One Game Will Decide It All: Lakers Run Away From Celtics To Set Up Game 7 Showdown

For more about the Lakers Game 6 victory, check out SB Nation's Lakers and Celtics blogs, Silver Screen and Roll and Celtics Blog.

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How Rajon Rondo Can Make More Of An Impact In Game 7

There were a lot of reasons for the Celtics' failure to even compete in Game 6, but none were bigger than Rajon Rondo's inactivity. The Lakers did a great job neutralizing his strengths, to be sure, but Rondo himself was also very disengaged. Naturally, the Celtics, who rely so heavily on Rondo's contributions, followed suit.

This makes Rondo the key to Game 7 for the Celtics. He has to play significantly better for the Celtics to have any chance to pull off the upset. How does he do that? NBA Playbook has some answers:

Two adjustments for Rajon Rondo.  Be more aggressive and cut off of Kobe's back when he leaves him.  They might sound like small little things, but they are very important to the Celtics' success in game seven.  I am not saying that this will win them the game, but it will keep things close and then who knows what happens?    

In other words, Rondo must be active and make Kobe Bryant pay for not guarding him closely. 

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Lakers-Celtics, Game 6: The L.A. Defense Was Good, But Not That Good

Over at SB Nation's Lakers blog, Silver Screen and Roll, the spirits are understandably high after Tuesday's night blowout victory. The Lakers were fantastic on offense, but even more so, their defense is what won it for them. Again, we go to Silver Screen's Dexter Fishmore:

That's how you play an elimination game. Faced with a win-or-go-golfing scenario for the first time in over a year, the Los Angeles Lakers came up with a defensive performance for the ages. They harassed the Celtics for 48 glorious minutes with length, hustle and a rediscovered ferocity that had gone missing in Boston. The result was an 89 to 67 bludgeoning that evens the NBA Finals at three victories a piece. Game Seven, for all the tacos, is Thursday night.

If you'd forgotten that the Lakers were capable of choking an opponent out with world-class defense, that's understandable. As recently as early March, they led the NBA in defensive efficiency, but a late-season fade, plus points allowed in bunches in playoff series against the Utah Jazz and Phoenix Suns, took some of the gleam off the Lakers' defensive rep. Tonight that great Laker D came roaring back, and not a moment too soon. They allowed the Celtics to score a pathetically low 0.78 points per possession. That's not just the lowest efficiency mark by a Laker opponent in these playoffs. It's the lowest mark of an opponent all season long. To put it in further perspective, at no point in these playoffs or the regular season had the Celtic offense been held below 0.83 points per trip.

Did the Lakers pick the right time for one of the greatest defensive performances in NBA Finals history? Yes. Yes, I'd say they did.

Now, I don't mean to rain on L.A.'s parade here, but let's not go too crazy.

Last night's defense was good, but it was helped by an anemic, impotent, and downright half-assed performance from the Celtics for most of the game. Here's my recap of last night's game: "Both teams traded blows back-and-forth until it was 12-12, then Kobe hit a couple tough shots, it was 18-12, Kendrick Perkins got hurt, and the Celtics mailed it in from there."

Midway through the second quarter it was over. We talked about this yesterday:

Three things that beg consideration in advance of Game 6...

  1. The Celtics are old.
  2. The Celtics have been fighting nagging injuries throughout the playoffs.
  3. The Celtics have a tendency to get complacent.

After a cross-country flight on Monday, on just a day's rest, and comfortable in knowing they've got two shots to beat L.A. this week, it's not inconceivable to think the Celtics could come out flat tonight, get down by double digits early, and pack things in by the middle of the third quarter.

It doesn't mean that the Celtics deserve a free pass for their effort last night, or the Lakers' defensive excellence means nothing. But within the larger narrative of this series, last night made sense, and was even a little predictable. The Celtics looked like crap, because that's been their M.O. all season when they've gotten a chance to get comfortable. The Lakers looked great on offense and defense, because... When not getting hounded by Boston defense, they're still the Lakers.

