The Finals, Game 7: With a little help from his friends…

Kobe Bryant played a miserable offensive game, going just 6-of-24 from the field, 0-for-6 from long range and turning the ball over four times. But the rest of the Lakers stepped up. Whether it was Pau Gasol’s travel layup with 1:30 to play, Ron Artest’s timely three-pointer with 1:00 remaining or Sasha Vujacic’s clutch free throws to seal the game with 0:11 to play, Kobe’s supporting cast came through when they needed to.

Lakers win, 83-79.

Kobe finished with 23-15-2, which looks pretty good until you realize that he missed 18 shots and forced some terrible attempts. Gasol added a gritty 19-18, and had nine of the Lakers’ TWENTY-THREE offensive rebounds. (The L.A. absolutely pounded the C’s on the glass, which was one area where Boston desperately missed Kendrick Perkins.) Artest had 20-5 and five steals. He wasn’t terribly efficient offensively, but he hit some important shots and bothered Paul Pierce into 5-of-15 shooting. Artest no longer has to live with the specter of Trevor Ariza circling his entire existence in Los Angeles. In his own weird way, he has truly become a Laker.

For the Celtics, Kevin Garnet (17-3, four blocks) played well offensively (8-of-13), but he just didn’t get it done on the defensive glass. Rajon Rondo (14-8-10) had a very nice game, but wasn’t able to push the ball enough to take it over. Paul Pierce (18-10-2) and Ray Allen (13-2-2) combined to go a dreadful 8-of-29 from the field.

It wasn’t a cleanly played Game 7, but it was tight the whole way and it was one of the best defensive Finals games I’ve ever seen. To put this in perspective, the Lakers shot 32.5% from the field and still won the game…and the title.

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Jordan Farmar posterizes KG [video]

This ought to get the Laker fans fired up about tonight’s Game 7

C’s in trouble without Perkins?

Neil Paine of Basketball Reference thinks so…

We can really illustrate Perkins’ hidden importance by looking at the Plus/Minus numbers. When Perkins was on the court for Boston this season, the Celtics outscored their opponents by 7.2 points per 100 possessions; when he wasn’t playing, that number was only +0.2, a difference of -7 pts/100 poss.

Meanwhile, Perkins’ Game 7 replacements, Rasheed Wallace and Glen Davis, don’t fare nearly as well by the WOWOY metrics. Despite Davis’ heroics in Game 4, he and Wallace have been Boston’s two worst players by net on/off rating during the playoffs. Wallace has been particularly toxic for the Celtics all season — the team played 5 pts/100 poss. worse when he was on the floor, as evidenced by his recurring appearance in the Celts’ worst lineup combinations. Davis & Wallace look better by the 4-year WOWOY regression (Davis is +1.36, Wallace is +0.47), but neither has the ability to positively impact the game the way Perkins does. Without his presence, and playing on the road (home teams win Game 7 80% of the time), the Celtics appear to be in dire straits tonight.

Numbers aside, I tend to agree with Paine from a qualitative point of view. Kendrick Perkins is a really good post defender, better than Rasheed Wallace and much better than Glenn Davis. He is not the offensive player that either of those guys are, but when you’re part of a unit that includes the Big 3 and Rajon Rondo, you don’t have to be.

Wallace has played some good post defense in these playoffs, but he tends to get into foul trouble, and that’s bad news for tonight, when the Celtics are so painfully thin on the front line. His three point range can stretch the defense, but he’s shooting 26% in the Finals and 35% in the postseason, so it’s not like his defender can’t help off of him. The Celtics need a 15/10 kind of a night from ‘Sheed if they hope to win Game 7.

If he gets into early foul trouble and Boston is forced to play Shelden Williams major minutes, the Celtics will be in major trouble.

