Title, history on the line as Celtics head to Game 7
LOS ANGELES — The Celtics have history on their side.
. . . And not much else.
Your Green Team was thrashed by the Lakers at Staples Center last night. Playing with none of the urgency and thunder that marked the final two games in Boston, the Celtics were Dropkick Murphyed in Game 6 of the NBA Finals, 89-67.
So now it comes down to a seventh game, on the road, against the West Coast brothers who seem to have been put on this earth to provide the Celtics with a measure of greatness. All championships are sweet, but wins (and losses) against the Lakers are the ones we best remember.
That’s where the history comes in. The Celtics and Lakers are jousting in the Finals for the 12th time since 1959. Boston holds a 9-2 advantage and four times beat the Lakers in Game 7.
The Celtics virtually invented Game 7. Boston owns Game 7 the way McDonald’s owns the Happy Meal; the way Tony Bennett owns “I Left My Heart in San Francisco.’’ The Celtics have never lost a Game 7 in the Finals. Bill Russell won 11 championships in 13 years and went 10-0 in Game 7s. The final game of Russell’s career was an epic Game 7 victory at the Los Angeles Forum in the spring of 1969.
Russell was in the house last night to witness the carnage. He saw the Celtics get outrebounded, 30-13, in the first half, which ended with the Lakers leading, 51-31. He saw the Lakers run to a 27-point lead. He saw the lazy, listless Celtics shoot 33 percent and take only 10 free throws.
He saw Celtics center Kendrick Perkins sprain his right knee midway through the first quarter. Perkins departed, did not return, and is questionable, at best, for tomorrow night’s finale.
“It doesn’t look great,’’ said Celtics coach Doc Rivers.
Only four Celtics broke into the scoring column in the first three quarters. If that’s not a record, it should be. Boston’s vaunted bench, which scored 36 points winning Game 4, was outscored, 24-0, in the first 36 minutes of Game 6. So much for Shrek and Donkey. In Game 6, they were all donkeys.
The Celtics looked like a team with six players over the age of 30. They looked like a team that went 27-27 over the final 54 games of the regular season. They looked like the fourth seed of the Eastern Conference. Ray Allen (19) was the only Celtic who scored more than 13 points.
“I thought we’d play better, obviously,’’ said Rivers. “I thought we played an individual game tonight on both ends. We never gave ourselves an opportunity offensively. Everybody was trying to make their own plays. When we’ve done that this year, we’ve lost games. We’ve been blown out in some of those games. If you do that against a team like the Lakers, who are really ready to play and play desperate, you’re going to lose.’’
“We take complete responsibility,’’ said Allen. “We didn’t make the extra pass. Each individual tried to make the home run play early. We have to do a better job next game.’’
For the sixth consecutive game, the team that won the rebounding battle (52-39, Lakers) won the game. Everybody looked exhausted.
Lakers coach Phil Jackson started his postgame remarks with a comment about “the travel from Sunday night to this game tonight,’’ adding, “you saw the effects on both teams. I think we had a little more energy than they did. Our defense was good, our rebounding was better.’’
What Game 6 failed to establish was any measure of the Lakers’ mental toughness. Historically, the Lakers are the premier frontrunners in all of sports. As it was in 1984, it is today: no team looks better than the gold-clad Lakers running up and down the floor, dunking and making threes.
But there wasn’t any competition for the home team last night. The Celtics simply failed to show up. The Lakers, challenged by their own fans and media after a horrible Game 5 in Boston, took a 14-12 lead on a Kobe layup and never looked in the rearview mirror.
Truth be told, most Celtic fans were getting a little cocky about these Finals. In the hours after Sunday night’s victory there was simply too much speculation about which Celtic would be named MVP and would the parade be Thursday or Friday. (Who was going to tell Manny Ramirez the parade was not for him?)
Now we have a seventh game.
“It’s a high-tension situation,’’ said Jackson, who has 10 championship rings but has never coached an NBA Finals Game 7.
“It’s not what we wanted,’’ said Rivers. “But it is here and it should be great. I hope we embrace it. It should be a lot of fun.’’
Embrace the moment. And remember the past. History seems to be all the Celtics have going for themselves as they prepare for Game 7.
Dan Shaughnessy is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.