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Lakers 89, Celtics 67: That Was Some Mind-Blowing Six, Baby

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Yeah, honey child. That's how you play an elimination game. Faced with a win-or-go-golfing scenario for the first time in over a year, the Los Angeles Lakers came up with a defensive performance for the ages. They harassed the Celtics for 48 glorious minutes with length, hustle and a rediscovered ferocity that had gone missing in Boston. The result was an 89 to 67 bludgeoning that evens the NBA Finals at three victories a piece. Game Seven, for all the tacos, is Thursday night.

If you'd forgotten that the Lakers were capable of choking an opponent out with world-class defense, that's understandable. As recently as early March, they led the NBA in defensive efficiency, but a late-season fade, plus points allowed in bunches in playoff series against the Utah Jazz and Phoenix Suns, took some of the gleam off the Lakers' defensive rep. Tonight that great Laker D came roaring back, and not a moment too soon. They allowed the Celtics to score a pathetically low 0.78 points per possession. That's not just the lowest efficiency mark by a Laker opponent in these playoffs. It's the lowest mark of an opponent all season long. To put it in further perspective, at no point in these playoffs or the regular season had the Celtic offense been held below 0.83 points per trip.

Did the Lakers pick the right time for one of the greatest defensive performances in NBA Finals history? Yes. Yes, I'd say they did.

The Lake Show gave the Celtics absolutely no quarter tonight. They exerted tight ball pressure on everyone except Rajon Rondo, whom they invited to shoot early and often. Rondo failed to punish this strategy, scoring 10 points on 16 shots (using the term shots to include free-throw possessions) and committing three turnovers. This allowed Kobe Bryant and anyone else guarding Rondo to help lock down the paint, where the Lakers were a swarm of hands and arms and active bodies. There were eight Laker blocked shots, who-knows-how-many tipped balls and a team-wide spirit of energetic play. Whereas in Game Five the Celtics made 63% of their two-point shots, tonight the Lakers stayed between their men and the basket, challenged nearly every look and held Boston to 38% shooting on twos.

Gone also were the second-chance opportunities that the Celtics enjoyed in their home building. Boston recovered only 25% of their own misses and generated only six second-chance points. Every Laker on the court, it seemed, hungered for defensive rebounds. The wing players were especially critical in this regard. Kobe, Ron Artest and Lamar Odom combined to pull in 19 defensive boards. Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce, in stark contrast, together secured only one offensive rebound in 65 minutes of court time.

Ray Allen (19 points on 15 shots) was the only dependable scoring option for the Celtics. Everyone else was a nonfactor. The lavishly praised Boston bench looked less like characters from Shrek and more like characters from... I don't know, some movie about a planet whose inhabitants suck at basketball. (That's a good movie idea, by the way. Don't steal it.) The Boston reserves combined for 13 points on 28 shots. A special Silver Screen and Roll tip o' the cap goes out to Rasheed Wallace, who chucked up a cool oh-for-7 line. (To his credit, though, he did get to the free-throw line... um, zero times.)

Bad news for Celtic fans who might wish Rasheed on the next flight out of town: he could be their starting center in Game Seven. Kendrick Perkins injured his knee in the first quarter tonight and didn't return. It's not clear whether he'll be available to play Thursday night. We sincerely wish him well and hope that he'll be back in action for the deciding game. An honorable warrior always wants his opponent to enter the ring at full strength. I think Douglas MacArthur said that. Either MacArthur, or the guy who produces those Bumfights videos.

Just as concerning to the Celtics has to be their disappearing three-point shooters. Check out their team three-point accuracy by game so far in this series.

Celtics' 3-Point Shooting

Game One


Game Two


Game Three


Game Four


Game Five


Game Six


Which one of those games looks like an outlier to you? In Games Four and Five, the Celtics showed they can win without great three-point shooting, but it really puts the pressure on Rondo, Pierce and Garnett to score in the paint and in the midrange area. Tonight they couldn't do so nearly enough.

As for the Laker offense, their game total of 1.05 points per possession doesn't look like anything special, but that's skewed by garbage-time fourth quarter numbers. At the end of the third period, the Lakers' offensive efficiency stood at a sparkling 1.21 points per trip. Kobe was again the tip of the spear. He rang up 26 points on 22 shots along with 11 rebounds, three assists and four steals, to solidify his Finals MVP credentials. Unlike in Game Five, there were others to make a stand with him. The Ronster found his stroke to the tune of 15 points on 11 shots, Pau came an assist short of a triple-dub with a 17-13-9 line, and Odom, Jordan Farmar, Shannon Brown and Sasha Vujacic all brought good scoring off the bench. There were no weak links, no deadweight, on the court for the Lakers in this one.

Which brings us to those beautiful, terrifying words: a seventh game. The success or failure of the Lakers' season will be defined by a single contest on Thursday night. Amazingly, Phil Jackson has never coached in a Game Seven in the NBA Finals. When something is new even for Phil, you can be sure you're in some rarely explored territory. Thank God for home-court advantage.

Speaking of which: the Staples crowd brought it tonight. They called down the thunder right from the jump and never let the Lakers' energy sag. Nicely done. Now let's do it one more time on Thursday. Banner number 16 is within reach.











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