LOS ANGELES -- Kendrick Perkins went down hard. Kobe Bryant's shots went down too easily. And with a chance to win the franchise's 18th NBA title, the Celtics barely showed up.
In a game Boston fans undoubtedly had a difficult time stomaching, the Celtics put up little resistance in an 89-67 loss to the Los Angeles Lakers at Staples Center Tuesday night, sending the 2010 NBA Finals to a decisive seventh game Thursday. The Celtics' lead in the series is gone. Their starting center might be gone as well. And Bryant -- the league's best clutch player -- has one game to win a championship on his home floor.
"I just thought the Lakers played hard, better," said Celtics coach Doc Rivers. "They executed, they trusted more. I thought we played a very individual game tonight."
From the big picture to the loss of their best big man, the first signs of trouble for the Celtics came after Perkins left the game with a knee injury. With 5:30 remaining in the first quarter, the Celtics' starting center came down with a rebound and crumpled to the floor, his right knee buckling underneath him. Lakers fans mockingly chanted "wheelchair" at Perkins, but for the Celtics, the injury was no joking matter. Perkins was helped off the court, unable to put any weight at all on the knee. He did not return. Perkins was taken for X-rays and diagnosed with a sprained right knee.
"I don't know," Rivers said of Perkins's status for Game 7. "It doesn't look good, but I don't know... I hope he can play."
With Perkins out of the game, things unraveled quickly for the Celtics. Already up 6 when Perkins went down, the Lakers increased their lead to 10 at the end of the first quarter. Los Angeles shot 60 percent in the first quarter without a defensive presence in the middle of the paint, a far cry from a 33-percent first quarter in Game 5.
It got worse for the Celtics in the second. Perkins's replacement, Rasheed Wallace, picked up his third foul at the 9:01 mark of the quarter, necessitating the early use of Kevin Garnett at center. With Perkins lost to injury and Wallace to foul trouble, the Celtics found themselves lost on defense.
"I'm sure it had a big effect in the ball game," Lakers coach Phil Jackson said of Perkins's absence. "You know, he only played the first quarter, six, seven minutes or whatever in that segment. But I think our energy was good enough that it was not a matter of who wasn't there, it was about what we were going to do. We were trying to determine our own fate tonight."
Pau Gasol's offensive rebound and putback at the 7:00 mark in the second highlighted the Celtics' problems, as not even Glen Davis could put a body on Gasol and prevent the easy basket. The Lakers outrebounded the Celtics, 30-13, in the first half and took a 51-31 lead at the break.
"Our defense was good, our rebounding was better," said Jackson. "We had some good luck, some good fortune, got some loose balls, some tipped balls. Those kind of things change the course of a game."
The second half offered very little pomp, but for the Celtics the circumstances became clear: Facing a 20-point deficit for most of the half, the Celtics weren't going to win Game 6. The focus, instead, shifted to Game 7, where the Celtics will have all they can handle against the Lakers, with or without Perkins. Rivers lifted his starters with 4:14 remaining in the game.
The Lakers were once again led by Bryant, who didn't seem to work very hard for his 26 points. But unlike in Game 5, Bryant got help from both Gasol (17 points) and Ron Artest (15 points), whose three 3-pointers were an unwelcome surprise. Ray Allen paced the Celtics with 19 points, hitting his first two 3-pointers since he made eight here in Game 2.
"Most people assumed that Kobe would come out and take a thousand shots," said Rivers. "And I thought he did the exact opposite. I thought he trusted his teammates."
After playing 105 games this season, the fate of the Celtics' season -- and perhaps even the reputations of the Big Three -- will come down to one game Thursday night. The Celtics as a franchise are 34-1 in a best-of-seven playoff series when it has gone up 3-2, the exception being last season's loss to the Orlando Magic in seven games. Going back more than a half century, the Celtics are 20-6 in Game 7's.
"I'm hoping both teams play great and the best team wins," said Rivers. "And I'm hoping that's us."
