The Beautiful Game
An ugly Game 7 made for a great finale.
by Tim David Harvey
OK, so Game 7 was ugly — Sam Cassell ugly — but there was still some beauty in it. Kind of like the old flame who wasn’t the prettiest of them all, but, looking back, there was just something about her.
After all the hype and build-up for the final game of the Playoffs some fans felt let down like the infamous Forum balloons of 1969. Game 7 may have not kept itself classy like San Diego but the scrappy nature gave us a finale that suited these storied franchises down to the ground.
Game 6 was a different story. A good, old fashioned blowout. A great statement game in the sense that the Lakers reaffirmed their position in a series that for the last two games where Celtic-dominated. It was also one of those useful game finishes where fans could leave early to avoid the gridlock. This is all well and good for a mid-season game but who really wants to see that in a Game 7? In the end of this series, just like with Joaquin Phoenix, a close shave was the only thing that was going to look good.
So after both opponents had traded blows, decade after decade, game after game for almost 60 years and six games, it all came down to the last quarter of a real drawn-out game. The competitive nature had been nurtured through the times and moments these two teams had been through and shared over the course of their historic rivalry. This rivalry heated up and intensified so much over an evenly matched series that it all boiled down to player’s nerves spilling over from what looked like a classic case of over-enthusiasm. Someone needed to find where Larry David was sitting.
This over-eagerness in some superstar players revealed their more human side. Mistakes where made and Shawn Bradley shots where thrown up. Statically speaking this looked like a Clippers/Nets exhibition. Fans looking for a reputable spread across the offensive box score would be disappointed, but those looking for true grit, determination and a clinic in defense wouldn’t be. With so much riding on the defining game some of the more confident players looked vulnerable. A player’s skill was almost a non issue to be thrown out the window. The winner on this night would be the team with more resolve.
This made for compelling viewing; it was almost like watching a ‘next basket wins’ game on the streets or as one commentator said a wrestling match. The two teams where going at it minute after minute, quarter after quarter, round after round. The gloves where off and just like Ali’s ‘Rumble In The Jungle’ with Joe Frazier L.A. took everything the Celtics had on the chin until they wore Boston down and delivered the final knockout. The Lakers may not have been making the grades through the first three quarters but they finished strong like Mister Cee, and that’s what mattered. Sure the game wasn’t played extremely well but it was fought brilliantly.
There’s nothing glamorous about hustle but there is everything to be admired in the hard work that gets the job done. Maybe the Hollywood brethren in Staples weren’t excited by the basketball they were seeing, but it was necessary. Just like the Zen Master said, “it got the job done.” For the Lakers to finally overcome their nemesis they had to play like them. Another installment of ‘Showtime’ wouldn’t of worked, the Lakers had to put in more work than that and grind it out against Boston’s blue…excuse me, green collared approach. In doing this they finally got the monkey off their back. They finally beat the Celtics at their own game and even with all its bumps and bruises it was a beautiful game to.
Even amongst the grit and grime pretty plays could be found. For the Lakers, Fisher added some color to the game from his first open look to his last rainbow jumper. Whereas as far as the Celtics were concerned Garnett added his trademark ferocity from his opening ‘in control’ two hander (off a Rondo alley oop) to his ‘we’re still in this’ statement dunk late on.
When the ‘Big Three’ were tiring Rondo was throwing passes, scoring beautiful layups and draining threes in the clutch that breathed life in to the game. ‘The Truth’ and ‘Jesus’ still came up big, adding refreshingly wet jumpers in the middle of dry spells. Now that sounds like some good Basketball.
Pau Gasol’s 19 points and 18 boards came from hard work and determination. There were times where he made a mess around the cup but how he cleared the table more than wetted the fans appetite for more. The strength and the tenacity he displayed on the boards, the blocks and on second chance efforts showed that he’s come a long way since he last met the Celtics imposing frontcourt in the 2008 finals.
In the last Celtics/Lakers Finals, Pau may have appeared a little out his depth, but his passion this year for the Lakers was far from shallow. The Gasol glare, which after last year seems like a new, Laker tradition may be more scary than appealing but this is the type of love for the game that is sometimes lost on other players with that type of talent. That, however, is what separates good and great basketball players and winners and losers. In 2008 Gasol was weaker and it wasn’t so pretty to watch. Today, he’s much stronger and he’s never looked better.
The other difference maker for the Lakers brought immeasurable heart and charm to a so-called lackluster affair. Remember when Ron Artest was first signed by the Lakers, and he said the blame was on him if they didn’t win? Well, he was playing like a man of his word, responsible for his team’s success and how sweet it was to see and hear him go on about making that three off a Kobe pass? Now that’s entertainment.
Kobe himself may not have played in this game like a series MVP but he still went hard. Those 23 points may look like that of a second or third option player but those last 10 came through strong drives and his ability to stay with his game. Kobe’s 6-24 may have been numbers John Starks guys are made of but once ‘The Mamba’ composed himself and slithered in to a rhythm the fourth quarter became a classical piece.
How often in the NBA Finals does the outcome come down to a Game 7? Well this is only the third time since 1990 and to those ‘80s babies who are edging that little bit closer to 30, you may not like to admit it but that was a long, long time ago. Even if some fans found the game hard to watch there was no denying this was a more definite ending to a normal NBA Finals. Now that’s the type of ending everyone wants to see. Years from now which Lakers series will be talked about more? This one, or their 4-0 sweep of the Nets?
A Game 7 was exactly what this chapter of the Celtics, Lakers needed especially after all the statement games that came beforehand, whether on a Christmas Day or mid-season Western Conference road trip. Would anyone really be satisfied if this clash didn’t come down to the last minutes of the last game? That was real drama that no build up commercial could truly evoke. This was where amazing was happening for real. Lil’ Wayne can attest to that, ‘Sorry LeBron. Get ‘em next year.’
It was clear toward the end of the third quarter that whoever won this game would really, truly deserve the title. After all the blood, sweat, tears (we see you Ron, Ron) and years the true victor was the team who stuck it out to the end and prevailed. Game 7 gave everyone a real competition and a true final game. The play on the court may have needed as much dolling up as Christina Aguilera received before she delivered the ‘Star Spangled Banner’ but the way the passion of the game was played out was more than just a good look.