It shouldn’t be any other way. With two teams this good, two franchises this storied, and all of America watching with bated breath, this one was destined to go the distance. And now it has.
But to lose like this?
It’s a little tough to stomach. Rajon Rondo took an elbow to the face from Ron Artest, literally, and the Celtics got punched in the gut, figuratively speaking. It was an ugly one for the Celtics, an 89-67 final that left them battered physically and disillusioned mentally.
What in the world happened?
“I thought we would play better, obviously,” coach Doc Rivers said. “I thought they were ready. But I just thought the Lakers played harder, better. They executed, they trusted more. I thought we played an individual game tonight, really, on both ends. … We never gave ourselves an opportunity offensively because we didn’t trust tonight. Everybody was trying to make their own plays, and when we’ve done that this year, we’ve lost games. We’ve been blown out in some of those games, and if you do that against a team like the Lakers who are really ready to play desperate, you’re going to lose. We did that.”
The Celtics got down early and never climbed back up. They lost Kendrick Perkins in the game’s seventh minute, as the Boston center got tangled up with Andrew Bynum and sprained his right knee. Quickly, the Lakers pushed their lead to double digits — with 2:57 left in the first quarter, Ron Artest buried a corner 3-pointer to make it 26-16. The Lakers made their push, and the Celtics simply failed to push back.
“The starting five, we had a conversation at the end on the bench and a little bit in the locker room just now, and we take complete responsibility,” Ray Allen said. “After the first quarter, it was 28?18, and it just put us in such a hole early. You know, it affects our bench. We didn’t give them any great rhythm, any great chemistry. I think we talked about our defense and how we allowed so many points, but I think it stemmed a lot from the offense because we didn’t make the extra pass.
“Each individual tried to make the home run play early. With that, we turned the ball over and sent them into transition, and then our defense couldn’t really set up. They shot a couple 3s early to make a run. They were in transition the whole time. As a unit, a starting unit, we take responsibility. We have to do a better job for next game.”
The Celtics knew early on that they weren’t playing to close the Finals out in six. When the Lakers pushed their advantage to 20 and refused to let up, the Celtics raised the proverbial white flag early. By the time the final buzzer sounded, there was no shock at the Game 6 loss. The men in green were already poised to look ahead.
“We had enough time to get over it, you know, because it was all game,” Rivers said. “Probably by the middle of the third quarter, I thought we were pretty good, at least I was. I was already thinking next game, honestly. But I was disappointed. I just thought we’d play better, and we didn’t. It happens. You know, listen. Our play has allowed us to have a Game 7, as well.”
That’s the optimist’s view: With Game 6 in their rear-view mirror, equally forgotten as any of the previous five, the Celtics can now savor this opportunity to play a deciding Game 7 on the game’s biggest stage. And that, really, is what you play for.
“This here is for all the marbles,” said Allen. “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. I believe that everybody will go to that.”
This series was meant to go seven games, and now it has. The Celtics now have one game and one game only to take care of business.