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Jeff Van Gundy noticed something early in the game. The Celtics were playing like a team that was comfortable with their one game lead in the series. Urgency must have been left behind as the Celtics fell to the Lakers 89-67, tying the series at 3 games a piece and forcing a Game 7 Thursday night. Kobe Bryant dominated both ends of the floor and Ron Artest added 15 points for the Lakers. The Celtics were never able to get going and took a major blow losing Kendrick Perkins to a knee injury in the first quarter. In surprisingly easy fashion, the Lakers rolled to the NBA Finals’ first Game 7 since 2005.
Like an equally-hyped heavyweight fight, the game began with each opponent trading blows, feeling one another out. Kobe Bryant certainly heated up fast and early, knocking down almost every shot he took, going 5-for-8 with 11 points. The enigmatic Ron Artest showed up to play this time, making shots and playing controlled defense. With 5:30 remaining in the first quarter, a scary moment for Boston came in the form of Kendrick Perkins. The Celtics’ starting center came down with a rebound and collapsed on the floor, his right knee buckled beneath him. Lakers fans chanted “wheelchair” in a nod to Paul Pierce’s wheelchair exit (only to return moments later and make a big shot) two years ago.
Early on, it was clear the Lakers were happy to be home, practicing patient basketball and reaping the rewards of ball sharing. The Celtics, meanwhile, had the look of a team that was feeling the effects of two cross-country games in three days. After the Lakers jumped out to an early lead at 26-18, Doc Rivers went to the bench in attempt to capture the same spark of The Shrek and Donkey Show of Game 4. If nothing else, the Celtics had started flat and and new life was needed. While they only scored once, Tony Allen was able to harass Kobe Bryant as the defense held the Lakers to end the quarter at 28-18.
The Celtics bench started the 2nd quarter but couldn’t stop the bleeding. They missed shots early and the Lakers defense had a lot to do with it. After banging up his ankle in Game 5, Andrew Bynum showed no signs of tentativeness, playing defense with as good mobility as he has shown all series. At 40-23, Doc Rivers called a timeout to put a stop to the Lakers’ runaway momentum. He rallied his team honestly saying,
“They’re playing harder than you guys. Alright. And we’re going to fast and we’re not making [the] next basket.”
He was right. The Celtics looked full of nervous energy, each player trying to win the game by himself. Rivers’ words for the moment fell flat as the Lakers bench continued to pile on. Sasha Vujacic drilled a three pointer and Jordan Farmer followed up with a breakaway exclamation point dunk. The Lakers were able to do whatever they wanted, and Bryant was nearly unstoppable in transition. The Celtics had the look of a team that, as Jeff Van Gundy noted, “knows they have a one game lead.” Their miscues came in all shapes and sizes, and Rajon Rondo and Shelden Williams both had dunks denied by iron in the quarter. As the half neared its end, Paul Pierce turned in one of his patented “get points or get fouled” drives to the hoop but was denied both. He left his feet and came back down, losing the ball in the process. The half ended with a 20-point deficit at 51-31, with the Celtics getting out-rebounded 30-13 by the Lakers.
As the third quarter labored on, little changed. Late in the period, Rondo missed a floater, and a Laker rebound led to a Vujacic bucket in transition. Replays showed Rondo taking a huge elbow to the face on the missed shot, and he headed for the bench in favor of Nate Robinson. As the clocked ticked down and the Lakers moved the ball, Ron Artest hit another three to hammer things home.
As the fourth quarter progressed and it became clear that the tide would not turn, Tony Allen stood alone in the opposite corner of the court while Bryant shot free throws. Moments earlier, Allen had played impeccable defense on Bryant, leading to a near-strip and whistle blown. It was a microcosm of Boston’s night where scrappy effort and misplaced energy won out over teamwork.