Lakers rout Celtics to force Game 7 in 2010 NBA finals

By Michael Lee
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, June 16, 2010

LOS ANGELES -- The Los Angeles Lakers stared down elimination with a serious glare from Phil Jackson, who said his team was where it was supposed to be after losing two games in Boston. Instead of panic, there was a self-assured laugh from Kobe Bryant, who said the deficit wasn't a big deal, chuckling to himself when he mockingly said he wasn't confident that his team could win the next two games, at home at Staples Center, to win an NBA championship.

The Lakers showed why there was little concern that they could extend their season and force a decisive seventh game against the Boston Celtics. Revitalized after returning to a more favorable coast, the Lakers provided ample support for Bryant while playing with a scrappy determination to rebound and defend to overwhelm the Celtics, 89-67, on Tuesday night. Bryant scored a game-high 26 points, while Pau Gasol nearly had a triple-double with 17 points, 13 rebounds and 9 assists, as the Lakers forced just the fourth Game 7 of the NBA Finals since the league moved to a 2-3-2 format in 1985. Now, the most NBA's most heated rivalry, between its most two storied franchises, is down to one game.

"A game we got to win. Simple as that," Bryant said. "I'm not going crazy over it. Got to take care of business."

The defending champion Lakers handled their first task in Game 6, denying the Celtics of a chance to win their 18th championship by showing that they were equally determined to claim a 16th of their own. Thursday's Game 7 will be the first in the Finals since 2005, when the San Antonio Spurs beat the Detroit Pistons -- and the first at this stage for Jackson, Bryant or any of the Celtics.

The Lakers are hoping to become just the third team in the past 22 years to win the final two games at home to claim the title. The Celtics, who had the second-lowest scoring output in NBA Finals history, are hoping to become the first road team to win the title since 1978 Washington Bullets.

"When it comes to Game 7, it's like this is what we were born to do," Ray Allen said after scoring a team-high 19 points for the Celtics. "It's like if we were born, 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. So, we're looking forward to it."

While scoring 71 points the two previous games, Bryant established that he could tally points against the Celtics, but the one-man show failed to produce wins with his teammates seemingly occupying the floor for the sole reason of keeping the teams even. Before the game, Jackson said the Lakers had to ride Bryant's hot hand but would have to rely on more team play than "individual action."

Bryant again asserted himself offensively against the Celtics. But his outing was much efficient and didn't come at the expense of ball movement, as he stepped back and let his teammates come along for the ride. He got a standing ovation when he left the game with 3 minutes, 21 seconds remaining, with fans chanting, "MVP! MVP!"

Gasol returned from a disappearing act in Boston, where he reverted to his form from the 2008 Finals, when he had his toughness questioned after each shove from Kevin Garnett and Kendrick Perkins. Gasol again displayed the dominance he revealed in the first two games in Los Angeles, where he was an offensive focal point. Bryant helped get Gasol going early when he stole the ball from Paul Pierce and found Gasol cutting to the basket for a left-handed layup.

"I just did my part, I guess," Gasol said. "I'm just really happy about the team, the way we played as a team, defensively, the activity, the intensity, just everything was very positive and very together."

The mercurial Artest finally awoke from a four-game slumber, as he was aggressive on the offensive end and applied pressure on Pierce defensively. Artest made three three-pointers and scored 15 points -- matching his total from Game 1.

Pierce, Allen, Garnett and Rajon Rondo all scored in double figures for the Celtics, who became unhinged after losing Perkins to a sprained right knee with 5:30 left in the first period. Perkins went up for a layup, Andrew Bynum and Kobe Bryant converged, and Perkins landed awkwardly after Bynum chopped down on him. Perkins immediately reached for his right knee and signaled for the team trainer to come get him. Perkins was immobile for several minutes and needed to be assisted off the court by two teammates, unable to put any pressure on his leg.

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