Thursday, June 24, 2010

LA superior in fourth, win 16th NBA title

LA superior in fourth, win 16th NBA title
Julian Benbow
Globe Staff / June 18, 2010

LOS ANGELES — It was always about adversity. Kevin Garnett’s knee. Glen Davis’s fight. From the start of the season, the troubles seemed to come in a constant downpour. But it was always about how the Celtics would handle them.

The trade rumors. The inner turmoil. The frustration that simmered as they absorbed embarrassing regular-season losses. How would they respond to it all?

They would have been fooling themselves if they believed that Kendrick Perkins’s knee injury would be their last bit of turbulence. Game 7 against the Lakers last night would be a struggle, mentally and physically, and they knew it.

They knew it when they were up by 13 points in the third quarter. They knew it in the middle of the fourth quarter when that lead had evaporated. Down, 66-64, with 5:56 left, and with every possession the Staples Center felt more like a pressure cooker.

After a largely dormant first half, Kobe Bryant woke up. He pulled up from 17 feet, getting possibly his cleanest look at the basket all night, and drilled it as if it were on a zipline. The Celtics were down, 68-64, with 5:21 left. Adversity followed them all season. When it showed up last night, they fought. They were down, 76-70, when Rasheed Wallace knocked down a 3-pointer to make it a one-possession game. They were down, 79-73, when Ray Allen drilled another. They were down, 81-76, with 16 seconds left when Rajon Rondo drained a three from in front of the Lakers’ bench. But in the end, they couldn’t overcome it all.

The Lakers won their 16th NBA championship, hanging on for a 83-79 victory.

Lakers coach Phil Jackson now has 11 championships, two more than Celtics patriarch Red Auerbach. Bryant (23 points, 15 rebounds) now has five rings, as many as Magic Johnson, his legacy as one of the greatest Lakers further cemented.

Garnett’s 17 points weren’t enough. Neither were Paul Pierce’s 18.

The Lakers shot 32.1 percent from the floor, and Bryant missed 18 of his 24 shots. But the game was decided the same way as the six before it. The team that won the rebounding war (53-40, Lakers) won the championship.

From the baseline pull-up that bounced off the top of the backboard to the 3-pointer in front of the Lakers’ bench that missed high and long, Bryant couldn’t get a clean look most of the first half.

Bryant missed six of his first seven shots and finished the first half 3 of 14 with four misses from long distance. The Celtics kept two and three bodies around him, making sure comfort was never an option. At one point, the Celtics pushed the Lakers’ offense so far away from the basket Bryant was forced to start from nearly half court.

Openly sensing his legacy was on the line, Pierce was as aggressive as he was effective early on, scoring 11 points in the first half. He got into a scuffle with Ron Artest under the basket that was almost a instant replay of their wrestling match seconds into Game 1. They exchanged trash talk and a couple of well-placed elbows, having to be separated before earning double techincals with 1:22 left in the half.

The small message, though, was that the Celtics weren’t going to be the ones that budged.

The small things added up early on, from free throws (8 of 8 in the first half) to the battle for 50/50 plays.

If a ball was loose on the floor, the Celtics were diving to scoop it up. Rondo and Pierce hit the hardwood to save possessions. With 2:27 left in the first quarter, Pierce stepped in front of Gasol in the lane and took a charge, then with the Celtics taking possession he drilled a 17-footer that made it 19-14.

The Celtics had complete control of the pace, getting Rondo out and running but never letting the Lakers do the same.

The Lakers had more misses (36) than the Celtics had attempts (34) in the first half. The only reason they were able to climb from under all the bricks (26.5 percent shooting in the first half) was their early rebounding. Gasol had 10 boards by the break. Bryant had seven. They went on an 11-0 run to start the second quarter, and two of the biggest plays were putbacks by Artest.

Sidelined by the PCL and MCL tears sustained in Game 6, Perkins watched from the bench, black blazer over a green shirt. Considered an insurance policy when the Celtics brought him in over the offseason, Wallace was an instant presence, taking Gasol, Andrew Bynum, and Lamar Odom to the post but also fighting for rebounds.

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