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Sorry Celtics, Lakers will win Game 7
There have been 16 Games 7s in NBA history. The home team has won 13 of those. Thursday night, the Lakers will make it 14.
I mean no disrespect to the Celtics or their coach, Doc Rivers, who melded a disparate group of aging stars and young role players into a championship team, endowing them with a great sense of belief. They’ve been written off before, the Celtics. I did it myself back in February, when they arrived at Staples Center the night of the trading deadline. They were old. They were tired. They were done.
And here it is, the final game of a championship round they were never supposed to reach. Yes, it’s been quite a season for Boston. But it has finally run its course.
In tactical terms, Rivers described the loss of Kendrick Perkins — the burly center injured just five minutes and 30 seconds into Tuesday night’s game — as having “made the Lakers awful long.” Worse than that, Boston fans, it made the Lakers awful brave in their 89-67 win.
For a couple of years now, the Celtics have been described, quite accurately, as the tougher, grittier and more defensive-minded half of the Boston-Los Angeles rivalry. But the loss of Perkins leaves them, not just diminished, but apparently dispirited.
The Lakers were up six when he was helped off the floor on the shoulders of his teammates. They were up 10 at the end of the quarter, 20 at the half. Even more revealing — especially in a series where each game goes to the team that wins the boards — was the rebounding differential. With no Perkins, the Lakers had already built an insurmountable edge in rebounding: 30-13.
“We were a little bit focused on if Perk was coming back instead of just continuing to play,” said Rajon Rondo, who had his second 5-for-15 shooting night of the series (both Boston losses). “As soon as halftime came, we all just ran ... to the training room to see how he was feeling.”
Suffice it to say, Perkins wasn’t feeling well. He had a sprained right knee and would not return to the game.
“Our energy went down a little,” said Rondo. “We just came out and didn’t have it.”
For a couple of years, Boston’s virtues were thought to be personified by Kevin Garnett. But his scowl seems an empty threat now. The real tough guy is Perkins.
“Perk is our enforcer,” said Rondo. “He’s our biggest body. ... He clears up the paint for us. ... He’s a great shot-blocker, rebounder, and he’s the anchor of our defense.”
And without him, it’s not much of a stretch to proclaim, yet again, that the Celtics are done on the road in a Game 7.
“I don’t know,” said Rivers when asked for Perkins' condition after the game. “It doesn’t look great.”
Was he trying to con the Lakers? I think not.
“We have to do this for him,” said Allen, speaking of Perkins as if he were deceased. But who’s going to take his place? There’s Glen Davis, who didn’t score; Rasheed Wallace, also scoreless in seven attempts, six of them from behind the three-point line; and Shelden Williams, who hasn’t been counted on for a big game since he left Duke. “It does makes Glen more valuable,” said Allen. “Rasheed will play more minutes and Shelden will be in there a lot more. We’re going to be counting on them.”
In other words, the most important guys on the Celtics’ payroll are now their trainers and medical staff.
It’s worth noting some of the plays that’ll make the highlight reel. Pau Gasol — one assist shy of a triple-double — tossed a beautiful alley-oop pass for Shannon Brown. Kobe Bryant – 26 points on 19 shots, 11 rebounds — hit an impossible, hanging, arching bank shot over Paul Pierce. The habitually-absent kids from Queens, Ron Artest and Lamar Odom, had 15 points and 10 rebounds respectively.
With Perkins gone, Boston’s spirit seemed sapped. The Lakers dominated the boards. They won in the paint. Their bench outscored the Celtics’ bench, 25-13. They had nine more second-chance points and seemed to get all the loose balls. For my money, the second-biggest play — other than Perkins’ injury — came in the second quarter when Jordan Farmar dove to the floor to beat Rondo to the ball, a play that ended with Bryant converting a pair of free throws.
What’s more, Perkins' injury gave the Lakers a chance to rest Andrew Bynum, who had a solid first quarter before tailing off with an injured right knee of his own. He wisely asked out of the game early in the third.
“He had some swelling in the back of his leg,” said Phil Jackson. “We’ll have to work on that and see if they can’t ice it down.”
In some respects, this seventh game comes down to who has a better bad right knee, Kendrick Perkins or Andrew Bynum.
I’m going with Bynum. I’m going with Kobe Bryant at home. I’m going with the Lakers in seven. For once, I get to be right.