It’s been a couple of days since the Boston Celtics 83-79 loss to the Los Angeles Lakers in Game 7 of the NBA Finals. Time to try and put things into perspective…
A lot of people want to give the Celtics a pat on the back. “We know you guys are getting up there in age and we didn’t expect too much of you anyways, but way to give it the old college try. We know you coasted at times during the season, but thanks for the thrill ride in the playoffs.” That’s not good enough. When you get a chance to play in a Game 7, there are no consolation prizes, no moral victories. That’s not happening. These Celtics wanted this title, felt like they deserved this title, and came as close as any losing team in Finals history to being the champions. The Celtics had a chance to win their second NBA title in three years, but after losing to the Lakers, they were forced to watch their biggest rival celebrate for the second year in a row.
Boston came out strong and punched the Lakers right in the mouth holding them to 14 first quarter points. They let the Lakers know what type of game it would be right off the bat. It took them awhile to adjust to the Celtics physicality, but to the Lakers ability to rebound the basketball quickly allowed them to regain some semblance of control.
The Celtics have had a ton of pride in their defense ever since Kevin Garnett and Tom Thibodeau walked through the door three years ago, and in the playoffs it was their calling card once again. Boston forced the Lakers to play ugly basketball the entire series, and Game 7 was no different. The only change was Los Angeles matching their intensity on the defensive end on every possession.
The big names for the Lakers played well enough for them to win. Kobe struggled with the Celtics’ defense, but he still made an impact on the boards. Pau Gasol was treated like a second rate player in 2008 but his game matured and he was able to thrive in a tough environment this time around. Ron Artest was just crazy enough to not let the moment get to him, playing solid defense and knocking down some big shots.
All playoffs the Celtics have been playing a team game on offense and hoping one of KG, Paul Pierce, Ray Allen, or Rajon Rondo would carry a significant portion of the scoring. So it was fitting in the Game 7 loss that all five starters (with Sheed in for Perkins) scored in double figures, with no one asserting himself as top dog. Sheed and KG started off strong in the post shooting a combined 12-20 from the field (Sheed was 1-4 on threes), but it but it must have taken a toll on the veteran big men because they got away from it as the game went on. No one else was scoring on a consistent basis, a tough pill to swallow in the final game for a team that relied on each for offense all year long.
Game 4 was a big game for the substitutes with Big Baby and Nate Robinson coining their “Shrek and Donkey” routine. In Game 7 though, the stars stayed on the floor as Pierce played 46 minutes while Ray and Rondo each played 45. Neither team got much from their bench in the final game. Big Baby provided the only stats for Boston’s subs with 8 points and 9 rebounds while Odom contributed 7 and 7 for LA. The only other points from the pine on either side came on the two free throws by Sasha Vujacic at the end of the game.
Ray Allen did not play a good game…offensively. Allen had four turnovers in Game 7 and continued to struggle with his shooting (3-14, 2-7 from three) since his record setting Game 2 performance. But for anyone to blame Ray Allen for this loss is out of their mind. Ray Allen played the best defense of his career on Kobe Bryant this whole series but saved his best effort for the end, helping hold Kobe to a 6-24 shooting night. Playing defense is a lot more strenuous on the body than offense, and it no doubt contributed to Allen’s shooting woes.
When Ray came over to the team in 2007, he was coming off double ankle surgery and Celtic fans expected him to give them some good shooting on offense but not much else, and there was a lot of concern about his defense. Three years later these playoffs showed just how great a player he is, to sacrifice his offense and put in that much effort on defense is amazing. And to do it all with his son’s illness hanging over his head and his family unable to travel with him and still play that hard is a testament of Ray Allen as a man and a player. He should be praised for everything he’s done, not made the scapegoat.
Before the series a lot was made of Ron Artest being able to shut down Pierce, but for the first six games of the Finals Pierce let the game come to him and picked his spots remaining relatively effective against Ron-Ron. In the second half of Game 7, when Boston really needed to get something going, Artest changed that as he dictated where Pierce went and took away all of his options. As much fun as it’s been to enjoy his struggles this series, a lot of credit needs to go to Artest (or his psychiatrist) for his Game 7 effort because if Pierce was able to get anything going in the fourth quarter, the outcome might have been different.
There is a lot to be proud of, and a lot of good memories from this season. The starting lineup of Perk, KG, Pierce, Ray, Rondo has still never lost a playoff series when they’re healthy, and they had the chance until Perk’s injury in Game 6. Now they may never get the chance because of all the potential off-season changes.
This game will be hard to think about for a long, long time because usually the team that wants it more will win. Well, I don’t think this Lakers team wanted it more than the Celtics. I just don’t, the Celtics had more people on their side that wanted this one. It just didn’t go their way.