A Game 7 For The Ages

It’s Lakers and Celtics, Game 7 of the NBA Finals. I don’t have a horse in the race, but I’m pulling for the Lakers for two reasons. First, I like Kobe Bryant, though I am completely aware that a lot of people don’t, and second, I hate the Celtics. Maybe hate is too strong of a word in this case. I certainly don’t hate the Celtics like I hate the Red Sox or Boone Logan (despite his Wednesday night performance) or Chad Gaudin or the way I am starting to hate A.J. Burnett, but I just can’t stand them.

The problem is when I do talk basketball (which is rare) the one person I talk about it with happens to be a Celtics fan buried deep in the heart of Massachusetts. So to get inside the mind of someone with something on the line in Thursday’s Game 7, good friend and NESN.com writer Mike Hurley joined me to break down the biggest Finals game since ’94.

Keefe: I thought the Lakers were the best team after Game 3, and the Celtics after Game 5. Now I don’t know which team is better. Do you? Everything I read from Boston is that the Celtics will put Game 6 behind them and already have, and I fully believe that they have. If the Lakers could come back in Game 6 after looking the way they did in Game 5, then I have to believe the Celtics from Game 6 will show up in Game 7. I don’t know who is going to win, and wouldn’t be surprised by either team winning. Does that even make sense? Nothing makes sense anymore.

Hurley: No, nothing makes sense at all. I thought I finally had it figured out after Game 5 that the Celtics were in fact the better team. That lasted all of 75 seconds in Game 6. The craziest part of Game 6: Who was the best player? I mean, it was Kobe by default, but he barely had to break a sweat.

If you want to talk about what went wrong for the Celtics it was simple. They were playing as five individuals. Every trip down the court turned into 1-on-5. Even when they did make a pass, it was usually as a last resort with five seconds on the shot clock. That’s how they lost to the Nets and Wizards in the regular season, so it’s obviously going to fail tremendously in the Finals. That’s obviously a fixable issue, and I wouldn’t expect such a horrific effort Thursday night.

Keefe: I asked you the other day about Kobe being MVP even if the Lakers lost and you laughed at me. I would have laughed at me if I thought of the idea given Kobe’s shooting percentage throughout the series, but I didn’t. I just thought it was worthy of relaying to you to get you riled up and bring out your true hatred for the best player on the planet. Little did I know, you would write a story off of it (http://www.nesn.com/2010/06/kobe-bryants-oneman-show-in-game-5-not-worthy-of-praise.html). I’ve seen the comments from readers on your story, and if I were you, I wouldn’t travel to L.A. anytime soon.

Now, if the Lakers win, obviously Kobe is MVP. But if the Celtics win, I have no idea who gets it since you could make a case for a few people right now. I guess it comes down to which Celtic has the biggest Game 7?

Hurley: For the record, those numbers you speak of are: 10-22, 8-20, 10-29, 10-22, 13-27. Those are questionable numbers for an MVP on a winning team, let alone a losing team.

It’s also worth nothing that the story I wrote had nothing to do with hatred. It was clear as day that The Kobe Bryant Show in Game 5 was impressive, but it simultaneously killed the Lakers. They were down by one point with the whole team involved midway through the second quarter, then Bryant reeled off 23 straight points. And the Lakers trailed by nine.

What Kobe did was great theater, but it’s not conducive to winning. His 19 shots in a blowout win on Tuesday only solidified that point.

OK, but anyway … If the Celtics win, the MVP could be whoever plays the best in Game 7. Nobody’s been consistently excellent throughout the series. You could make a case for Rondo, but for two things. One, he’s only averaging 7.2 assists, which means he’s not doing what he does best. Second, he’s shooting 23.5 percent from the free-throw line. That’s just embarrassing.

But if Rondo puts up 16-10-8 or something around there, it wouldn’t be surprising at all for him to get MVP honors. Obviously, a Game 5 repeat for Pierce would get him his second, and to be honest, I’m not sure a huge performance from Garnett wouldn’t give him some consideration.

If I had to bet, my money would be Rondo. If I were to bet, I would have lost all my money by now.

Keefe: If I listened to your betting advice for Game 6, I would be out of money too, but hey, the Celtics at +250 coming off that Game 5 win wouldn’t have been a bad play even with the outcome. In the end, I just couldn’t justify backing the Celtics since I want to watch them go down in flames.

So here we are … Game 7. The whole season for one game. Obviously you would have signed up for this in November. Actually, you would have signed up for this two weeks ago. Take off your 1986 green nylon Celtics jacket and tell me what each team needs to do to win on Thursday night.

