LOS ANGELES — Both teams played hard.
On a night when Rasheed Wallace started in place of the injured Kendrick Perkins, Wallace’s old throwaway line may be the simplest description of Game 7 of the 2010 NBA Finals. It was a game marked by dogged defense, sloppy play, and, eventually, shot-making.
And it may mark the end of the Big Three Era in Boston.
The Celtics fell to the Lakers 83-79 Thursday night at Staples Center, one great, proud franchise earning its 16th championship at the expense of another great, proud franchise. The Celtics led for the majority of the game, giving up the lead for the first time in the second half on a Kobe Bryant free throw with 5:56 remaining in the fourth quarter. Bryant received help from Pau Gasol and Ron Artest to close out the game and clinch the title.
“It was a hell of a series,” said Celtics coach Doc Rivers. “I thought both teams played terrific. I thought both teams played hard. It was a tough game for either team to lose.”
If this was the last chapter of The Big Three Era, it was a fitting way to close the book. The Celtics went down on their own terms, in their style of game. A team that has been called too old all season looked too experienced as the Celtics clamped down defensively for the first three quarters of Game 7.
When the season began the Celtics were talking about 70 wins. In Game 7 of the NBA Finals, it seemed like a race for who could get to 70 points.
“We liked the game,” said Rivers. “It was exactly the type of game that we wanted.”
The team that won the first quarter in the previous six games went on to win each of those games, and the same could be said for the team that won the rebounding battle in Games 1 through 6. But that combination was thrown out the window in the first quarter of Game 7, the Lakers out-rebounding the Celtics 16-9 but trailing 23-14 after one. The Lakers had 11 offensive rebounds to none for the Celtics in the first, but tenacious Celtics defense held Los Angeles to 6-of-27 shooting.
“We knew there was a long time left,” said Gasol. “We knew we weren’t playing our best. And we knew that we still had a chance, it was just about getting a few stops in a row and getting a few plays on offense together and just get ourselves going and just shake off all that tension, excitement that Game 7 of the NBA Finals carries.”
The tension may have gotten to the Celtics in the second quarter. The Lakers went on an 11-0 run to start the second, the Celtics not scoring a single point until Rajon Rondo’s lay-up at the 7:14 mark. By that point the lead was gone and the Staples Center crowd was reingaged. But while the lead vanished, Boston’s ragged defense did not. The Celtics grabbed jerseys and clogged passing lanes, holding Los Angeles to an astonishing 34 points on 13-of-50 shooting in the first half. The Celtics still trailed in rebounding and were far from perfect with eight turnovers, but the defense put them up 40-34 at halftime.
The Celtics started the third with a 9-2 run, building up their lead to 13 points, their largest of the night. But the Lakers used a 14-8 rebounding edge to outscore the Celtics in the third, closing the gap to 57-53 heading into the final frame.
The Lakers would tie the score at the 7:29 mark of the fourth and take their first lead of the half minutes later on Bryant’s free throws. The Lakers went up by as many as six points, enough to hold on through a barrage of late three-pointers for the win.
“It came down to the last two minutes, man,” said Celtics forward Kevin Garnett. “I thought we played a great game. Everything that you’d probably expect out of a Game 7. We just came up short.”
All five Celtics starters scored in double-figures, led by Paul Pierce with 18 points. Pierce, Ray Allen, and Garnett combined to make 16 of 42 shots from the field, the Big Three leading the team in scoring but shooting as poorly as their teammates. As the confetti came down from the Staples Center rafters, those three, along with Rondo, walked off the court a proud but devastated unit, having reached the NBA Finals for the second time in three years.
With Allen’s contract status uncertain for next season, and with an aging roster, it’s possible this was the group’s last title run.
“I told our guys our starting lineup still hasn’t lost,” said Rivers, who said he has not yet decided whether he will return to coach the team next season. “It’s a shame we didn’t have our starting lineup. It was the craziest, most emotional group I’ve ever coached in my life. But through it all, we were the tightest, crazy emotional group I’ve ever been around in my life … We’re not going to be the same team next year. That was tough for me.”
Said Garnett, “I think everybody is not only physically fatigued but mentally fatigued. You’re around a group of guys for nine months and you prepare together and you know so much that you grow to enjoy each other and at the same time get tired of each other and you end up calling that guy your brother for life.
“It’s difficult. It’s just a difficult time right now.”
Final: Lakers 83, Celtics 79: Rondo misses a three-pointer and the Lakers run out the clock. Game over.
11.7 seconds 4th quarter, Lakers 83-79: Sasha Vujacic makes two free throws to make it a two-possession game.
13 seconds 4th quarter, Lakers 81-79: Rondo hits a desperation three-pointer to give the Celtics life.
25.7 seconds 4th quarter, Lakers 81-76: After three straight three-pointers by Wallace, Artest, and Allen respectively, Gasol makes the play of the game, rebounding Bryant’s miss and giving the Lakers the ball back. Bryant was fouled and made both free throws.
1:30 4th quarter, Lakers 76-70: Pau Gasol is triple-teamed but makes a tough, gritty baby hook to put the Lakers up six. The Celtics are running out of time.
2:14 4th quarter, Lakers 74-70: Both teams are in the penalty now as Paul Pierce makes two free throws.