Final: Lakers 89, Celtics 67: Everyone in the crowd wins tacos. There will be a Game 7 here Thursday night.
4:14 4th quarter, Lakers 84-62: Doc Rivers lifts the rest of his starters. This one's all but in the books.
6:31 4th quarter, Lakers 80-58: Kobe Bryant called for a technical foul. Good news for Celtics fans: At least it wasn't Rasheed Wallace.
End 3d quarter, Lakers 76-51: Anyone still watching?
2:03 3d quarter, Lakers 70-51: Rebounding now at 35-20, Lakers.
3:30 3d quarter, Lakers 64-47: Lakers fans are really enjoying this lead, chanting at and taunting the Celtics on every foul call.
5:21 3d quarter, Lakers 60-42: The Celtics seem content to trade baskets, and the Lakers seem content to hold onto the lead and let the clock run out on this game. Only defensive stops will get the Celtics back into this game.
9:35 3d quarter, Lakers 51-33: Kendrick Perkins is out for the rest of the game. He will await the results of X-Rays on his right knee before any decision is made on whether or not he will be available for Game 7. Glen Davis starts the half in place of Perkins.
Halftime, Lakers 51-31: The Celtics shot 34 percent in the first half and face a 20-point deficit at the break. They came back from 24 points down in this building in 2008, but this one feels all sorts of wrong. The team that has won the rebounding battle has won every game this series. Right now it's 30-13 Lakers in that category.
2:27 2d quarter, Lakers 49-29: The Celtics are all out of sorts on offense. Swarming defense by the Lakers has a lot to do with it. The Los Angles bench is outscoring the Boston bench 13-0.
4:47 2d quarter, Lakers 45-27: It's getting worse. Jordan Farmar dunks on the fast break to give the Lakers their largest lead. If the Celtics are going to shoot 38 percent, they're going to lose.
6:54 2d quarter, Lakers 40-23: The lack of fundamental basketball being displayed by the Celtics must be appalling to Doc Rivers. Pau Gasol just waltzed into the lane and got an easy rebound and putback. Glen Davis of all people wasn't able to put a body on him. That's a lack of effort, a fundamental breakdown, or both.
8:00 2d quarter, Lakers 34-22: Kendrick Perkins is having X-Rays on his right knee and has yet to return to the bench. More on Perkins when we have it.
9:01 2d quarter, Lakers 32-20: There's the third on Wallace. Kevin Garnett has to come back early to relieve him. Things are unraveling in a hurry.
10:14 2d quarter, Lakers 32-20: Now Rasheed Wallace has two fouls, and if he picks up a third, the Celtics are really in trouble.
End 1st quarter, Lakers 28-18: This is the start the Lakers wanted. No one wishes injury on an opponent, but if Kendrick Perkins does not return -- he still hasn't returned from the locker room -- the Celtics will be in trouble.
The Lakers are getting what they want on offense. They're shooting 60 percent. Kobe Bryant has 11, but Artest and Gasol have combined for 13. Imagine that. The Celtics need to fix their defense fast.
1:49 1st quarter, Lakers 26-18: Kobe Bryant (11 points) is being Kobe Bryant, but what's really killing the Celtics is that Ron Artest is making outside shots. Artest's two three-pointers are totally unexpected. If the Celtics have to guard him out there the whole dynamic of the game changes.
5:30 1st quarter, Lakers 18-12: An 8-0 run by the Lakers, and Kendrick Perkins goes down hard after being fouled by Andrew Bynum. Perkins was down for a minute before being helped off the court. He's limping and can't put weight on one leg as he's being helped to the locker room.
7:32 1st quarter, Celtics 12-10: And there it is. Allen breaks the three-point drought. He's got eight points so far.
10:10 1st quarter, Celtics 6-4: Ray Allen knocks down a jumper from the corner, but his foot was on the line. Allen is still seeking his first three-pointer since Game 2.
Pregame:Spotting a couple of Celtics fans in each section. Not many, but they're here. Christina Aguilera with the national anthem.