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Lakers are desperately seeking another title

Pushed to the edge of a cliff after going quietly in Games 4 and 5 at Boston, Lakers come home and rediscover their fighting spirit in 89-67 victory that evens the NBA Finals and forces Game 7 Thursday — when both teams' backs will be to the wall.

June 15, 2010|Bill Plaschke

A weathered, brow-wrinkled basketball team in need of an instant makeover pulled one off Tuesday, the Lakers painting themselves in a color as brilliant as it was rare.

Desperation.

It was brushed on the bloody lips of Pau Gasol, the sweaty glare of Lamar Odom, the floor burns covering Jordan Farmar. It was powdered over a frenetic Ron Artest, streaked across a soaring Shannon Brown and, yeah, dripping from every pore on the angry body belonging to Kobe Bryant.

Desperation, seeping from the questioned heart of a team to the questioned passion of its Staples Center fans, the entitlement disappearing under pregame standing ovations, cries of "Dee-fense" in the opening minutes, and even Jack Nicholson screaming at the officials before the end of the first quarter.

A new look, a good look, a necessary look, and now, the ultimate look.

The Lakers and Boston Celtics in Game 7 of the NBA Finals.

It will happen Thursday because the Lakers forced it to happen Tuesday, avoiding elimination by waxing the Celtics, 89-67, to tie the series at three games apiece.

Is this getting fun or what?

The two most historic rivals in all of sports will now meet in the ultimate of all sporting events, the race of nine months decided in three hours, 104 games whittled down to one, the latest chapter in a 51-year history written over the course of a single evening.

Good thing the Lakers finally showed up Tuesday, better great than never.

"We didn't have a choice," said Farmar, who led the bench in outscoring the Celtics' bench, 24-0, in the first three quarters. "We had to be aggressive. We had to play with passion and heart. There was no other way."

They didn't have a choice? Not an ideal answer, but at least an honest one. It will forever vex fans of this 2009-10 Lakers team that it required a giant shove to the edge of a precipitous cliff — against Oklahoma City, Phoenix and now Boston — to remind them to stand up straight.

But if the Lakers defend their title Thursday, history will remember only that, in the end, they stood.

Or, in the case of Tuesday's most symbolic play, dived.

It happened midway through the second quarter, on a loose ball at midcourt, Farmar skidding across the hardwood to wrestle it from the Celtics' Rajon Rondo, flipping it to Bryant, who wound up shooting two free throws that gave the Lakers a 13-point lead.

"Those so-called 50/50 balls, we wanted them to be 90/10 balls," said Farmar.

The Celtics were never any closer, and Farmar has never been more bruised.

"The ball is on the floor, it's the Finals, you go get it," he said. "Yeah, I've got burns on my body, blisters on my hand, but that's how you're supposed to feel. It's the NBA Finals, your backs are to the wall, that's what's supposed to happen."

You knew this game would be different when, in the first six minutes, a Lakers defense that had disappeared in Boston clamped the Celtics in a giant golden handcuff — Derek Fisher stealing a pass, Bryant stealing a pass, and the Lakers' big men blocking three shots.

You knew this game would be memorable when Artest nailed a three-pointer in the opening minutes, Gasol had a half-dozen rebounds in the first quarter, and Odom left the game three hours later with eight points and 10 rebounds and a bunch of new friends standing and cheering.

"I won't use any excuse or make any reason," said the Celtics' Ray Allen, whose team shot 33% and was outrebounded by 13. "They had more energy than us."

And, oh yeah, you knew this game would be lucky for the Lakers when the Celtics' Kendrick Perkins collapsed under the weight of Andrew Bynum with 5:30 left in the first quarter, leaving with a sprained knee that may keep him out of Game 7. The Lakers were leading by six when Perkins when down. In the next dozen minutes of game clock, they outscored the Celtics by 14 to finish them quickly.

If Perkins can't play Thursday, the Lakers have yet another edge on a night full of them.

"It's a big disadvantage," said Bryant, salting the wound. "He's a big emotional leader for the team. I'm sure it didn't help them, him going down."

If the Lakers lose, well, it will be one of the greatest upsets in NBA Finals history since a foolish franchise prepared for a Game 7 at its home arena by filling the ceiling full of celebratory balloons. That was 1969, when, in Bill Russell's last game, the Celtics beat the Lakers in Game 7 at the Forum. So don't get too cocky just yet.

"It's really a high-tension situation," Lakers Coach Phil Jackson said. "It's about who comes out and provides the energy on the floor."

On Tuesday, that desperation was worn best by the Lakers. It might fade. It might smear. The Celtics might scrape it off.

But come Thursday, if it sticks, it sticks forever.

bill.plaschke@latimes.com

twitter.com/billplaschke

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