In a microcosm of their season, the Celtics couldn’t hold on to a double-digit third quarter lead, and fell to the Los Angeles Lakers 83-79 in game seven of the NBA Finals.
The Celtics were in full control of this game, dominating the Lakers in every area except rebounds which was how the Lakers hung in throughout this one. Los Angeles controlled the boards, 53-40, including an incredible 23 boards on the offensive end.
The Celtics offense went completely stagnant during a late third quarter, early fourth quarter spurt which saw the Lakers erase the lead and take one of their own. The teams traded three pointers late, and the game wasn’t decided until Sasha Vujacic hit two free throws, which gave the Lakers a four point lead with 11 seconds to go.
Kobe Bryant, supposedly playing for his legacy, was terrible. He lead the Lakers with 23 points, but shot 6-24 in doing so. One media certainty going into tonight was that “there is no way that Kobe will allow the Lakers to lose game seven at home.” That was a joke. Even Michael Jordan’s son (it looks like it really was him.) was trashing Kobe on Twitter.
So this era is over for the Celtics. They’re going to look a lot different when training camp begins just under four months from now. Ray Allen and Doc Rivers are most likely gone. Paul Pierce could be gone. Tom Thibodeau is gone. The only players signed for next year are Garnett, Perkins, Rondo, Rasheed Wallace and Glen Davis. In the aftermath of tonight’s loss, Wallace is already talking retirement. What will Danny Ainge have planned for this summer?
It’s unfortunate that things ended this way, but they gave us a great run. Falling four points short in game seven of the NBA Finals is a whole lot further than anyone predicted they would go. But this was their last chance. I don’t see them coming back to the Finals for quite a while unless Ainge can quickly retool this club. Maybe getting this close convinces them to make one more run at it with this current group. ( I kind of hope not.) Maybe Ray Allen gets a three-year deal, to push his contract to a year beyond Garnett’s, maybe Pierce exercises his option and stays, and maybe Ainge picks up a steal in the draft next week or in free agency and Doc is talked into taking one last run at it. Rivers’ press conference tonight sure seemed like it was the end of the line for him.
I don’t see them trying to get the band back together for another run, but it’s a possibility. Overall, this was an equally infuriating and endearing team. One game they don’t show up at all, and the next game they’re playing with such heart and intensity that you are drawn right back in. The last two games of this series were a perfect example of that. They missed Perkins far more than I expected they would on the boards tonight, and just ran out of gas in the second half. The Lakers turned up their energy, and the Celtics couldn’t match it.
Historically, this is a devastating blow. Losing to the Lakers brings LA a step closer to Boston’s all time title number (though the titles won in Minneapolis shouldn’t count, in my opinion) and adds another title for Phil Jackson and Kobe Bryant, boosting their stock even more among the all-time greats. This Celtics group is now just a one-title bunch, which I’ll certainly take, but seeing this run makes you wonder what they could’ve done with a healthy KG last season.
The summer will come quickly, with the draft next week, and free agency less than three weeks away. I’ll be watching what Danny Ainge does very closely.