Lakers say they’re far from finished
BOSTON -- The Lakers returned to Boston to find fewer headaches than on their last trip here.
The city wasn’t teeming with microbiology conventions and college graduations, so there was no trouble finding hotel rooms, allowing the Lakers to clutter their minds with one solitary thought -- force a Game 7.
Coach Phil Jackson was at least one-third correct by saying the Lakers were young enough and dumb enough to win the NBA Finals after trailing 3-1, but an all-important two-thirds of that equation still remains unknown after a Game 5 victory.
Boston is 12-1 at home in the playoffs and one victory away from its first championship in 22 years. Game 6 is tonight at TD Banknorth Garden. Game 7, if necessary, would be in Boston on Thursday.
The Celtics were the ones facing travel issues when their charter jet was grounded several hours longer than expected at Los Angeles International Airport because of mechanical failures. Both teams were scheduled to leave Monday morning, but the Lakers handily beat the Celtics back to Boston.
The Lakers remained resolute for other reasons, lifted by the fact they were able to beat the Celtics despite losing a 19-point second-quarter lead and almost all of a 14-point fourth-quarter lead.
“We have a great belief in this locker room that we can get it done and be the world champs,” guard Jordan Farmar said. “That’s been our goal all year long and we are holding on to it.”
It would be significant if the Lakers did such a thing, no team ever proving strong enough to rally from a 3-1 deficit to win the Finals, but they’ll need to figure out a few things beyond the obvious trend of losing large leads.
Kobe Bryant is averaging a pedestrian 21 points over the last two games and shooting a sub-pedestrian 35% over the same span. The Celtics are cutting off his drives to the basket, and his outside shots seem to be rimming out.
“I had a bad game,” Bryant said with a smile after an eight-for-21 effort in Game 5.
Then he said he would not push the envelope in Game 6.
“A lot of people say, ‘Kobe, you have to go out for 40 or 50,’ but that’s not how we play,” Bryant said. “That’s not what’s going to win us championships. . . . You’re not going to shoot too well against this team because they’re going to throw everybody at you, but the important thing is for me to push the buttons at the right time. That’s really become my role now more so than in the past.”
Somebody was pushing the buttons that activated Lamar Odom and Pau Gasol, who combined for 39 points, 24 rebounds, 14-for-20 shooting, eight assists and six blocked shots in Game 5.
They were stronger in the post, making the Celtics pay again and again for the lack of a physical center. (Kendrick Perkins’ status for Game 6 remained unclear after the Celtics and Lakers skipped practice Monday. Ray Allen is expected to play despite leaving right after Game 5 because one of his children was ill.)
After Lakers fans filtered out of Staples Center a final time this season, Gasol and Odom made reference to not wanting to see champagne flow at Staples Center. Nor would they have wanted to see any cigars in the Celtics’ locker room.
Odom also looked at the box score -- five Lakers in double-figure scoring, only three Celtics -- and hoped to see more of the same.
“We’re not going to beat them if it’s not balanced,” he said.
The Lakers also might want to focus on Paul Pierce. The forward has sliced and shoved his way through the Lakers, sticking them for 38 points and eight assists in Game 5. His name was on more than a few MVP ballots collected at the end of the third quarter, in case Boston won Game 5.
“His matchup is difficult,” Jackson said. “He’s strong. He got eight assists on top of us trying to rotate and go to him and help out against him, so he’s even making plays and becoming a play-maker. This is something we’re going to have to figure out and do a better job of that.”
The Lakers don’t have much time.
Either their season ends tonight or the pursuit of history continues.
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