Lakers make it one for all
The Larry O’Brien trophy was in the building, as was Boston Celtics legend Bill Russell, along with boxes and boxes of T-shirts and hats designating the Celtics as the 2010 NBA champions.
None of them became part of the postgame program.
The Lakers made sure of it, clearly and convincingly, thumping the Celtics, 89-67, and forcing a Game 7, in case it wasn’t clear by the time Russell headed for the exit with three minutes left Tuesday at Staples Center.
Kobe Bryant was solid, Pau Gasol was borderline spectacular and there was no way to ignore a resurgent effort from the Lakers’ reserves, who were outscoring Boston’s backups at one point, 24-0.
So much for the franchise’s recent Game 6 wobbles against the Celtics, the Lakers moving past their 39-point loss to them two years ago in a humbling part of their playoff history.
Game 7 is definitely necessary. It’ll be Thursday night at Staples Center. Home teams are 13-3 all-time in Game 7 of the Finals.
Bryant found a way to sift through the previous eight months and 104 games by saying of Thursday night: “It’s a game we’ve got to win. It’s as simple as that.”
He had 26 points and 11 rebounds Tuesday, but it was Gasol who rebounded from a meek 12-point effort in Game 5, coming close to a triple-double Tuesday with 17 points, 13 rebounds and nine assists, the latter a playoff career-high for him.
The Lakers weren’t merely dominant. They governed the Celtics, pushing them all over the court, leading by 10 after the first quarter, 20 at halftime and as many as 27.
The Lakers tried to lighten up their team video sessions before Game 6, and apparently it worked, transitioning from impassioned clips out of the movie “Patton” to those uttered by Bluto Blutarsky, John Belushi’s character in “Animal House,” specifically his fraternal decree that “Nothing is over until we decide it is!”
An important on-court sidebar, however, became the tale of two injured centers, Boston’s Kendrick Perkins leaving in the first quarter after sustaining a sprained right knee and Andrew Bynum leaving the game for good early in the third quarter after aggravating his sore right knee.
Bynum could have played again if needed, but Perkins’ injury looked more ominous after he was helped off the court by teammates. An important part of the Celtics’ physical front, Perkins will be re-evaluated Wednesday.
“It doesn’t look great,” Celtics Coach Doc Rivers said.
Bynum said he was held out for precautionary reasons after experiencing swelling in the back of the same knee that has bothered him for almost seven weeks.
“I just felt really stiff at the beginning of the third quarter,” said Bynum, who had two points and four rebounds in almost 16 minutes. “But I’ll be ready for Thursday.”
If the Lakers need further motivation, there’s a financial one to win Game 7, each player receiving a playoff share of about $250,000 and Coach Phil Jackson receiving a bonus of $1 million if the Lakers win the Finals. (He already received $1 million for getting the team to the championship round.)
Not that anybody was talking dollars and cents. It was more about rebounds and defense.
The Lakers held the Celtics to 28-of-84 shooting (33.3%) and outrebounded Boston, 52-39. Rajon Rondo had a quiet night, scoring only 10 points on five-for-15 shooting. Paul Pierce had 13 points and Kevin Garnett 12.
“Our defense was good,” Jackson said. “Our rebounding was better.”
The Lakers’ reserves were decisively better, with Lamar Odom totaling eight points and 10 rebounds, and Sasha Vujacic scoring nine points in 14 minutes. The Boston bench was scoreless until Nate Robinson’s reverse layup with 9:56 left in the fourth quarter.
Thursday will be a first for Jackson, who has never coached a Game 7 in the Finals. He is 3-1 in Game 7s with the Lakers, most recently a winner in last season’s Western Conference semifinal against Houston.
After the final seconds ticked down Tuesday, longtime Lakers public-address announcer Lawrence Tanter intoned, “There will be a Gaaaame 7.”
Indeed, he was right. Somebody is four quarters away from a championship.