Game 7 of a playoff series is one of the greatest experiences NBA players and coaches will ever have. I remember when our young Atlanta team nearly knocked Larry Bird and his legendary Celtics out of the playoffs. Although a Championship did not hang in the balance, the classic Game 7 matchup in round two of the 1988 playoffs will forever be etched in my mind. It was remarkable to see the players perform the way they did considering the pressure they were under, knowing that if they lost they would go home and if they won they would have a chance to move on and compete for a title.
After Dominique and Bird traded basket-for-basket in the fourth quarter, Boston wound up prevailing by a small yet decisive two-point margin. It’s pretty remarkable that an entire season can boil down to one basket. But tonight one game will decide the NBA Championship. And one basket in Game 7 could clinch another title for the Lakers or the Celtics.
Facing elimination in Game 6 the Kobe-led Lakers responded, dominating the boards and the paint from start to finish. With renewed effort and energy, LA attacked from the jump ball and held the Celtics to just 67 points. The Celtics lost Kendrick Perkins to a knee injury in the first quarter and never found their stride. They were ultimately outplayed and out-hustled by the Lakers.
Obviously the series-ending injury to Perkins will handicap the Celtics somewhat, but that doesn’t mean they can’t win this game. In order to do so they will have to shoot and defend like they’ve never done before. If you look back to the great 1985 NCAA Championship when eight-seed Villanova won the national title with a 66–64 victory in the final game over top-seed Georgetown, Nova played an almost perfect basketball game. They had an astronomical 78.6 percent field goal percentage and they defended extremely well. That’s what it took to upset the favorites. There’s no reason Boston can’t come up with the same kind of game – they’ve had to figure out a way to win in spite of injuries all season.
The Lakers are looking for the repeat and the chance to clinch back-to-back titles at home. The defending champs should go into tonight’s battle with much confidence after their sensational performance in Game 6. Nobody’s better at smelling blood than Kobe Bryant. I expect Kobe to have a spectacular game. But it remains to be seen whether his teammates will step up once again and give him the support that is necessary.
Tonight one team will wind up as world champions and the other will be looking down the barrel of a very long summer. Can’t wait for the game to start. Game 7 of the 2010 NBA Finals airs on ABC at 9:00 PM ET.