Uneven Celtics-Lakers NBA Finals could yield a classic Game 7

Kobe Bryant talks with reporters during a Los Angeles Lakers practice session as they prepare to meet the Boston Celtics in Game 7 of the NBA basketball Finals, at Staples Center in Los Angeles, Wednesday, June 16, 2010. (AP Photo/Reed Saxon)
Kobe Bryant talks with reporters during a Los Angeles Lakers practice session as they prepare to meet the Boston Celtics in Game 7 of the NBA basketball Finals, at Staples Center in Los Angeles, Wednesday, June 16, 2010. (AP Photo/Reed Saxon)
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, June 17, 2010

LOS ANGELES -- The latest installment of the NBA's most storied rivalry has provided several memorable moments: From Ray Allen grinning after knocking down one of his eight three-pointers in Game 2 to Derek Fisher's mad dash through three Celtics for a layup in Game 3 to Nate Robinson hopping on the shoulders of a drooling Glen "Big Baby" Davis in Game 4 to Jordan Farmar diving face-first to save a loose ball to Kobe Bryant in Game 6.

Unforgettable images all -- but the Los Angeles Lakers and Boston Celtics have yet to produce a great game (the pace has been choppy; the lead hasn't changed in the final three minutes of any contest thus far). What these NBA Finals have yielded is a rare Game 7, the 17th in league history and only the fourth since the 2-3-2 format was implemented in 1985.

There is no guarantee that the final game of this series, of this 2009-10 season, will provide an instant classic, but it already has enough subplots -- given the championship trophy collections for both franchises and the Hall of Fame cast of characters on both sides -- to make this the most eagerly anticipated game in the modern era.

"No different to me," Bryant said, when asked what it meant to him. "I don't mean to be a buzz kill, but it's not. I know what's at stake, but I'm not tripping."

Make no mistake, a lot is at stake. The Celtics, one win from their record 18th championship banner. The Lakers, one win from a 16th title, which would put them one away from Boston. Phil Jackson, in possibly his final season in Los Angeles, in pursuit of his 11th title but first against Red Auerbach's old team, the franchise that served as his nemesis during his playing days. Bryant, seeking to separate himself from his generation's peers Shaquille O'Neal and Tim Duncan, chasing Magic Johnson's five titles as a Laker and hoping to move closer to Michael Jordan's six.

Doc Rivers, in possibly his final season in Boston, attempting to become the fourth Celtics coach -- and sixth in the past 30 years -- to win multiple rings. Paul Pierce, Allen and Kevin Garnett, trying to join the list of Celtics legends that won at least two championships.

"I just love the pressure, truthfully, man," Pierce said. "I love the fact that I get to play against the Los Angeles Lakers in a Game 7 on the road. I love the fact that if I don't win multiple championships that I probably don't get mentioned amongst the other guys in Celtics history that's done it before. That type of stuff motivates me. That type of stuff, I think, helps me play my best when I'm put to that type of test. To win another championship would be the best thing that can ever happen."

The Celtics are 4-0 in Finals Game 7s, with each victory coming at the expense of the Lakers. Only one of those wins, though, came in Los Angeles. In 1969, Bill Russell and the aging Celtics, an Eastern Conference fourth seed similar to the current batch, made one final stand against the heavily favored Lakers of Jerry West, Elgin Baylor, Wilt Chamberlain -- and then-owner Jack Kent Cooke's ill-planned balloon drop at the Forum.

The Lakers are 3-5 all-time in Finals Game 7s, with their last victory coming in 1988, when Johnson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and series most valuable player James Worthy won their final two games against Detroit at the Forum. These Lakers are seeking to repeat that feat on Thursday at Staples Center, after romping over Boston, 89-67, in Game 6. The home team is 13-3 in the previous Game 7s.

"One way or the other, the job has to get done," said Jackson, in his first Finals Game 7 in his 73rd Finals game. "The game is about the basic things, being able to dribble the ball and shoot the ball and correctly play the game. So those are the things I think are important. We've come out nicked and bruised and damaged at some level, but we're still here. We're on our feet, fighting for the seventh game."

Lakers center Andrew Bynum expects to play although a right knee injury that has limited him throughout the series, but the Celtics will be without center Kendrick Perkins, who tore two ligaments in his right knee in the first quarter of Game 6 and was walking with crutches on Wednesday. Veteran Rasheed Wallace is expected to start in place of Perkins and is the only player on either team to participate in a Finals Game 7, which he did in 2005, when his Detroit Pistons lost to San Antonio. Wallace said he quickly put that loss behind him.

"It doesn't linger at all. That was five years ago, I'm already passed that, my man. I was past that the summer it happened. You can't sit back and think about stuff like that. It'll drive you crazy. All the shoulda, coulda, wouldas, sound like Brian McKnight," Wallace said, quoting a song from the R&B singer. "Here, it's either you're going to take that step to be champion or you're going to trip up the steps and fall short."

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