Buried in the Garden
BOSTON -- Beaten L.A.
The Lakers came to their final resting place in the frenzied home of their most hated historical rival, drifting far from victory in a 131-92 Game 6 loss to the Boston Celtics that was every bit as uneven as the score indicated.
Looking nothing like the team that ripped through the Western Conference, the Lakers were yanked apart at the seams by a Boston team that pushed them from one end to the other in one of the most decisive games in NBA Finals history.
The Celtics won the series, 4-2, and took their 17th NBA championship, three more than the Lakers, in front of a jubilant crowd Tuesday at TD Banknorth Garden. The most one-sided game in Finals history remained a 42-point victory by Chicago over Utah (96-54) in 1998.
Game 4 will be the one that bothers the Lakers over the next 3 1/2 months, a lost 24-point lead all that needs to be said, but Tuesday night will also sting, the Celtics leading by as many as 43 in the final minutes.
There were too many culprits to name for the Lakers, from the recurring frontcourt issues to Kobe Bryant’s continual shooting woes to another night of lethargy from the reserves. There will be plenty of time to ponder it all on the Lakers’ six-hour flight back home this morning.
Bryant spoke in short, clipped sentences after the game, frustration evident in his words and posture.
“Just upset more than anything,” he said. “But I’m proud of the way that we performed all year. I’m proud of my guys. At the same time, understand that second place just means you’re the first loser.”
Paul Pierce was the Finals most valuable player, hitting the Lakers hard on numerous fronts throughout the series -- points, assists, free throws. He had 17 points, 10 assists and made seven of eight free throws in Game 6. He began dancing on the Celtics’ bench during a timeout in the final minutes, much to the crowd’s delight.
Pierce outplayed the regular-season MVP, Bryant, who again shot poorly in Game 6 -- 22 points on seven-for-22 shooting; he made only three of his last 17 shots. For the series, he averaged 25.7 points and shot only 40.5%.
As if on cue, the Garden crowd derisively chanted “Where is Kobe?” while the Celtics hovered near a 30-point lead early in the fourth quarter. At the time, Bryant was sitting on the bench with three other starters.
“Kobe started off that game with a hot hand and then I think his legs, you could see his shot was flat, he didn’t get his shot going, and it really changed the course of the game,” Lakers Coach Phil Jackson said.
Lamar Odom and Pau Gasol were also flat, again, their Game 5 outburst proving to be no more than a hiccup. Odom didn’t make a shot until the 7:54 mark of the fourth quarter, finishing with 14 points after a late individual push. Gasol had 11 points.
How bad was it? The “Hey, Hey, Hey, Goodbye” chant began with five minutes left. Then came a “Seventeen” chant a few minutes later. Then it became official, Commissioner David Stern handing over the championship trophy to the Celtics in a blizzard of green-and-white confetti.
The Lakers trailed, 32-29, with seven minutes left in the second quarter but never stood a chance from there. The Celtics’ scoring in the final three quarters: 34-31-42.
“I think if we’re going to learn one thing from this series, we can’t expect to win a championship by focusing on the offensive end,” Bryant said. “We have to be able to hold people down as well.”
Bryant was then asked how much Andrew Bynum would have helped in this series.
“Rebounding and a shot-blocker in the middle. He solves a couple of those,” Bryant said.
The Game 6 stats were ugly across the board for the Lakers. The Celtics had 48 rebounds, the Lakers 29. The Celtics had 14 offensive rebounds, the Lakers a meager two. The Celtics had 33 assists, the Lakers 16. The Celtics had seven turnovers, the Lakers 19. And on and on.
And with that, the Lakers’ attempt to become the only team to win the Finals after trailing, 3-1, ended after only one victory.
Jackson tried to be positive afterward, recapping a season that included the Western Conference championship and Bryant’s first MVP trophy.
“We suffered injuries and survived a season and rebuilt our team and came back and had a great playoff run until the Celtics were able to extinguish that hope,” Jackson said. “But we’ll look back on this favorably. We were surprised we were here, and we’re glad that we had an opportunity, but whenever you get this opportunity, you don’t want to let it slip away, and we did.”
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How Lakers’ seasons have ended since they won their third consecutive (and most recent) NBA championship in 2002:
*--* Year Round Result 2003 Western semifinals Game 6, 110-82 to San Antonio 2004 NBA Finals Game 5, 100-87 at Detroit 2005 Missed playoffs (34-48) 2006 First round Game 7, 121-90 at Phoenix 2007 First round Game 5, 119-110 at Phoenix 2008 NBA Finals Game 6, 131-92 at Boston *--*