How bad was it? Celtics danced, fans sang
In the end, the chant became fact, the screaming pleas of throaty New Englanders transposed into a sinking reality for silent Angelenos.
In the end, the crazy dream that the Lakers could quickly turn dysfunction into destiny ended when the Boston Celtics slowly turned them into chowder.
An NBA Finals that began with the Lakers spraying wild streams of hope across the Southland ended Tuesday with those same Lakers in a small and embarrassed puddle.
Which the Celtics splashed through. Again and again. Loudly and messily and triumphantly in a 39-point victory that gave them their record 17th NBA championship.
The final score in Game 6 was Celtics 131, Lakers 92.
The final count in Finals games was Celtics 4, Lakers 2.
The final scene was green and white confetti blanketing brown parquet, small tears blanketing giant cheeks, fans tumbling over barricades onto the floor as the Lakers tried to escape.
“Man, man, man,” said the Celtics’ Kevin Garnett, saying it all.
The final cheers were heartfelt songs filled with the relief of fans who have waited 22 years since the Celtics’ last title.
But the final chants were more compelling, because they were directed at you-know-who.
In his best chance at establishing his legacy as a championship player without Shaquille O’Neal, Kobe Bryant was seemingly burdened by something even heavier.
He made just seven of 22 mostly wild shots. He had just one assist. He had four turnovers.
The league MVP was
AWFUL, unable to break through even the most basic of one-on-one Celtic defenses, unable to carry a team that needed carrying.
In the six games of the series, he shot poorly, led inconsistently, had only one really dramatic moment, and that was on defense.
And, so, in voices that seemingly shook the TD Banknorth Garden, with Bryant standing at the foul line in the third quarter, here came those chants.
“You’re not Jordan!” the fans sang, referring to Michael Jordan.
No, clearly, at this point he is not.
When Bryant began the fourth quarter on the bench with his team trailing by 29 points, they chanted again.
“Where is Kobe?” they sang even louder.
Today even the most diehard Bryant fans must be asking themselves the same thing, in wondering how far he can lead a team by himself.
“Once you taste defeat, that makes you a little tougher,” said Bryant.
Other Lakers were just as deserving of the jeers.
Lamar Odom had two baskets and three turnovers and not one offensive rebound for a team that combined for a stunningly low two.
Pau Gasol had four baskets and five turnovers and the indignity of being forced into a jump ball by a guy Garnett using just one hand at the time.
“I thought we played on our heels from the very get-go,” said Coach Phil Jackson. “They overran us . We never met that energy all night tonight.”
Before the game, if the Lakers were to lose, I was considering writing a column extolling this season’s amazing turnaround and applauding them for an inspiring effort that ended at the feet of a clearly better team.
Before the game, if the Lakers were to lose, I was reminding everyone how their best inside player was in street clothes, and how Andrew Bynum’s return next season should make them NBA favorites.
But after what happened in the game, how could any of us believe any of that?
They need more than Bynum. They need toughness in the middle. They needed maturity everywhere.
“We were surprised we were here, and we’re glad that we had an opportunity,” Jackson said. “But whenever you get this opportunity, you don’t want to let it slip away, and we did.”
How bad did it slip?
In the last seven minutes of the second quarter, the Celtics outscored the Lakers, 26-6, with a lineup that included three Celtic subs.
How bad did it look?
Garnett stalked around the court waving and chanting, a pep rally celebration with 5:07 left in the game.
The fans began chanting, “Nah-nah-nah-nah goodbye” with 4:53 left.
Paul Pierce began doing a disco dance on the Celtic bench with 2:21 left.
Speaking of bad, yeah, the guy who began the series being carried off the floor and placed into a wheelchair was the Series MVP, an award that Pierce should place next to his Oscar.
“This is unreal,” said Pierce in his acceptance speech.
I agree. I picked the Lakers to win in five games. The Lakers could not have won this series if it had gone 25 games.
I discounted that the Celtics’ three veteran stars two of them acquired last summer would not be denied the championship that had thus far eluded them.
I didn’t give them enough credit, and I gave some of the untested Lakers way too much credit.
So, too, apparently, did Jackson, who took the unusual step of threatening roster moves even before the cheering stopped.
“We have to get some players if we’re going to come back and repeat, to have that kind of aggressiveness that we need,” he said.
So when they return next fall, some of the Lakers might be new.
After this awful farewell, it is hoped that some of them will also be improved.
Bill Plaschke can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. To read previous columns
by Plaschke, go to latimes.com/plaschke.