Lloyd: Some sort of streak will be broken tonight. It’s game seven of the NBA finals: Boston vs. LA, so of course history will be made. But what gives, Phil Jackson’s undefeated record in playoff series after winning game one, the fact no team has lost in the 2-3-2 after winning game 3, or the fact the Celtics have never lost after leading a series 3-2? There’s also the inescapable truth, the Lakers have never beaten the Celtics in seven (0-4 all-time).
Tonight, I think Show Time wins the title, at home, and another banner will unfurl in the rafters of the Staples Center. It’s been a back and forth series, and the Celtics have a puncher’s chance, but to win, especially without Kendrick Perkins, they have to play a perfect game. I don’t see that happening for a number of reasons, the biggest and most important of which is the suffocating defense of the Lakers. Boston has the rep of being the tougher team, but watch this video for a helpful breakdown of exactly what the Lakers did so well in game six, and seem primed to in game seven.
There’s definitely a chance this game stays tight deep into the fourth quarter, and in that sort of situation, it’s almost certain that Kobe will step up his intensity from murderous to genocidal. Effort has been the buzzword this series, and while you don’t have to worry about getting it from Kobe or KG, ever, you have to believe it won’t be an issue for anyone else either (I’m looking at you Lamar). It’s game seven for chrissakes! History tells us that the best team wins in a seven game series and with very few exceptions (such as Lakers vs. Pistons, 2004) the team with the best player tends to come out on top. Kobe is the best player.
If the Celtics want to win, they need all four of their stars to step up, the way they did in game five—the only time all four have played very well in the same game this series. I have no doubts in Garnett, Pierce has proven he can step up in big games (though Artest has kept him mostly in check), but I have my doubts about Ray Allen and Rajon Rondo. Allen’s ability to hit threes coming off screens is a real key to keeping Boston’s offense from stagnating, and since game two, the Lakers have taken that away. Since Rondo hasn’t been able to be a threat anywhere but the rim, Kobe has been able to roam, and unless Rondo can make him pay, they should be able to take away Ray.
Speaking of Rondo’s jumper, I don’t think it’s necessarily as dire as everyone thinks. He’s more of a creator than a shooter, and they don’t need him to hit threes. Rondo’s bigger problem this series has been the free throw line, where he is a putrid four of 17. In order for Rondo to remain effective (and he has been the Celtics engine) he has to stay aggressive taking the ball to the basket. Some of his finishes are otherworldly, but he has a tendency to shy away from driving to the basket in the fourth quarter—seemingly out of deference to his Hall of Fame bound teammates, but more likely because he is terrified about being put at the line in a critical spot.
It’s conceivable that the Celtics could win this game. Kobe could decide not to pass, Gasol could lay an egg, Lamar could OD on sour patch kids before the game and lord knows what Ron Ron is capable of. I don’t think any of that happens though. I think Derek Fisher makes a few big shots, The Celtics hang around, but the best team wins.
Andrew: No matter who wins tonight’s Game 7 of the NBA Championship, I’m probably going to yawn once or twice—not necessarily for lack of compelling action, but simply for the fact that the Boston Celtics and the Los Angeles Lakers are ubiquitous franchises with small mountains of trophies and cadres of Hall of Famers in their current and former ranks. Just another day with the Giants of the Hardwood. Dynasties aren’t a bad thing, per se, but they do come with a whiff of stale air every so often. Right now, on ESPN’s homepage, we see the slug, “The NBA's greatest franchises in a Game 7. Does it get better than this?” Apparently, yes, it was better a few years ago.
The first six games of the series have hinged on Kobe’s Dominance versus How Many Celtics Can Play Well. Need 18 points in a row? Don’t expect a pass from Kobe. Want to see a team with three definite Hall of Famers leave the floor having made only 33 percent from the field? As the bartender told me on Tuesday after I asked him to put on the game, “I hope you’re money isn’t on Boston.”
I don’t have any real skin (or money) in this series. The chambers of my brain and gut reserved for professional sports enthusiasm are a bit confused right now with thoughts such as, “Yeah East Coast!” and, “Well, I don’t like the Lakers all that much for their corporate glitz.” I guess I don’t like the Celtics all that much because of their corporate, jowly demeanor, but I’m a born and bred mid-Atlanticer. There aren’t enough of us, so we need to stick together.
Despite Kobe’s all-around dominance, I am not transported by his game play as I am by Steve Nash, Dwight Howard or Dwayne Wade. More specifically, this series hasn’t seen much of the (alleged) Greatest Player Playing Right Here Right Now. I see Kobe plus Those Other Guys as a group, not a team, of excellent basketball players. When everything is going right for Boston, their entire offense comes alive with drive-and-kicks, backdoor give-and-gos and situational brilliance from Rajon Rondo, who is simply not showing himself to be a Top of the Pops type of player. Lloyd thinks I’ve been a little hard on the kid this series. Frankly, it is unconscionable for a point guard to only shoot 60 percent from the free throw line in the playoffs. That’s amateur hour, right there; the missed points add up. LA is a tough, tough team, so I’m not expecting constant wizardry from the floor. But 67-112 from the charity stripe doesn’t cut it.
Without Perkins, the Celtics will win if and only if:
A. Ray Allen stays in a groove that involves the ball going in the basket. With him, this series, it’s either one of the other.
B. Big Baby Davis has the same kind of game he had in Game 2.
C. Paul Pierce stays involved in offense and picks his shots wisely. With Artest all over him he’s hard put to produce big numbers, so more off-ball screens and the like are needed.
D. Make Andrew Bynum disappear mentally and physically, as in Game 5.
There are probably a lot of other things that need to happen—with the exception of Rondo, the Celtics have been making a ton of free throws; that needs to continue—but I’m sticking with those bullet points.
As an interesting aside, I’d like to direct your attention to this comparison of the career stats of Paul Pierce and Kobe Bryant, via Matt Yglesias. Kobe got started in the ’96-’97 season, Pierce in ’98-’99. Without looking at the spreadsheet itself, can you tell who is who?:
Player A: 22.5 Points Per Game; 7.4 Field Goals; 16.5 Field Goal Attempts; 1.7 Three Pointers; .802 Free Throw Percentage; 6.1 Rebounds; 3.8 Assists; 1.5 Steals; and 0.5 EFG%.
Player B: 25.3 Points Per Game; 8.8 Field Goals; 19.3 Field Goal Attempts; 1.3 Three Pointers; .838 Free Throw Percentage; 5.3 Rebounds; 4.7 Assists; 1.5 Steals; and 0.48963730569948 EFG%.