On season’s biggest night, bigs will be key
LOS ANGELES — Game 7. The pinnacle, the ultimate.
Except that it’s still a basketball game.
“It’s basketball,’’ reminds Phil Jackson, who now has more postseason victories (224) than any coach in North American sports history. “When you say it’s still a game, you have to go through the same execution things.
“You may be playing at a faster rate, you may be playing at a quicker elevation, spirit, et cetera. But if you’re not going to be able to do the most basic things, if you come out of your skin, in other words, if you’re out of character, things are going to go awry.’’
Doc Rivers should know. His lads lost a home Game 7 to Orlando only a year ago, and in that game, they were unrec ognizable as Boston Celtics. His team was even worse as it lost at home in a Game 7 to Indiana in 2005 (97-70).
On the flip side, he has coached Game 7-winning teams in 2008 (Atlanta, Cleveland) and 2009 (Chicago), with the Atlanta game representing one of the worst wimp-outs in NBA history by the Hawks and the Cleveland game containing a memorable shoot-out between LeBron James (45) and Paul Pierce (41). Talk about a range of Game 7 coaching experience.
“I’ve always thought Game 7 is the ultimate player’s game,’’ Rivers says. “It’s the game that all the things you’ve worked on all year, you have to do it and execute it and trust and play.
“And Chuck Daly always said it’s the make-miss game. The league is a make-miss league. But especially Game 7. It comes down to makes and misses. And on the misses, on their misses, make sure they don’t get another opportunity to have it a make.
“And that’s what they come down to.’’
Translation: You must shoot well and you cannot allow the other guys to accumulate many second-chance points.
Neither team is 100 percent physically, but that’s the way it is. Andrew Bynum has been the primary personnel issue on the Lakers for the entire series. The 7-foot-1-inch 22-year old has labored gamely on an injured right knee, and let us hope the Laker medical staff knows what it’s doing by allowing him to play at all.
From the glimpses we’ve had of him in this series, he appears to be a center of enormous promise. With his long arms, he may take up as much space — vertically, horizontally, and diagonally — as anyone in the league, and that includes Yao Ming, who may be 7-6, but who has relatively short arms and negligible lift.
The Celtics will not have Kendrick Perkins, who tore ligaments in his right knee after getting caught in a rebounding sandwich between Bynum and Kobe Bryant in Game 6. Though his individual offense had shrunk to Greg Kite proportions, he was a valued part of the team as a post defender, lane patroller/shot blocker, and general all-around tough guy.
Fortunately for Doc Rivers, there are bigs in the cupboard. Start with Rasheed Wallace. This is chance to make himself a Celtics legend. This is his chance to walk the final walk after assuring one and all that when the playoffs came he would be ready to answer the bell.
There is no reason why Wallace could not come up with, say, an 18-12, 3-assist, 3-block game featuring a couple of threes. And the best part is that he even gets to vent on a disputed foul call with a free technical because this is guaranteed to be the last game of the 2010 playoffs.
“Yeah, I’m very happy at the moment that we have signed him,’’ acknowledged Rivers. “There’s no doubt about that, because we’re going to need him. We’re going to need him big.’’
Next up is Glen “Big Baby’’ Davis. Since his sensational performance in Game 4, he has been pretty much a nonfactor, aside from grabbing a few traffic rebounds. Rivers isn’t surprised. He worried that the big game would go to Baby’s head. Think Clay Buchholz after the no-hitter or Mo Vaughn after nearly hitting one out of the ballpark in Baltimore.
“Baby’s an instinctive player, and I think he has to get back to playing with the energy and the instincts, instead of thinking what I need to do.’’
Keep in mind that Big Baby craves the spotlight. Game 7, on the road. That’s about as big as it gets.
The Celtics have another 7-footer, a guy by the name of Garnett. For most of his career, he has been a glorified 3-man, an elongated small forward, who operates beautifully on the perimeter and who loves to pass even more than he loves to shoot. But he does have post-up skills on offense, and if he needs to display his post defense skills as well, he’s ready.
Garnett is usually held to around 32 minutes of playing time, but with the next game being in November, it’s reasonable to think Doc may find a few more minutes for Garnett in this one.
“It’s funny,’’ Rivers said. “There’s always a limit with all your players, because there’s only a limit that they can take and play well. Whatever that number is, I’m going to try to get to that exact number. Let’s say if you played him 42 and it took away from being productive, then you’re playing him too many minutes.’’
(Quick aside: At moments like this, don’t we all yearn to see another John Havlicek, for whom 48 minutes in a big game was just a warmup? You young’uns have no idea.)
It’s not going to be about rah-rah, sis-boom-bah. Everyone’s going to play hard.
Jackson says there’s nothing new, that 37 years ago, when the Celtics and Knicks went seven and Dean Meminger was complaining that he wasn’t getting any help on Jo Jo White pick-and-rolls, “Red Holzman, and I quote, barked at him, saying, ‘The job has to get done.’
“So, yeah,’’ Jackson continued, “it’s not any different. The job has to get done.’’
This will be a great night in the history of one of these teams. Whoever gets the job done will be wearing the hats and drinking the champagne.