But don't let last night's statistics fool you. L.A. was good, but not that good. Boston did it to themselves, too. And coming into the game, we knew they might.

Now? Game 7 is here, we know Boston'll show up because that's what they've done all series, and all postseason. And we know the Lakers just put together their most complete game of the playoffs, have Kobe Bryant on their team, and will be playing at home with the winningest coach in NBA History on their side.

Um, are you excited yet?

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Lakers Blog: 'Defensive Performance Of The Ages'

After the hometown Lakers put in one of the best defensive performances in NBA Finals history, Silver Screen and Roll, SB Nation's Lakers blog, points out that the defending champs are capable of doing it again in Game 7.

If you'd forgotten that the Lakers were capable of choking an opponent out with world-class defense, that's understandable. As recently as early March, they led the NBA in defensive efficiency, but a late-season fade, plus points allowed in bunches in playoff series against the Utah Jazz and Phoenix Suns, took some of the gleam off the Lakers' defensive rep. Tonight that great Laker D came roaring back, and not a moment too soon.

[...]

There were eight Laker blocked shots, who-knows-how-many tipped balls and a team-wide spirit of energetic play. Whereas in Game Five the Celtics made 63% of their two-point shots, tonight the Lakers stayed between their men and the basket, challenged nearly every look and held Boston to 38% shooting on twos.

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Celtics Blog: 'Where Do We Begin?'

About the only good thing to come out of Game 6 for Boston fans is that there is still a Game 7. Little, if anything, went right for the Celtics in a 89-67 trouncing at the hands of the Lakers Tuesday night.

Some random thoughts from our friends at Celtics Blog, SB Nation's Boston blog:

The Lakers clearly came out with a more aggressive mentality, and promptly owned the first half. Some first half stats to consider...LA led 51-31; LA out-rebounded Boston 30-13; LA's bench out-scored Boston's 15-0.

This one, unfortunately, seemed to come down to effort and aggression. The Lakers presented more of both and never took their foot off the gas pedal.

It was kind of ridiculous how many dunks and layups the Celtics missed over the course of the game. Many makeable shots went awry, which only hindered the Celtics' chances of cutting into LA's lead.

Heading into the fourth quarter, only Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, Ray Allen, and Rajon Rondo had scored.

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Bryant And Company Lead Lakers To A Decisive 89-67 Victory Over Celtics

Kobe Bryant made sure of it, with plenty of help from the rest of the revitalized Los Angeles Lakers.

Bryant scored 26 points, Pau Gasol added 17 points and 13 rebounds, and the Lakers emphatically extended the NBA Finals to a decisive seventh game with a 89-67 victory over the Boston Celtics in Game 6 on Tuesday night.

Bryant scored 15 points in the first half as the Lakers dominated the Celtics, jumping out to a 22-point halftime lead.

While limiting Boston to the second lowest-scoring performance in NBA Finals history, the defending champions stretched the Finals to the limit for the first time since 2005.

A champion will be crowned Thursday night at Staples Center.

Ray Allen scored 19 points for the Celtics, who took an ugly pratfall on the verge of winning their unprecedented 18th title. It turns out their longtime rivals are still quite serious about earning their 16th championship.

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NBA Finals Game 6 Live Blog: Boston Checks Out, And So Do We

 

