Thursday, June 17, 2010

Seventh heaven ... or hell

There's a legend that somewhere underneath the floor of the old Boston Garden, there were "dead spots" under the parquet that only seemed to affect the opposing team, that invisible leprechauns cavorted and connived to make sure their Celtics would emerge victorious.

The old Gahden is gone, and the game that will decide the 2010 NBA championship will be played 3,000 miles away. But that doesn't stop the talk of tradition, legend and history, a chapter of which will be added to tonight when those two bitter and storied rivals, the Lakers and Celtics, meet in Game 7 of the NBA Finals.

"Personally, I've never seen a leprechaun growing up in Little Rock or any of the years I've been here in L.A.," said the Lakers' Derek Fisher. "I've only seen them on T-shirts and commercials. I don't want to see one (tonight), that's for sure."

After all the ups and downs of the first six games, the season has come down to a final 48 minutes. The intensity will be palpable on both sides by tipoff, and the emotions were evident on both sides as the teams held off-day practices for the last time this season.

"I don't want to be sitting around in July having to ask myself, 'Did I do everything that I could have done? Have any regrets?' " said the Celtics' Ray Allen. "I don't want to be that person. I want to do everything I can to leave it all on the floor.

"When it comes to Game 7, it's like this is what we were born to do. It's like if we were born, our mothers said we would be in Game 7 of the NBA Finals someday and nobody would blink an eye because we would say that's where we're supposed to be."

Said the Lakers' Lamar Odom, "(It's) historic, when you're talking about these organizations and these teams, what they stand for, the pride. This is what you envisioned when you were a kid playing in your backyard. This was what it was all about."

Clearly, there are issues on both sides. Both starting centers are battling knee injuries; the Celtics' Kendrick Perkins is out for Game 7, with the Lakers' Andrew Bynum hobbled at best. Boston will turn to either Rasheed Wallace or Glen "Big Baby" Davis to start in Perkins' place -- look for the experienced and battle-tested Wallace to get the nod -- while the Lakers will look to build momentum after the stellar performance of their bench in Game 6, which outscored their Celtics counterparts 25-13 and 24-0 through the first three quarters.

Perkins' absence underscores one significant factor -- rebounding. Throughout this series (and most NBA games in general), the team with the edge on the boards has won the game. As Pat Riley used to say, "No rebounds, no rings."

L.A. will also look for another strong offensive effort from Ron Artest, who scored 15 points in Game 6 after averaging 7.8 points in Games 1 through 5.

But if we've learned anything from this series, you can't build on momentum. In reality, it all comes down to who brings the best effort, works the hardest, is more efficient -- plainly, just plays better -- in Game 7.

"It's basketball," said Lakers coach Phil Jackson, who has won a record 10 NBA titles as a coach, but who has never coached in Game 7 of the Finals. "You may be moving at a faster rate, you may be playing at a quicker elevation, spirit, but if you're not going to be able to do the most basic things, if you come out of your skin, if you're out of character, things are going to happen awry. So you have to stay in character."

Said Celtics coach Doc Rivers, "Before the year, I'm sure if you had asked the Lakers, 'Would they take a Game 7 at home?' They would have taken a Game 7 anywhere for the championship. And we would have said 'yeah,' as well. We would have obviously loved it at home more, but we're not there.

"So we're both probably in a game that we'd like to be in. If you told the teams that that's where you had to be, I think we'd both take it."

This will be the fifth time the Lakers and Celtics will meet in Game 7 of the NBA Finals. Boston has won the previous four times (including once on L.A.'s home floor in 1969). In all four cases, the game's high scorer wore Lakers' purple and gold.

The Celtics, don't forget, are 11-0 all-time in the Finals when they hold a 3-2 series lead. But the all-important home court is pivotal: In NBA history, the home team is 13-3 in Game 7 of the Finals.

Year / Result / Venue / High scorer
1962 / Celtics 110, Lakers 107 (OT) / Boston Garden / Elgin Baylor, 41 pts.
1966 / Celtics 95, Lakers 93 / Boston Garden / Jerry West, 36 pts.
1969 / Celtics 108, Lakers 106 / The Forum / Jerry West, 42 pts.
1984 / Celtics 111, Lakers 102 / Boston Garden / Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, 29 pts.

In the end, you can analyze all you want, but the bottom line is quite simple.

"This is why the 82 games in the regular season matter," Fisher said. "Now it's just about going out and playing the game."

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