First and foremost, it was a great season for the Celtics. Given their miserable 50-32 (27-27 in last 54) regular season, this amazing run came from out of nowhere. The Celtics came within a few minutes of knocking off the three best teams in the league in consecutive series. Without Kendrick Perkins, the Lakers ate the Celtics alive in this one, with a 23-8 offensive rebounding edge. This allowed them to of course overcome a 13 point deficit – the Celtics offense atrophied down the stretch for reasons I am still not fully able to reconcile. Anyway … some ruminations:
The Eerie Parralel, Part One – This game played almost identically to the 1998 Eastern Conference Final Game 7 between the Chicago Bulls and Indiana Pacers. The Pacers, if you remember, outshot the Bulls, hung with them for a long time. Both teams looked exhausted and in a true ordeal of a gae, the Bulls overcame some horrendous shooting by their star (Jordan 9 for 25) with sheer will, offensive rebounding, and a lot of trips to the foul line at the end. Kobe survived a 6 for 25 nightmare to put up a 23 and 15, piecing together a tough resourceful game on a night when the legs weren’t there. Just like the 1998 game, this Game 7 featured sheer palpable intensity and exhaustion. Both teams had nothing left to give. I think of the look on Muhammad Ali’s face when he won the Thrilla in Manilla.
The Eerie Parralel, Part Two – The Game 7 between Houston and New York in 1994, notably the OJ series. The parallel here of course was John Starks’ 2 for 18. Ray Allen’s 3 for 14 was not as bad, but once again a key shooter having the lid on the basket. For an undermanned Celtics side, who actually executed really well – so many open looks to have misgivings about.
The Artest for Ariza Swap – On a day that the Lakers absolutely needed Artest to not just be a role player, but a creator and two way star of his own, Artest delivered hitting the dagger 3 and being outstanding throughout. Ariza could never have done this.
The Officiating – In the first quarter, the referees called the game very very liberally. The physical, intense style was encouraged. They let them play. As the game went on, the whistles got tighter, when by the 4th the Celtics watched the Lakers take something like 15 of their 37 attempts. It did not feel like there was an aggressiveness gap either, as Pierce was not getting calls driving to the cup – and Kobe got one 3 shot foul on a play when Ray Allen did not touch him. The Celtics were not robbed – but they were fighting a lot of forces down the stretch.
A Classic? – It took Game 7 to have the one true knee knocker in this series. One of the great Game 7s for sure, though it’s intensity and drama were the touchstones, not the art. The game definitely had the feel of two exhausted sides who just willed out one more performance. Heart everywhere.
What’s Next – Well the NBA draft next Thursday. For the Lakers, they are the favorites to repeat next year as of now, and if they do land Chris Bosh, they might be on “70 win” watch. Maybe. The Celtics have a lot of uncertainty, but the East is open enough that it is hard to envision Boston slipping too much. Realistically Danny Ainge has a chance to take the first steps towards a post Big 3 reality, rebuild on the fly a little. We’ll see what happens.