in the fourth quarter. Overall, the Lakers' bench outscored the Celtics' 25-13, a sizable but misleading advantage given how much garbage time there was in the fourth quarter. In reality, L.A. was even better than that.

"I thought there bench guys were more comfortable," said Celtics coach Doc Rivers. "Bench players are typically more comfortable at home, and stars play well everywhere. I thought their bench gave unbelievable energy. Every single guy. I didn't think there was one guy off the bench that didn't give them great play."

4. Rebounding wins. Seriously, it does. For the sixth straight game, the team that won the battle of the boards won the game, with the Lakers building a 30-13 edge on the glass in the first half and finishing at 52-39.

"There's a long laundry list [of things that hurt us]," said Rivers. "But rebounding was No. 1. The 50-50 game at halftime was 18-3 [in favor of L.A.]. I don't care who you're playing, 18-3 in the 50-50 game on the road, you have no chance to win that game."

5. Center is now a concern -- for both teams. Andrew Bynum continues to be limited by a getting-progressively-worse knee injury; Bynum played just 16 minutes (scoring two points) and asked out of the game early in the third quarter. After battling through six games with the injury, Bynum will likely suck it up and try to fight through Game 7. But his production has steadily declined since the start of the series, and it's doubtful he'll be able to contribute much on Thursday.

Still, it could be more than Kendrick Perkins can give. Perkins' right knee -- officially diagnosed as a sprain -- didn't look good as the burly center limped slowly to the locker room in the first quarter after playing only six minutes. The Celtics say he will be re-evaluated on Wednesday, but Perkins said he heard something pop and two league sources say Perkins sprained both the ACL and MCL in the knee. His absence would put enormous pressure on Rasheed Wallace and Glen Davis to play significantly more minutes.

"Perk is our enforcer," said Rajon Rondo. "He's our biggest body we have to throw out there on Bynum. He clears the paint up for us. He does a lot of intangibles. He's a great shot-blocker, rebounder and he's the anchor of our defense."

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