What’s up for Game 7, Doc?
LOS ANGELES — Doc Rivers always has a response to nights like these, right? He has after the Celtics have shown a pathetic effort on numerous occasions.
He did after they lost to the Washington Wizards and New Jersey Nets. He did after they were blown out of Game 3 of the Eastern Conference semifinals against Cleveland, and again when they were plastered by the Orlando Magic in Game 5 of the Eastern finals.
He always has an answer. And his legacy could be based on his response to last night’s putrid 89-67 loss to the Los Angeles Lakers in Game 6 of the NBA Finals. Rivers never panics. He never appears frazzled by any situation. He just makes adjustments.
And the Celtics will have to make major adjustments to sneak out of Los Angeles with their 18th title because the Lakers grabbed the momentum of the series back without much resistance.
The series has been based on adjustments and the Celtics have bested the Lakers in that category. Save an improbable fourth-quarter performance by Derek Fisher in Game 3, the Celtics could have sealed this series in five games, but now, Rivers will have to formulate a game plan that will limit the effectiveness of Kobe Bryant, and more importantly the Lakers’ complements.
Bryant scored a pedestrian 26 points last night but the key was that his cohorts gained confidence early and were never contained. Meanwhile, the Celtics appeared shell-shocked after Kendrick Perkins was pulled down on an offense rebound by the weight of Andrew Bynum and immediately pointed to his right knee and looked at the Celtics’ bench.
Lost in that injury was a large slice of toughness, grit, and a defensive presence the Celtics cannot reproduce if Perkins misses Game 7. So Rivers will have to devise a strategy to reduce the effectiveness of the Lakers’ offense while at the same time attempting to resurrect the confidence of his club.
With so many veterans who have displayed the ability to misremember (thanks Roger Clemens) poor games and horrible efforts, Rivers won’t have such a difficult time getting his players to move on. The question is whether the Celtics have enough energy left to win a Game 7 in Los Angeles.
History says they can. However, the Celtics can’t possibly step on the floor tomorrow night at Staples Center and magically expect things to change. Execution has to be precise. Layups have to be made. Rebounds have to be snatched from opponents.
Rivers’s coaching ability has never been questioned, even during this turbulent season, but the Celtics need more than rest and a bowl of Wheaties to win Game 7.
“Well, this here is for all the marbles,’’ guard Ray Allen said. “We talk about being in this situation, getting to this situation. We’ve talked about this all year long. Obviously we would have loved to be in our building, but those aren’t the options that we have right now. You know, we’ve been a team that’s operated well with our backs up against the wall, and everybody knows what’s at stake and everybody knows what they need to do to focus and what they need to do to do their jobs.’’
In the sweltering visitors’ locker room following the game (Are the Lakers trying to get revenge for 1984 at the Garden?), the Celtics were reflective, showing no signs of alarm. An admirable characteristic about the Celtics is that they are well aware of their weaknesses. Denial is not in their vocabulary — they fully realize they are capable of playing terrible games but having turned in their share of clunkers during the regular season has prepared them for Game 7.
Allen said the starting five, minus Perkins, talked after the game and took full responsibility for the defeat. The Lakers used an 11-2 run midway through the first quarter to build a 7-point lead and never trailed again. The bench never had a chance to contribute because the Celtics trailed by double digits the final three quarters.
The Celtics won’t just disregard this effort. They will use it as motivation, make some defensive adjustments in today’s practice and be ready for Game 7. Whether it will be good enough for No. 18 will depend on execution as well as preparation.
Rivers can’t predict execution, but he is brilliant at preparing his team for success. His influence along with his ability to formulate one final game plan to contain the Lakers should make Celtics fans feel somewhat confident about tomorrow.
That doesn’t guarantee a win, but the Celtics’ season-long ability to respond from adversity does guarantee a worthy effort and an opportunity to make history. And that’s all Celtics fans could have hoped for when this roller-coaster ride began in September.
“Before the year I’m sure if you had asked the Lakers would they take a Game 7 at home, they would say, ‘Yeah,’ ’’ Rivers said. “They would have taken a Game 7 anywhere for the championship. And we would have said, ‘Yeah,’ as well. We would have obviously loved it at home more, but we’re not there. So you know, we’re both probably in a game that we’d like to be in. If you told the teams that that’s where you had to be, I think we’d both take it.’’