NBA

Game 7 loss extra bitter for Celtics

Ray Allen
Is this the last time we see Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen on the same team?
FOX Sports Mitch Lawrence
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LOS ANGELES

This loss was tough to take.

The Celtics might have seen the end of the Big Three when they lost Game 7 on Thursday night. They may have seen their popular coach, Doc Rivers, lead them for the last time.

So it was no surprise that a proud group of veterans who won the title in 2008 and came up about six minutes short of defeating the Lakers in Game 7 was an emotional bunch after their 83-79 defeat.

“There’s a lot of crying in our locker room, a lot of people who care,’’ Rivers said. “I don’t think there was a dry eye in there. There’s a lot of hugs, a lot of people feeling awful. I just can’t stress how crazy close this team was. And that would be the word, crazy close.’’

Allen is a free agent and could be headed out the door. Although the Celtics say they want him back, Allen reportedly isn’t thrilled that Rajon Rondo has moved ahead of him in the team pecking order. So he might move on, with Miami a potential destination that people close to Allen say he is intrigued by.

If this is it for the Big Three, then their last time together will be remembered for just coming up a little short. Paul Pierce missed four of his five shots in the final quarter. Allen missed three of his five attempts. And Kevin Garnett was held to four points in the quarter. Together, they combined for 16 of the Celtics’ final 22 points.

But that’s not where the game was lost, where the Celtics finally came up short in a Game 7 against the Lakers, after winning four straight against them since 1962.

“They scored 30 points on us in the fourth quarter, and for us, a defensive group, that’s the toughest part to swallow,’’ River said. “We gave up 30 points.’’

But 16 of the 30 came at the foul line. In the fourth, the Lakers outscored the Celtics at the line, 16-5, while taking 15 more attempts.

Without Kendrick Perkins, Rivers had to ride his starters, including Perkins’ replacement, Rasheed Wallace, for extra minutes. And the Celtics looked like they were out of gas as they missed 11 of 18 shots.

“They weren’t going to beat themselves,’’ Bryant said. “We had to beat them.’’

Losing the 7-foot Perkins to a knee injury in Game 6 was huge, since he was replaced by  Wallace, who does not close down the lane like Perkins does.

"The lack of size, at the end of the day, was the difference in the game,’’ said Rivers, whose team allowed 23 offensive boards, 17 second-chance points and was outrebounded overall, 53-40. “Perk wasn’t there. Sure he would have helped.’’

Having his Phil

In the immediate minutes after winning the title, Kobe Bryant started lobbying for Phil Jackson to return next season.

“He knows how bad I want him back,’’ Bryant said. “Let’s go for it again.’’

It looks as if Bryant and Laker fans will get their wish.

After winning his 11th title, Jackson sounded as if he’s open to returning to take a shot on a record fourth three-peat.

“It does improve my chances,’’ he said, when asked if winning would play a factor in his decision.

On the court after the Lakers won their 16th title, Jackson’s future came up during his first interview.

“I’ve got to take a deep breath and take some time,’’ he said. “I’ll wait and make a decision in a week.’’

But it sounds like he’s returning. Did he get anything out of beating Boston?

“There’s no residual as far as beating Boston or anything like that,’’ he said. “The closing stanza in Chicago was perhaps as high emotionally, as was 2001 (against Philly), when that was the most perfect ball I ever saw a team play that I had in the playoffs.’’

'Moment of truth'

In every big game Jackson has coached, he looks for the big moment, what he calls “the moment of truth.’’

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  • What was the key to the Lakers' Game 7 win?
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“There’s multiple moments of truths in a game,’’ Jackson said before Game 7. “But there’s usually one that really kind of spells what this game is going to be like or a moment that changes the course of the game.’’

For Jackson, Thursday night’s moment  came when Derek Fisher re-entered the game with 7:00 left and knocked down a rainbow three to finally pull the Lakers into a tie. His three started a 9-0 run that sent the Lakers on to victory.

“That’s just who he is,’’ said Bryant. “There’s not enough words of praise that I can use to describe him.’’

Fisher rated the shot bigger than the more famous 3 he connected on in the final second against the Spurs in 2004.

“Although it helped us win that game and that series, we didn’t win a championship that year,’’ he said, referring to the Lakers' loss to Detroit in the Finals. “So 2004 is just a bad year to remember for me in terms of us not finishing the season as champions. To hit a shot and play a part in the game that helps win a championship means more to me than anything.’’

Sweet revenge

Of course Bryant wanted to beat the Celtics, probably worse than any other team he’s ever faced in a Finals.

All during the Finals, Bryant downplayed the rivalry with the Lakers’ most hated rival, to the point where it was driving Bostonians crazy.

But after he had avenged the Lakers’ loss to Boston in 2008 and had beaten the Celtics for the first time in a Finals, Bryant fessed up. He called this title "the sweetest, because it was against them.''

The Lakers have endured more suffering against Boston than any other team. Thursday night was their first Game 7 win against Boston after losing in 1962, 1966, 1969 and 1984.

“I was just lying to you guys,’’ he said. “When you’re in the moment you have to suppress that stuff because if you get caught up, you don’t play your best basketball. But you know what a student I am of the game. I know every Celtic series. I know every statistic. It meant the world to me, as well. But I couldn’t focus on that.’’

Read more of Mitch Lawrence's columns at the New York Daily News.

Tagged: Celtics, Lakers, Kobe Bryant, Kendrick Perkins

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