June 16, 2010
The Los Angeles Lakers rode a furious early rally to traipse all over an ill-prepared Boston Celtics squad in Tuesday's Game 6, tying the NBA Finals at three games apiece and forcing a deciding seventh game with an 86-67 victory Thursday night.
Kobe Bryant(notes) finished with 26 points and Pau Gasol(notes) nearly notched a triple-double with 17 points, 13 rebounds and nine assists as the Lakers outscored Boston by 10 points in the first quarter, and another 10 in the second. After stifling an attempt at a Boston rally in the third, the game quickly moved into extended garbage time, even as both teams' starters worked deep into the fourth.
Boston seemed a step slow all night. It couldn't handle Los Angeles' offense to start the contest, and by the time the Laker defense locked in, the Celtics were being blown out. Rajon Rondo(notes) missed 10 of 15 shots in the loss, Rasheed Wallace(notes) missed all of his shots from the floor, and the Celtics likely lost Kendrick Perkins(notes) for the rest of the series with what is currently being called a "right knee sprain" by the Celtics.
That's the tentative diagnosis, though, as the Celtics will not be able to tell until Perkins undergoes an MRI Wednesday or Thursday, but the Boston starting center had to leave the floor in the first quarter after his knee buckled on a rebound attempt, and it clearly looks as if the Boston center will be out for Thursday's Game 7.
No amount of Perkins (he played 6 1/2 minutes) would have helped in Game 6. The Celtics made too many bad decisions on both ends to start, it could not match Los Angeles' intensity moving forward, and the team had no answer offensively for a swarming defense that forced Boston into missing two-thirds of its shots.
Bryant started the game right, making five of eight shots in the first quarter to notch 11 points in the first 12 minutes, and his teammates warmed themselves to his early intensity. Gasol was everywhere as the game moved along, while an inspired Ron Artest(notes) made several strong moves with the ball on his way toward 15 points on 6-of-11 shooting.
The bench also gave Los Angeles a big boost. Shannon Brown(notes) had two thunderous dunks (here's one of them), Lamar Odom(notes) nearly had a double-double and added two blocks, Sasha Vujacic(notes) was key off the pine with three Celtic-killing 3-pointers, and Jordan Farmar(notes) gave the Lakers important minutes with Derek Fisher(notes) dealing with early foul trouble. "Historically," Lakers coach Phil Jackson reminded after the win, "benches are much more comfortable on their home floor."
"Our defense was good," Jackson pointed out, "our rebounding was better. We had some good luck, some good fortune. Got some loose balls, some tipped balls. Those things change the course of a game."
His Boston counterpart agreed.
"Eighteen to three in the 50/50 game?" Doc Rivers pointed out, referring to the loose balls. "On the road? You have no chance."
Someone pointed out Jackson's pregame brand of confidence, wondering where it came from. The Lakers coach pointed to adjustments his team made offensively that led to Los Angeles' improved defense.
"I think we said after the game the other night we felt that we had come up short — not only played poorly, but we had missed plays [that lead] to easy buckets [for Boston], and we tried to eliminate that."
When Bryant took a quick 3-pointer just 10 seconds into the win, Jackson said he felt like it was an "'oh no, here we go again' type of thing. But we were able to corral and play better offense which contributed to our defense. That was a confidence thing that we were going to eliminate the easy points."
Jackson was clearly happy with Gasol's work, as well.
"We had, I thought, stilted offense in Games 4 and 5, and [Gasol's play] helped open people up a lot, and he had some offense. He started playing the kind of post game we've been accustomed to playing in the postseason."
It was Boston's early start that surprised Rivers the most.
"I thought we would play better," he said after the loss. "I just thought they were ready. I just thought the Lakers played harder, better. They executed, they trusted more."
"I thought we played an individual game tonight, on both ends. We didn't trust tonight. Everybody was trying to make their own plays. When we've done that this year, we've lost games, we've been blown out of some games, and when you do that against a team like the Lakers — a team like the Lakers who are really ready to play and play desperate — you're going to lose."
Ray Allen(notes), who recovered from a shooting slump to lead Boston in scoring with 19 points, told the media that Boston "didn't make their defense work at all." And he blamed the offense for not giving the defense a chance, a chance to set up.
Doc Rivers isn't worried about his team feeling shell-shocked at the Game 6 outcome, heading into Game 7. "We had enough time to get over it," Rivers postulated, because the blowout lasted "all game." By the third quarter, Rivers was already "looking forward to the next game."
And don't expect much carry-over from a Laker team working with a singular focus, led by Bryant. "You forget about" a blowout win, Bryant said following the, er, blowout win, "just as you would a tough loss. Forget about it and move to the next one."
When asked if he was looking forward to a Game 7 on Thursday, a contest for the title featuring pro basketball's two most storied teams, Bryant seemed rather unmoved.
The game, regardless of the competition, would be "no different to me. Hate to be a buzzkill. I know what's at stake, but I'm not trippin'."
Rivers shared the same sense of sentimentality.
"I'll let you guys all enjoy that," he said, smiling. "I'm sure it's not what we wanted, either one of us. But it is here, and it should be great. I hope we embrace it."