Come on, it was destined to go seven games. The Los Angeles Lakers and Boston Celtics will battle to become the newest NBA champion when they square off in Game 7 tonight. Every game of this series has felt like a Game 7 and there is no reason to believe tonight will be any different, but at the same time it’s hard to imagine the Lakers not pulling this one out when it’s all said and done.
After the Celtics took a commanding 3-2 lead following a Game 5 win, it was strange to see how calm the Lakers were and how the momentum, that should have been in Boston’s favor, was still even at best. With the Lakers going back home for the next game and a potential Game 7, many assumed the Lakers still had the advantage. One game later, that assumption is now fact.
A Game 6 blowout win for the Lakers, led by Kobe Bryant’s 29 points and Pau Gasol’s near triple-double, has them feeling extremely confident as they prepare for the series finale at home. No one in the Western Conference had a better home record (34-7) than the Lakers this season, and they are 10-1 in the playoffs when playing at the Staples Center.
The personnel factor is also in the Lakers’ favor, as Boston’s Kendrick Perkins has been ruled out of tonight’s game after tearing knee ligaments early in Game 6, while LA’s Andrew Bynum is expected to play through a sore knee. Perkins hadn’t made much of a dent in the box score this series (averaging 5.8 points and 5.8 rebounds), but his defensive impact in the paint was something the Celtics will not be able to replicate. The team that has won the rebounding stat is 6-0 in the series, meaning Boston could be in deep trouble.
Instead, Doc Rivers and the Celtics will counter with a combination of Rasheed Wallace, Glen “Big Baby” Davis, and Shelden Williams. What was once considered to be an advantage for the Celtics in the series, their bench disappeared in Game 6 and will have to be expanded further tonight with the loss of Perkins. On the other hand, the Lakers bench combined for 25 points and stifling defense that contributed to the win. With the crowd behind them and the Celtics now being forced to jumble rotations up after 90+ games, the tides have turned in the bench department.
For as much as an NBA title would mean to each franchise, with the Lakers looking for back-to-back titles and the Celtics looking for title No. 18, there are also personal accomplishments and even legacies on the line. Phil Jackson looks for his 11th NBA title in the last 20 years (he’ll also receive a $2 million bonus from the Lakers) and Adam Morrison will attempt to bring home his second title in as many years. OK, that was a joke.
But when it’s all said and done, the spotlight will be on one player and one player only: Kobe Bryant. It’s near impossible for a player with four titles, an MVP trophy, and a Finals MVP to have his legacy determined by one game, and tonight will be no exception. Bryant and the Lakers had the most talented roster from top to bottom, but the Celtics are competing closely to be considered the league’s best unit. A loss by the Lakers won’t ruin __ incredible seasons from Bryant, but at the same time a win could make his legacy that much stronger.
With a win tonight, Bryant would rack up his fifth NBA title as well as his second NBA Finals MVP (which he might do even if the Lakers lose). It would put him that much closer in the debate over best ever and put him one more Finals closer to Michael Jordan. He hasn’t reached Jordan by any means just yet, but a win tonight puts him that much closer to one day doing so.
This game could go down to the wire, and each team will make their respective runs in the game, but it’s awfully hard to imagine Bryant walking off his home court as the Celtics celebrate an NBA title. He hasn’t been spectacular in the Finals and he’s got one heck of a supporting cast around him, but tonight’s game will be won or lost by Kobe Bryant. I won’t be betting against him when the lights go on.