  • Shannon Brown slams another dunk home that was better than anything he did in the dunk contest. Please spare me the "what can Brown do for you" jokes. Oops, nevermind.
  • For a man coaching a team trailing by 19 points, Doc Rivers seems pretty composed. Good for him. He's a better man than I am.
  • Then again, he's also right: the Lakers have let up a bit, just like their crowd, which has settled into it's regular-season form. 
  • Jeez, it's painful to watch Kevin Garnett do his customary goaltend after the whistle routine nowadays. All he can do is push you, like he did with Lamar Odom right there. 
  • I'm starting to think that ABC pays Mark Jackson to be the cliche man. 
  • Well, that was weird: Ron Artest just occupied the bottom spot on the free throw, and Pau Gasol was in the third position. Predictably, Glen Davis got the rebound. Predictably, it resulted in nothing.
  • Rondo just missed another layup, got whacked by Ron Artest, and it all led to a transition three for Sasha Vujacic. The world is a worse place when Sasha is making shots.
  • Rondo goes out, and immediately, the talk is about how he needs to be more of a scorer. I'm not sure about that, but he has to play better. Part of the problem is that the Celtics aren't grabbing enough defensive boards for Rondo to make an impact in transition. But most of the problem is that Rondo has failed in his task to manage the offense. The Lakers played great D, to be fair, but Rondo was so inactive off the ball that it made LA's life easier. He is the key to Game 7, which is appropriate because he's been the key to Boston's run to this point.
  • It's now a 25-point game, and Mark Jackson owes Jeff Van Gundy a pizza. All is well.
  • And with that, I'm closing this one up early. I gotta get my rest to do this again for Game 7. Yup, Game 7. I can't believe I'm saying those words for an NBA Finals. 
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NBA Finals Game 6 Live Blog: Celtics Try To Chip Away, Miss More Layups

  • I tried really, really hard to avoid criticizing ABC's production tonight, but after watching what basically amounted to a five-minute Inside Trax piece, I have to say something. I feel pretty confident in saying that was among the lazier halftime pieces ABC has produced in the last half-decade. Any Joe Schmo on YouTube could have done better. 
  • Glen Davis starts the second half as Kendrick Perkins continues to be out with a knee injury. For those still doubting Perkins' importance, this game should silence them. The C's have fallen apart without him.
  • Davis just missed his umpteenth layup tonight. He plays hard, but he's still Glen Davis going up against an incredibly long frontline.
  • But he can be one of many Celtics that can force Pau Gasol into a fadeaway, so he has that going for him. 
  • Andrew Bynum just went back to the locker room. I don't expect to see much of him the rest of the way.
  • Another great defensive play by Boston, another missed layup. You can't win games if you miss layups. Analysis! Watch out Mark Jackson. I'm gunning for you.
  • Look at Jeff Van Gundy disagreeing with Phil Jackson's approach to the game! It's so cute. Almost as if we're back in 1997 again. 
  • If this is what Ron Artest looks like in 2010, I can't wait to imagine what he'll look like on the basketball court in 2013. 
  • Bad play by Ray Allen there to let Kobe Bryant get baseline. It's made even worse by the fact that it spurred our first "GROWN MAN MOVE" comment by Mark Jackson.
  • Hey, KG, you're not supposed to flop. That's Pau's job.
  • Shannon Brown just threw down a better dunk than any he unleashed in the 2010 Dunk Contest. Let Shannon Dunk! (Or not).
  • And Jeff Van Gundy leads us into a commercial by having nothing to say. 

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NBA Finals Game 6 Live Blog: Lakers Up 20 At Halftime As Celtics Miss Dunks

  • Ron Artest just hit a stepback two-pointer, and Mark Jackson just praised him for "staying aggressive." Jeff Van Gundy got on Jackson for his commentary. I want Jeff Van Gundy as an uncle.
  • Shelden Williams just came in and missed a dunk. May I remind you that he was once a top five draft pick?
  • On the possession before the missed dunk, Rondo just tried some crazy spectacular reverse layup that didn't go in. Mike Breen gushed, but Glen Davis was wide open cutting down the lane and could have had an easy layup if Rondo just gave him the ball. Not a good moment for the young fella there.
  • Derek Fisher just tied up Kevin Garnett. Last time he did that, he somehow won the jump ball. I'm eagerly awaiting this one.
  • Ooooh, a 20-second timeout by Doc Rivers. The intrigue! Will KG avenge his embarrassment, or will Derek Fisher send the former legend into early retirement? The answer ... after the break!
  • KG won. Lame.
  • Another missed dunk, this time by Rondo. They're playing like they were all in the 2010 Slam Dunk Contest.
  • Paul Pierce just stood on the left wing that entire possession with his arms raised. He was open, but neither Rondo or Garnett were able to get him the ball.
  • Speaking of Pierce, he's fully in "eff you, teammates" mode. He just drove into a crowd of four Lakers and turned it over, then hit a face-up jumper. If he was Kobe Bryant, everyone would be complaining about how selfish he was.
  • Speaking of ... Pierce just missed a contested corner three. You have teammates, sir.
  • Rajon Rondo defends Kobe well, but Lamar Odom is untouched under the rim for the tip in. Story of the half right there. Lakers up 20. Celtics have some thinking to do.

