LOS ANGELES -- This is for anyone who spent time they'll never get back watching the New Jersey Nets this season. This is for anyone who has lost trust in the refereeing, who is fed up with the endless
The Celtics and Lakers will meet again here Thursday in Game 7, and no winner-take-all event in any sport could matter more. The Celtics took a bullet for fans everywhere (outside New England, of course) by coming out sluggishly in Game 6 to encourage the Lakers' 89-67 win. Boston could have finished off the season Tuesday, but that would have been anticlimactic and premature. Now everybody wins.
"This is definitely a special treat for the NBA,'' said Boston guard
It's the best of all worlds -- the instantly gratifying drama of an NCAA tournament game starring the sport's two greatest franchises. I'm counting at least five future Hall of Famers in this game, figuring on
"We were a little bit focused on if Perk was going to come back, instead of just continuing to play,'' said Celtics point guard
If Perkins was one of many reasons for their loss in Game 6, the Celtics hope he will inspire them to win Game 7. "We have to do this for him,'' said Allen.
This rivalry always touches on larger themes. The Lakers-Celtics of two decades ago was all about
The only contributor to the Lakers' rotation who doesn't own a championship ring is
The two Celtics who are new to this intensive setting are backup point guard
It was Williams who concluded the opening half of Game 2 by attempting an unfortunate outlet pass to midcourt (Rondo could be seen shouting
The Lakers will look forward to a big game from Gasol, who responded to his dismal Game 5 effort with a near triple-double Tuesday: 17 points, 13 rebounds and nine assists to go with three blocked shots. "Experience is always a huge plus, especially when you face these kinds of games and these kinds of situations,'' he said. "I've been fortunate throughout my career that I've experienced a few, and it puts me in a better place to be able to face it and be successful.''
The Celtics will be counting on the return to form of Allen, who had missed 21 straight threes before making 2-of-5 among his 19 points here in Game 6. Allen had been held out of practice for all but 10 minutes since being kneed in the thigh by Artest in the opening quarter of Game 3, which left him with a swollen leg and a flattened jump shot.
"My legs are where they need to be right now,'' he said. "We've got some ballers on our team, guys that are ready to play. You can't shake a lot of the guys' characters here on this team. We're a group of trash-talking guys, we compete at everything we do, everybody believes they can make the shot or stop the guy from scoring. When it comes to Game 7, it's like this is what we were born to do.''
The Celtics are going to need that attitude; in the history of the NBA Finals, there have been 16 Game 7s, with the home team winning 13.
But Bryant is so prepared for a Game 7 against the rival of rivals that he appears unfazed by it the Lakers' historical advantage. "No different to me,'' he said, rubbing at his jaw. "I don't mean to be a buzzkill, but it's not. I know what's at stake, but I'm not tripping. It's a game we've got to win, simple as that.''
Two things can be said of this all-or-nothing game. The first is that rebounding will be the most important indicator, as it was in Game 6 (to a frightening 52-39 advantage for Los Angeles), as it has been throughout the Finals. The second is the result of Game 6 will have no impact or influence on Game 7. The teams have taken turns challenging one another, with the Lakers making the effort for loose balls one night and the Celtics responding, in kind, to win the effort game the next time, and back and forth they've gone as if by gentleman's agreement.
But there will be nothing gentlemanly about Game 7. Let the shots be falling for both teams, and may the referees let them play.