2:47 4th quarter, Lakers 73-68: Kevin Garnett picks up his fifth personal foul defending Gasol.
5:21 4th quarter, Lakers 58-54: Kobe Bryant hits a pair of free throws and a jump shot to give the Lakers their largest lead of the game.
5:59 4th quarter, Tied at 64: Derek Fisher has made both three-pointers he’s attempted tonight. It’s been the one offensive play that’s worked perfectly for the Lakers.
6:49 4th quarter, Celtics 62-61: Wallace picks up his fifth personal foul. The Celtics are already in the penalty.
7:24 4th quarter, Tied at 61: Ron Artest ties the game with a basket plus the foul. He leads all scorers with 17 points.
9:03 4th quarter, Celtics 59-55: It took three minutes for the Celtics to get on the board in the third quarter. First team to 70 wins?
Kevin Garnett now has 15 points on 7-of-12 shooting. It’s going to go down as a collective effort, win or lose.
End 3d quarter, Celtics 57-53: The title is going to come down to the fourth quarter of a Game 7. Nothing’s been decided. Paul Pierce and Ron Artest are leading all scorers with 14 points. The Lakers were plus-six on rebounds in the third quarter.
2:12 3d quarter, Celtics 56-51: Rasheed Wallace picks up his fourth personal foul. It was about time for Glen Davis anyways, and we haven’t seen much of Andrew Bynum. The Celtics are going to use ‘Sheed until he picks up six.
5:38 3d quarter, Celtics 51-45: No one’s going to run away too far in a defensive game like this.
9:45 3d quarter, Celtics 47-36: Great start for the Celtics here in the third. Kevin Garnett has been actively involved in the offense. Everyone is doing a little bit for the Celtics. It’s a formula for success.
10:25 3d quarter, Celtics 44-36: Paul Pierce is defending Ron Artest, but I can’t imagine he’s overly concerned with Artest’s 14 points.
Halftime, Celtics 40-34: The Celtics hold the Lakers to an astonishing 34 points in the first half to take a six-point lead at the break.
Things are going very, very, very well for the Celtics defensively. They will happily live with Ron Artest (12 points) as the leading scorer for the Lakers, who have made just 13 of 50 shots. The Celtics have been far from perfect: 44-percent shooting, 8 turnovers, minus-6 on rebounds. But the defense has been incredible.
1:22 2d quarter, Celtics 38-31: Pierce hits a pair of free throws and a three-pointer to give the Celtics some cushion. Artest and Pierce pick up double-technicals as well. In a game this ugly you knew that was coming.
2:48 2d quarter, Celtics 31-29: The crowd doesn’t really know what to make of this game. With the cameras off during the commercial breaks, you could hear a pin drop in this place.
The Celtics have seriously regressed offensively. Six players have scored for Boston, but no player has more than six points. I’m all for the team concept, but the Celtics do need to find an offensive leader. Mr. Pierce?
4:53 2d quarter, Celtics 27-26: That’s the third foul on Kevin Garnett. Glen Davis will replace him. Davis needs to come up huge in these minutes. No other choice.
5:59 2d quarter, Tied at 25: Rajon Rondo breaks the scoring drought at the 7:14 mark. The Celtics really, really have to fix their rebounding. It worked in the first quarter because the Lakers were missing so much, but if Los Angeles even gets a semblance of a rhythm going and continues to dominate the boards, the Celtics will be in serious trouble.
8:06 2d quarter, Tied at 23: The Celtics haven’t scored any points in this quarter: 0 for 7.
10:05 2d quarter, Celtics 23-19: The Lakers open the quarter with a 5-0 run, and Kobe Bryant is on the bench.
End 1st quarter, Celtics 23-14: The Staples Center is dead silent. Great first quarter for the Celtics, who hold the Lakers to 6-of-27 shooting. The stat I mentioned earlier is out the window: The Lakers had 11 offensive rebounds to 0 for the Celtics, but the Celtics have the lead after the first.
2:27 1st quarter, Celtics 17-14: Pau Gasol picks up his second personal foul. Bynum back in.
2:58 1st quarter, Celtics 17-13: Rebounding aside, the Celtics are playing how they want to be playing. They’ve forced the Lakers into 6-of-22 shooting. The officials are letting the teams play, and this style of basketball favors Boston. On offense the Celtics are doing just enough — they have five assists on their eight field goals.
5:10 1st quarter, Celtics 10-9: Glen Davis in for Rasheed Wallace. Bynum still in the game for the Lakers — likely has about three more minutes this half.
5:55 1st quarter, Celtics 10-9: The Celtics are making up for bad rebounding (10-3 Lakers) with ragged defense. Not sure if the teams are nervous or if the intensity is such that nothing will come easy. Probably a little of both.
9:19 1st quarter, Lakers 5-4: Celtics are getting creamed 6-1 on the boards right now.
10:45 1st quarter, Lakers 3-0: Derek Fisher breaks the ice with a three-pointer. If the winning team finishes with more than 95 points it would be a surprise.
Pregame: Loud boos for the Celtics as they ran onto the court. Christina Aguilera again with the national anthem.
A couple of stats to watch for right out of the gate: The team that has won the first quarter has won the previous six games of the series. Same with the team that wins the rebounding.