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NBA Finals Game 6 Live-Blog: Celtics Still Haven't Woken Up

  • Chick Hearn is a true legend of the game. Johnny Most was a ridiculous homer who had an annoying voice and survived as an announcer simply because Boston fans loved him being a homer. Sorry C's fans, it's true.
  • What is Paul Pierce doing? For someone who is supposed to be the guy who closes the door, he's completely out of it. You don't let Jordan Farmar drive past you on the baseline.
  • Pau Gasol just grabbed another rebound and scored. The Lakers have a 22-7 edge on the glass now, which is not the sign of a soft team. 
  • Really, I'm stunned. I figured the Lakers would come out like this, desperate for a win, but I did not think the Celtics would just roll over. Someone needs to wake Pierce and Rajon Rondo up right now, because they're just not there. Maybe they should roll out a wheelchair.
  • The Celtics have responded by feeding Kevin Garnett. A few years ago, this would be a fair way to respond. In 2010, it isn't.
  • I expected Doc Rivers to be angrier in that huddle. I also expected Mark Jackson to say how much he loved Doc Rivers' demeanor in that huddle. Finally, I expected Mark Jackson to ramble on without much of a point.
  • There you go, Paul Pierce. Make some good strong moves.
  • Unfortunately for the Cs, Rondo still hasn't woken up. Instead of getting back, Rondo made a dumb gamble in transition that allowed Jordan Farmer to get ahead of the pack for the slam.
  • Speaking of Jordan Farmar - this is why I said he reminded me of B.J. Armstrong. He's capable of being a real difference maker, but it doesn't always happen. When it does, the Lakers are a much different team. Their bench can actually compete with Boston's bench, and their offense actually runs with some fluidity. Back in 1991, Armstrong's emergence as a key bench piece was huge in the sweep over Detroit. Farmar's emergence, so far, has been a big key in Game 6 tonight. Can I get an amen from KG (via Jose3030).
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NBA Finals Game 6 Live Blog: Celtics Out Of Sync Offensively As Lakers Take Control

  • Doc Rivers just used the phrase "50-50 ball" in his pre-quarter interview. It's a phrase I'm hearing more often in the NBA, and I have a message to those using it: just stop. That phrase is reserved for people who actually use their heads. Soccer players. 
  • Sasha Vujacic does one thing really well: hit foot-on-the-line two-pointers. There, I just crossed off "say something positive about Sasha Vujacic" from my bucket list.
  • Just another bad offensive possession by the Celtics. It's the most important game of the season, and the wrong guys have continued to touch the ball ever since very early in the game. I guess this is what happens when Nate Robinson is your point guard.
  • Speaking of - Rasheed Wallace just launched a contested three with five seconds on the shot clock. Like I said - the right guys need the ball.
  • Wallace just picked up his third foul trying to stop Lamar Odom in transition. He's in foul trouble, and Kendrick Perkins is injured. Jeff Van Gundy says this is a good thing because it means Kevin Garnett is back in, and the Celtics need 40+ minutes from him tonight. Try telling that to KG's knees.
  • Rajon Rondo just threw the ball right to the Lakers, which led to another Laker fast break. Of all players, Rondo's issues right now are hurting the Celtics the most. He's drifting mentally, and the Celtics have been disorganized as a result.