Hurley: For the Lakers, it might be as simple as getting an early lead. This Celtics team is not nearly the same team that pulled off that comeback in ’08. They haven’t shown that kind of resiliency this year, and I think if L.A. can open in similar fashion to the way they did Tuesday, it might be enough.

Of course, that might be dependent on Ron Artest draining 3’s and Jordan Farmar stepping in and playing better than Derek Fisher, so I’m not counting on that happening.

The Celtics simply need to play well near the basket. They unofficially missed 408 shots from within five feet in Game 6, and it killed them. They need to rebound, which falls on the shoulders of Rasheed Wallace and Glen Davis. Good luck with that. And they need to score in transition. They’ve made that look easy often in this series, and if they can keep up the tempo on offense, their defense has been plenty good enough to at least keep the Lakers at bay.

Rajon Rondo needs to play 46-48 minutes tonight. Nate Robinson was an absolute donkey in Game 6 and reminded everyone that yes, he is indeed Nate Robinson. Rondo’s been slightly above average this series, which for him isn’t enough. If he can recapture some of that brilliance from the Cleveland and Orlando series, the Celtics are the better team.

But really, you can say all that, and you can throw some fancy basketball words all over the place, but it’s all about hitting shots. The Celtics had open shots throughout the first four games of the series. When they hit them, they won. When they didn’t, they lost. In Game 6, the Lakers shot the lights out in the first half, and it iced the game early.

Keefe: This game is so important on so many levels that the more I think about it, the more reasons it is important I think of.

If the Lakers win, Kobe can further cement his legacy and finally add beating Boston to his resume, and the same goes for Phil Jackson. The Lakers can prove that the Ron Artest experiment wasn’t a failure, and that they would have beaten the Celtics in last year’s Finals as well if Kevin Garnett were healthy and the Celtics made it.

The Celtics can raise banner No. 18, celebrate one more time before the window of opportunity slams shut on their aging stars and make everyone wonder what could have been if KG didn’t have to sit out last postseason.

There is so much at stake for both franchises as a whole and for players individually that we haven’t seen in a long, long time. On a scale of 1-10, how devastated will you be if the Celtics lose this game?

Hurley: To be honest, I see all of that, and I don’t think it’s as big a deal as it’s being made out to be. If Kobe and Phil don’t beat the Celtics, then what? They’re not great? Where were the Celtics in 2000? 2001? In 2002, the Celtics lost in six games to the Nets in the conference finals. Then the Nets got smoked, getting swept by the Lakers and losing by almost 10 points per game. I’m going to go ahead and use the distributive property and say that Kobe/Phil could have beaten the Celtics in the past.

Losing Game 7 of the Finals is automatically a 7 on the devastation scale, but I don’t think it can rightfully go beyond that. This whole playoff run was completely unexpected. The team sucked all year. There’s no other way to put it. They had giant lapses in effort, they had chemistry issues, and they had Shelden Williams playing basketball for them. It was sort of a disaster year.

So yeah, losing in Game 7, to the Lakers, in L.A., against Kobe and Phil, seeing Pau Gasol shouting and yelling with that awful beard … it will hard for anyone with a Boston soul to watch. But nobody – seriously, nobody – expected the Celtics to be in this position, so you just have to sit back and enjoy what we’ll be watching.

Keefe: I know how much it will pain Bostonians to see Kobe flashing his hand around to signify five championships while he is holding his children and kissing his wife. It will probably hurt more to see Phil Jackson pull out a hat with the roman numeral XI on it, and to see Pau Gasol, Sasha Vujacic and Ron Artest hugging at half court.

Hopefully at this time tomorrow the Lakers will have back-to-back championships, Kobe will have five rings and cement his legacy by beating the Celtics in the Finals and every Boston outlet will turn on Doc Rivers and the Celtics and rip the team apart. That would make for an exciting Friday for you.

I’m going with my heart, instinct and hatred for the Green. Lakers 91, Celtics 83 and Kobe gets MVP. And we’ll have to do this again this summer if the Red Sox can stay in the race.

Hurley: Yuck.

You forgot to mention Adam Morrison. Somehow, he’s become the second most annoying person to look at this series, behind Pau Gasol. Just sitting there with his stupid hair and his stupid mustache – in the MIDDLE of the bench! Get down the end, buddy.

I said going into this series that I had a little bit of a head/heart thing going on. My head was saying Lakers in 6; my heart was saying Celtics in 7. Frankly, I thought the Lakers were better than this, so I’ll follow your lead and stick with the heart. Celtics 97, Lakers 91. Paul Pierce’s 20 points, six assists get him MVP.