Game 7 a gift for NBA, fans
LOS ANGELES -- It's all so perfect. The historic franchises. The incomparable star power. The great competitiveness.
With the LeBron Watch threatening to overshadow the NBA's Main Event, David Stern received a gift from the heavens.
Four likely Hall of Famers, two other All-Stars, the winningest clubs in the sport, the greatest coach in league history, one of the greatest coaches in today's game and colorful supporting characters named Ron-Ron, Big Baby and Donkey, are set to clash in a Super Bowl/March Madness/winner-take-all-style Game 7, and no free-agent frenzy or coaching flirtation can compare.
For now, for once, all the drama will surround actual basketball, not possibilities and wishful thinking.
Will The Big Three Plus One win its second title in three years, or will Kobe Bryant continue passing legends en route to a seat beside Michael Jordan? Will Phil Jackson keep dominating the sport from the sidelines, or will he be outcoached by Boston's relaxed, witty, breath-of-fresh-air motivator, Doc Rivers? Will the star-studded home court turn Jordan Farmar, Sasha Vujacic, Shannon Brown, et al into Cinderellas, or will the Celtics' gritty, animated second unit save the day?
The Commish -- and Basketball Nation -- couldn't ask for more.
"This is definitely a special treat for the NBA,'' Boston's Ray Allen said Tuesday, after the Lakers' 89-67 victory forced the Game 7 showdown at Staples Center. "Knowing that we're going to Game 7, and this is the Finals, and it's the Celtics and Lakers.''
Game 7s in the Finals are about as common as power dunks by Derek Fisher. This will be only the fifth one in the past 27 years, the last coming in 2005, when San Antonio defeated Detroit.
The Lakers and Celtics have met previously in four Game 7s, with the Celtics prevailing every time. Bill Russell and Co. made a habit of it against Jerry West, Elgin Baylor (and later, Wilt Chamberlain) in the '60s, beating them in three Game 7s. And then the original Big Three of Larry Bird, Robert Parish and Kevin McHale outlasted the Lakers' Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and James Worthy in 1984.
For all his Finals experience, Jackson, with 10 rings in 12 previous appearances, has never coached a Game 7, which of course means that Kobe and Pau Gasol have never played in one. This will also be the first Finals Game 7 for Celtics stars Allen, Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Rajon Rondo.
Will the stage be too big for one of the marquee talents? Will one of them melt beneath the heat of the intensified spotlight? Will we see uncharacteristic turnovers and air balls, or will both clubs bring their best and give us an epic?
Allen is sure the Celtics will be on point.
"We've got some ballers on our team, guys that are ready to play,'' he said. "You can't shake a lot of the guys' characters here on this team. We're a group of trash-talking guys. We compete at everything we do. Everybody believes they can make the shot or stop the guy from scoring.
"When it comes to Game 7, it's like this is what we were born to do. It's like if we were born, [and] our mothers said we would be in Game 7 of the NBA Finals some day and nobody would blink an eye because we would say that's where we're supposed to be.''
Easy to say. But let's delve into history to see who really relishes Game 7s.
While they've never had to play a seventh game in the Finals, these particular Celtics have plenty of final-game history to fall back on, albeit all on their home floor. In their march to the title two years ago, they played two Game 7s, beating Atlanta in the first round and Cleveland in the second.
Living up to his nickname, "The Truth,'' Pierce was huge in both games, averaging 31.5 points and scoring 41 in a memorable mano a mano battle with LeBron James (45 points). Garnett was also big, averaging 15.5 points and 12 boards in the two games. But Allen struggled, totaling only 15 points on 22 percent shooting (4-of-18).
Last year, the Celtics, playing without the injured Garnett, outlasted the pesky Chicago Bulls in seven first-round games, and both Pierce and Allen stepped up. Allen produced 23 points and seven rebounds while Pierce posted 20 points and nine boards. In the next round's Game 7, Allen again scored 23, but Boston was blown out by Orlando.
When crunching the Celtics' Game 7 numbers, the most glaring surprise is that Rondo has struggled, averaging just 8.7 points and 8.7 assists on 41 percent shooting. Granted, his role on the team wasn't as big as it is now, especially two years ago. But even last season, when he had a tremendous series against Derrick Rose and the Bulls, he fell off in Game 7. After averaging 21.5 points and 11.7 assists over the first six games, he gave the Celtics just seven points and 11 assists on 2-of-8 shooting.
A big game for Rondo would seem to be a must for Boston on Thursday night.
On the other side, of course, a strong outing from Kobe seems as certain as a Jack Nicholson sighting among the sellout crowd. But believe it or not, Black Mamba hasn't always been at his best in Game 7s.
He was awesome when he had Shaq, averaging 27.5 points, 10.5 rebounds and seven assists in Game 7 victories over Portland and Sacramento in the title-winning years of 2000 and 2002. But he's had some peculiar, hard-to-explain experiences in his two Game 7s since then.
In 2006, after lighting up Phoenix for 23 first-half points, he attempted only three shots and scored just one point in the second half of a blowout loss. The bizarre about-face led many pundits and onlookers to conclude that Kobe either quit or went into hibernation to send a message to the critics who'd blistered him for "hogging the ball.''
Then last year, when the Lakers beat Houston in the second round, Kobe played like an average Joe in Game 7. He averaged 29.7 points through the first six games but managed just 14 points on 4-of-12 shooting in the decider.
Instead, it was Gasol, in the only Game 7 of his career, who carried the Lakers, posting 21 points and 18 rebounds.
Kobe, in his typically hard and somber Finals demeanor, blew off the notion that Game 7s can cause an increase in nerves, butterflies, tightness and unusual bricks and blunders.
"It's no different to me,'' he said. "I don't mean to be a buzz kill, but it's not. I know what's at stake, but I'm not tripping.''
In the other locker room, Glen "Big Baby'' Davis was more willing to acknowledge the magnitude of the moment.
"I love it,'' said Davis, the Celtics' "Shrek" to Nate Robinson's "Donkey.'' "This is what it's all about. This is what you guys are going to talk about for years. You guys are going to remember this moment. You are going to remember Thursday forever. I can't wait. I can't wait to step on the floor and win here in L.A.''
No matter the outcome, for the NBA, it's all so perfect.