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NBA Finals Game 6 Live Blog: Lakers Take Double-Digit Lead At The End Of One Quarter

  • Kendrick Perkins was limping off the floor right there, and it looked bad. Doc Rivers responds by putting in Rasheed Wallace. Personally, I would have put Glen Davis in and let Rasheed rot on the bench, but I would have let Rasheed rot in February, and that wouldn't have been smart.
  • Stop it, Kobe.
  • Stop it, Mark Jackson.
  • Keep it up, JVG.
  • How do we know this game is being played in a different stadium? "Softee" Pau Gasol just got away with a flop on a rebound. You can get away with that here.
  • Ron Artest hits another three, and the Lakers lead by 10. Just in time for Shannon Brown to completely botch a fast break. Wheee. (Please don't overpay for him, [INSERT FAVORITE TEAM HERE]. Please don't overpay).
  • Paul Pierce just finished off one of those frantic Celtic fast breaks with a floater in the lane. See, Shannon Brown! That's how you fail to run a proper fast break and score anyway. That's how it's done!
  • A quick comment on everyone defending Kobe Bryant: in this case, I generally agree that it's unfair to criticize him, if only because so many of these shots are last-resort shots after Boston stopped everything else. At the same time, I really wish we could live in a world where constructive criticism can happen without Jeff Van Gundy yelling at me about it.
  • If Pau Gasol scores over Rasheed Wallace, does that simply mean he's less soft that Sheed?
  • Typical Celtics possession to end the quarter: nobody runs with Tony Allen, he miraculously pulls it out and they can't score in the halfcourt. Actually, there's really nothing typical about that, but I just wanted to use that phrase. LA is sharp early, but I don't see this emotion sustaining all the way through. LA's bench has got to come through in the second quarter.

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NBA Finals Game 6 Live Blog: Lakers Lead As Their Crowd Is Actually Loud

  • Jeff Van Gundy just went on an epic rant about how it's completely unfair to blame Kobe Bryant for his teammates not playing well. Because I am contractually obligated to agree with everything Jeff Van Gundy says ... I agree with what Jeff Van Gundy just said. This ain't his fault. His teammates have just shrunk.
  • A quick word on Pau Gasol: Andrew had a line in his preview about those who don't like those who have the "temerity" to call Gasol "soft." As someone who defends Gasol like crazy, let me say this: he played badly and drifted. "Soft" is a pejorative term that I don't like to use, but I guess we're saying the same thing. Bottom line: Pau has to play better tonight. There, can we all get along?
  • Mark Jackson garble garble garble Celtics defense garble garble OUTSTANDING JOB garble garble MAMA THERE GOES THAT MAN.
  • One Lakers miss, one KG layup in transition. I've seen this story before.
  • Andrew Bynum stays patient and hits a jump hook in the paint. You know what this means: SOMEONE OTHER THAN KOBE SCORED!
  • Pau hasn't done anything offensively, but he just had a great show on a pick and roll to close off the baseline on Ray Allen and mess up one of Boston's possessions.
  • How do we know the game is at a different location? Ron Artest just made a shot.
  • Wow, this crowd actually sounds like a real NBA crowd. It seems like everyone is actually there on time, and they're actually cheering loudly. Congratulations for doing this once a year, Lakers fans!
  • The Celtics are doing everything they can to get Ray Allen going. They've run two curls for him, involved him in two a pick and rolls and just cleared out the backside and lobbed the ball to him in the post for an and-1. He's carrying Boston right now.
  • Gotta say, the intensity tonight on both ends is crazy. Boston knows they basically have to win to take this series. L.A. literally has to win. This is great.
  • Derek Fisher just picked up his second foul, bringing Shannon Brown, who barely played in Game 5, in. I'm surprised Fisher didn't flop on the play.
  • Come on Kobe, stop it. No more line drive shots like that. Not fair.
  • That's eight straight for L.A. after Pau Gasol's coast to coast layup. Soft? I don't know, sure, maybe. But that was an insane play.
  • Kendrick Perkins just went down while going for a rebound. Looked like it was a right knee injury. This Lakers fan, apparently scarred by Paul Pierce's wheelchair fiasco in 2008, thinks Perkins is favoring it. Let me tell you something: Pierce may fake injuries, but Kendrick Perkins does not. Here's hoping he's ok.

