LOS ANGELES -- They streamed off the court quickly, heads down, trying to avoid the crush of Lakers players, coaches and staffers who flooded the floor in celebration of the team's 16th NBA championship. Back in the Celtics' locker room, the tears flowed freely, and those not completely crushed by the gut-wrenching 83-79 loss in Game 7 on Thursday consoled those who were.
"I don't think there was a dry eye," coach
The Lakers won this game, the Celtics did not lose it. Undermanned without
"It was exactly the type of game that we wanted," Rivers said. "We got [
They tried to battle to the end but before they could get there, it all unraveled. Boston's patchwork front line -- necessitated by the injury to Perkins -- of Garnett, Wallace and
"I thought a couple of things hurt us," Rivers said. "When Rasheed started getting cramps, that was a killer for us because they attacked our lack of size after that and then it made me -- forced me -- to extend Kevin's minutes, which I know is not good. Because once he goes over that number, it's tough for him to come back."
Fatigued, the game began to slip away. Bryant kept missing, but he never stopped attacking. He went to the line nine times in the fourth quarter (converting eight). So, too, did
"They scored 30 points in the fourth quarter," Rivers said, "and for us, as a defensive group, that's the toughest part to swallow."
Except it's not. The toughest part is that, for this group, this run to the Finals may be its last.
"We're not going to be the same team next year," Rivers said. "Guys are not going to be there."
Indeed, the Celtics face a summer of uncertainty. It will begin with Rivers, who must decide whether his desire to coach outweighs his desire to watch his children grow up. Rivers' family is based in Orlando, but his kids are seeking their own success all over the country. His oldest son,
"I'm going to go and watch my kids play AAU basketball," Rivers said. "And I'm going to wait for a little bit."
The Celtics are willing to wait on Rivers, but there are other, more pressing concerns.
"I'll deal with that when the time comes," Allen said. "But it's obvious I don't want to be anywhere else."
There could be another member of the Big Three on the market, too. Pierce has a player option for $21.5 million next season. But with the collective bargaining agreement set to expire next summer and a new one expected to significantly reduce player salaries, several prominent players (including
"I just can't stress enough how crazy-close this team was," Rivers said. "They are the type of group that could scream at each other but let no one pick on any of them. That's a special group."