Monday, June 14, 2010

C's the moment

For some unique perspective on the NBA Finals, we go to Celtics coach Doc Rivers, who doesn't want to play the role of Debbie Downer with his team one win away from the 18th championship, but has a message worth considering.

The TD Garden was still shaking from the cheers following Boston's 92-86 triumph over the Los Angeles Lakers Sunday night, which gave the Celtics the upper hand in the series as it shifts back to the Staples Center in La-La Land for Games 6 and 7 (if needed). Granted, the Celtics are 11-0 all-time in this very scenario -- holding a 3-2 lead in the NBA Finals. And in the previous 25 instances when the NBA Finals were tied 2-2, the team that won Game 5 went on to capture the series 19 times.

It was the last time the Game 5 winner DIDN'T go on to take the title that gives Rivers and the Celtics pause. In the 1994 NBA Finals, the Knicks held a 3-2 lead over the Rockets in the Finals, but Houston won Games 6 and 7 to win the championship. Rivers was a member of that Knicks team, but did not play in the Finals due to a knee injury.

"I thought about that the other day when John Starks called me and reminded me of that," Rivers said in the interview room Sunday night. "You know, that's a bitter memory, obviously, for me. I was injured, sitting on the bench, so it just felt like you couldn't help individually.

"As a team, we had a lot of great opportunities in that series, in Game 6 (when Starks scored 32 points in an 86-84 defeat) and Game 7 (when Starks went 2-for-18 from the field, 0-for-11 from 3-point range in a 90-84 loss), but it just didn't happen.

"For me, obviously, a learning experience, but I can't use that experience for the players on this team. Hell, half of them are too young to remember, and half of them probably don't care."

Still, Rivers' remembrances are worth noting, because the rest of this series -- however long it lasts -- will be played on the Lakers' home turf.

"We lost our wiggle room by losing (Game 3)," Rivers said. "The Lakers played well enough to have home-court advantage all year, and so it's to their advantage."

Said Lakers coach Phil Jackson, "It's basically home court, home court. Now we're going back to home court to win it. That's the way it's supposed to be, isn't it? Unfortunately, we couldn't get this win here but we got the one we needed to bring us back home."

LA may be on its heels a bit, down in the series, with center Andrew Bynum clearly not himself because of a knee injury and with Lamar Odom and Ron Artest MIA on the offensive end. But if you're looking for a chink in the Lakers' armor, don't expect to find any dents on Kobe Bryant, who scored 38 points Sunday, a season-high for him.

When asked how confident he was that his team could win Games 6 and 7 on its home floor, Bryant, with a wry smile, responded, "I'm not very confident at all," and managed to laugh.

"Just man up and play," Bryant said. "What the hell is the big deal? I don't see it as a big deal. If I have to say something to (his teammates), then we don't deserve to be champions. We're down 3-2, go home, win one game, go into the next one. Simple as that."

Perhaps not quite so simple, given the fact the Lakers are not firing on all cylinders and are at a disadvantage in the battle of the boards, particularly with Bynum ailing. The team that wins in the rebounding category has taken every game in this series, and there's no reason to think that won't change in LA on Tuesday.

With his team on the cusp of beating the Lakers for the 10th time in 12 NBA Finals meetings in their storied rivalry, Rivers is doing his best to keep his team in the moment.

"I think it would be special in any situation," Rivers said when asked about the prospects of closing out the Lakers in enemy territory, but I'm not even going to go there right now.

"We got off of that early on, looking at the big picture and all that stuff. That makes it fuzzy for us. I think our team has a very good ability to just focus on the next game. Through the playoffs that's been very good for us, and that's the way we have to stay."