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NBA Finals Game 6 Live Blog: It's All About Pau Gasol

Greetings, fellow NBA fans. I'll be providing live updates and snarky commentary on Game 6 of the NBA Finals tonight live from my home in [town redacted] Maryland. Currently, Christina Aguilera is signing the national anthem on my TV, and Albert Haynesworth has just demanded a trade. Both of these things are bad news for me right now. The former is bad news because it's Christina Aguilera. The latter is bad news because I also am the editor of SB Nation DC. 

Luckily, both situations are under control and we can get this live-blog going. Andrew already previewed this baby, and I already talked enough about this series here. I'm just ready for some basketball. BASKETBALL!

(Oh, and I think the Celtics win tonight. Oh, and I think it all comes down to how Pau Gasol plays. But even ABC can tell you the latter, so that's all I got.).

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NBA Finals, Game 6: For Kobe And The Lakers, The Moment Of Truth Has Arrived

Coming into the NBA Finals, we knew that the Celtics had to win one of the first two games in Los Angeles, and two of the three home games in Boston. They managed to do both. 

Against all odds, the Celtics have responded again and again. Midway through Game 4, Michael Wilbon said at halftime, "We're dangerously close to that point where both teams know who the better team is." And we were. By that point, the Lakers just looked superior.

Longer, more athletic, and with the best two players in the series, Pau Gasol and Kobe Bryant. The Celtics weren't out of it by any means, but they were "dangerously close."

Since then? Not much has changed. The Lakers are longer, more athletic, and with Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol, they've still got arguably the two greatest talents in the series. But the Celtics just keep winning. Despite their shortcomings, Boston has kept the pressure on with absurdly good defense, and just enough offense to get themselves over the hump in each of their wins, bringing themselves within one win of an NBA Title against the more talented, more athletic favorites from the West Coast. It's been unreal.

Every step of the way, we've expected L.A. to take control of the series. First in Game 2, two Sundays ago, and then in Game 4 this past Thursday, and even in Game 5, this past Sunday. Now it's Tuesday, and it's the Lakers who have to respond.

For the first time all series, there's real doubt about who the better team is.

With that, a few stories to keep an eye for tonight's game...

Pau Gasol: Soft?

The first two games of this series were GREAT for all those basketball writers that scoff at anyone with the temerity to call Pau Gasol "soft." If Gasol is soft, say his advocates, who is "hard"? What does it even mean if a player's soft? It's been a label that's followed Gasol throughout his career, and it's probably a little unfair.

What does soft mean, though? Err... Here. In my Finals Preview, I looked at the top five players in this series, and laid out the possibilities for Pau:

If he plays to his potential, he's probably number two. If he plays close to his potential, he's number three. If either of those things happen, the Lakers win this series going away. More likely? Pau gets beat up, defers to Kobe, and becomes a bit player in crunch time. If that happens, he's fifth on this list. For now, he's fourth based on talent alone.

In Boston, he went 16-36, repeatedly got knocked around by Kevin Garnett, Kendrick Perkins, and Big Baby Davis, and more generally, just looked like an above-average sidekick to Kobe. For someone as talented as Pau, that's soft. And it may be how we remember Gasol, too, unless things change over the rest of the series.

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Whether you credit Boston's defense, call Pau soft, or blame Kobe for dominating the ball, there's no getting around Pau's regression during this series, and the Lakers' simultaneous collapse. So that's question number one: Can Pau Gasol answer his critics and fight back in Games 6 and 7?

It's not a direct corollary to "Can L.A. win the 2010 championship?" but it's... Well, "dangerously close," as Michael Wilbon might say.

Can The Celtics Recover In Time To Make Game 6 Competitive?

Three things that beg consideration in advance of Game 6...

  1. The Celtics are old.
  2. The Celtics have been fighting nagging injuries throughout the playoffs.
  3. The Celtics have a tendency to get complacent.