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The pundits preview Game 7

Dr. Jack Ramsay, ESPN: If the Celtics are going to win Game 7, Rajon Rondo has to have a big game. He hasn’t shot the ball well the past two games. He needs to get all the way to the basket and finish. He has to penetrate, generate the transition offense and find the open receivers. Even when the Lakers are scoring, the Celtics have to find a way to run. Those opportunities are there if you are aware of them, and Rondo is a one-man fast break. Lately, Rondo has been too concerned with scoring instead of creating plays. He is Boston’s playmaker. His first objective should be to find open players. He has to find the wingmen — Paul Pierce and Ray Allen — so they can get open looks before the Lakers’ defense gets set.

Bill Plaschke, LA Times: If the Lakers defeat the Boston Celtics in Game 7 of the NBA Finals at Staples Center, their second consecutive championship would give real life to the possibility that this group could stay together long enough to win two more and certify the Lakers as the greatest franchise in NBA history. If they lose, that hope dies here. If the Lakers win, Phil Jackson is paid, Derek Fisher is remembered, Lamar Odom and Ron Artest are forgiven, and everyone returns with a legitimate shot to win it again for each of the remaining four years on the core group’s contracts. If they lose, everyone runs for cover, and not everyone finds it.

Dan Shaughnessy, Boston Globe: Take a good look at your Celtics when they break from their huddle and walk on the Staples Center court for Game 7 against the Lakers tonight. This will never happen again. Not with this group. Ray Allen might be gone next year. Paul Pierce could opt to leave this summer. Coach Doc Rivers says he’s not sure he’s coming back. Rasheed Wallace and Glen Davis are the only Celtic substitutes under contract for 2010-11. Even if by some chance they all return, they will never get to another Game 7 in the Finals. Allen and Kevin Garnett are 34, and their rookie-issue NBA tires are almost as bald as their heads. Pierce turns 33 this year. There are three other thirtysomethings on the bench. This is it. The last stand for the old guard.

Jeff Miller, Orange County Register: Kobe Bryant doesn’t need to win this NBA championship. Not for any legacy, validation or argument about his greatness. Bryant’s legacy is as golden as the jersey he’ll be wearing in Game 7. He could retire during the national anthem Thursday and they’d still build him a statue outside Staples Center… His greatness cannot be questioned any more successfully than his fadeaway jumper still can be defended. Bryant has won four championships and, just for emphasis, done so with two distinctively different teams.

Howard Bryant, ESPN: Game 7 will be what basketball is: a superstar’s game. There are two in this Finals series: Kobe Bryant and Paul Pierce. Whether it is directly by their star play or indirectly by facilitating the productivity of their teammates, by foul trouble or by an outright bad night, the NBA championship will be decided by which one of those two imposes his will longer and more effectively on the game.

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The Finals, Game 6: A good ol’ fashioned ass-whuppin’

Ever since I saw the schedule for these Finals, I’ve been writing about how the aging Celtics would react to having to fly cross country and play on only one day’s rest. They looked sluggish in Game 3 after a quick turnaround from Game 2, and in Game 6, just two days after Game 5 in Boston, it looked like they never got out of the airport.

This game isn’t quite over, but it has been decided. The Lakers’ defense showed up tonight and that helped their offense, which in turn kept the Celtics at a slower pace. Boston looked out of sync all night, and that was mainly due to the effort and positioning of the Laker defense.

The Laker bench also played well — as of this post, the L.A. bench is outscoring the Boston bench 24-11.

What else is there to say? Kobe needed someone else to step up and pretty much the entire team responded. Both teams are a man down — Kendrick Perkins played only seven minutes before suffering a knee injury, while Andrew Bynum only managed 12 minutes before the Lakers shut him down.

Okay, now it’s a final: Lakers 89, Celtics 67.

I would expect a much better effort from the Celtics in Game 7, mostly because they can’t play much worse. They’ll have a full 48 hours to read about how badly they played, while the Lakers will be riding high.

It’s funny how the momentum in these seven-game series can change on a dime.

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