After a cross-country flight on Monday, on just a day's rest, and comfortable in knowing they've got two shots to beat L.A. this week, it's not inconceivable to think the Celtics could come out flat tonight, get down by double digits early, and pack things in by the middle of the third quarter.

But... One More Win. One More Win. One More Win.

Ordinarily, this would be a textbook, "Celtics mail it in"-game, but this Boston team has been living for this opportunity all year. This is WHY they mailed in those other games. Because it was worth it to save the energy, and bide their time until they had a shot at the NBA Title. Now they do.

They can taste it now... One more win, and they rest all summer. It's probably a little inconsistent with their track record, but it's impossible to imagine the Celtics not killing themselves to win Game 6.

The Stakes For The Lakers

We know all of this intuitively, but anything less than a championship would be a pretty profound disappointment for L.A. fans and the team, itself. When SB Nation's Lakers blog, Silver Screen and Roll, says it out loud, you get a sense for just how much the Lakers have working in their favor:

This Lakers team was built to win a championship now. It has the highest payroll in the league. It features Kobe Bryant, a hoops immortal, at the height of his powers. Pau Gasol has the talent of an All-World baller and the lavish salary to match. Andrew Bynum is a skilled and burly seven-footer that any team would love to have. So loaded is the roster that Lamar Odom and Ron Artest, who would be featured offensive options on any number of squads, are role players. When you step back and take it all in, it really is an astonishing pile of talent. And that's before you even get to the coach, he of the 10 rings and 12 milly in annual compensayshe.

Why is why anything short of a repeat championship will be difficult to stomach.

Do you think that team's feeling any pressure tonight?

Can Kevin Garnett Keep Himself From Self-Combusting?

Prior to Game 6, Kevin Garnett had this to say about the anticipated atmosphere:

And with the severity of the game, it’s all out on both ends, for both teams. This will probably be the hardest game of the season, if not of the series, if not of everybody’s career, this game coming up.

We joke a lot about Kevin Garnett's psychotic intensity, but jokes aside, he often comes into games just a little too fired up. He literally works himself into such a frenzy that he exhausts himself. And with Garnett's performance on offense and defense closely intermingled with Pau Gasol's performance—and the fate of the Lakers—it's key for him to get off to a good start in Game 6.

It's great that he thinks tonight is the biggest game of everybody's career, but maybe we should temper the expectations. If he can just focus on improving on his first two names in L.A.—"not looking like a dead guy" would be a good start—that's most important. Even as Garnett's taken on a supporting role for Boston, he's still as crucial to their success as he was in 2008...

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...Hopefully he can avoid giving himself a heart attack during warmups.

This Will Be About Kobe Bryant

On paper, Kobe's been as brilliant as ever this series. But watching the games, it's hard not to look there and see a player that's incredibly frustrated. By his teammates, by the Celtics defense, and, if the Lakers lose tonight, by living the failure associated with losing this series. Whether he scores 21 straight third quarter points doesn't matter to Kobe, and it won't matter to those assessing his legacy after tonight's game.

If he doesn't win, none of it matters.

That's the universe that Kobe Bryant currently occupies. His talent, his physical and mental toughness, his desire to win—it's all beyond reproach. We know he's historically great. The only way for him to become greater is to win more championships.

Talking about Kobe—his legacy and his performance this series—probably demands more space than a little blurb in this preview, but for now, let's agree that a significant storyline from tonight's game will be Kobe Bryant, and how he responds with his team facing elimination. Win or lose, regardless of what Pau does or what the Celtics do, this will be about Kobe and his legacy as a great basketball player. That's Kobe's universe now.

He's good enough so that we watch his every move, and hang on every shot, make or miss, and talk about every game within a much broader historical framework that defies any sense of perspective.

The Celtics have been facing do-or-die scenarios over and over through this series, but now it's time for Kobe's moment of truth. The spotlight. We're all watching him, just like we watched Jordan. He's here now. This is what he's courted for his entire career. How will he respond?

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