From Inglewood, Venice and the Valley, from Philadelphia, Spain and Queens, came the Lakers.
The Purple and Gold were omnipresent throughout a championship-like performance that produced Tuesday’s 89-67 Game 6 blowout victory over Boston to force a Finals Game 7 that will decide which of the previous two Larry O’Brien trophy winners will become the 2010 champs.
L.A.’s stars were brilliant, led by Kobe Bryant’s 26-point, 11-rebound, 4-steal effort and Pau Gasol’s 17-point, 13-rebound, 9-assist near triple-double.
The bench was outstanding, dominating Boston’s by scoring 24 points before the C’s pine unit had registered a single point, and the team defense was suffocating all night.
The Lakers simply had it all firing from start to finish.
“I’m really happy about the way we played as a team tonight,” said Gasol, a key part of L.A.’s critical 52-39 control of the glass. “Defensively, the activity and the intensity. Everything was very, very positive and together.”
While the Lakers followed their usual road format of staying close in the first three quarters before attempting to steal victories in the fourth in Games 3-5 in Boston, Game 6 saw the pedal pushed to the floor from the get-go.
“They were absolutely terrific tonight,” said Celtics coach Doc Rivers. “I thought (they) played harder, better … They executed, they trusted more.”
L.A. built a 10-point lead after the first that became 20 at halftime and 25 after three quarters, holding Boston to just 18, 13 and 20 points while amassing 76 themselves, before allowing the visitors to chip only three points off the lead in the fourth.
The trenches favored the Lakers throughout, with the home team winning the paint battle 40-32, shooting 41.8 percent to Boston’s 33.3 percent, blocking eight shots to Boston’s four and adding 15 second-chance points to Boston’s six.
“Our defense was good, our rebounding was better,” said Lakers coach Phil Jackson. “We got some loose balls, some tipped balls. Those kinds of things change the course of the game.”
Though Doc Rivers said it “wouldn’t have mattered the way things were going,” Boston suffered an early blow when center Kendrick Perkins went down with an apparent knee injury six minutes into the first quarter, leaving his availability for Game 7 in question.
“I don’t know,” offered Rivers about his center’s playing prospects. “It doesn’t look great, but I don’t know.”
Yet and still, it was Bryant who set the tone for his team early, scoring 11 first quarter points by making five of his first six shots, flying around on defense, going hard to the glass and involving those around him.
“I think most people – not us – assumed that Kobe would come out and take 1,000 shots, and I thought he did the exact opposite, I thought he trusted his teammates,” said Rivers.
Led by Gasol, those teammates came through.
The Spaniard’s near triple-double came after he’d failed to match terrific production in Games 1 and 2 in Boston; Lamar Odom offered eight points, 10 rebounds and two blocks; Ron Artest hit three triples en route to 15 points along with six boards while limiting Paul Pierce to 6-of-14 FG’s and 13 points; Sasha Vujacic, Jordan Farmar and Shannon Brown amassed a motley crew of high-energy plays while combining for 17 points, highlighted by Brown’s violation of LAX air space with two massive one-handed dunks.
In short, it was a team effort that came at the most crucial of times … at least until Thursday’s Game 7.
Bryant also set the tone for L.A. after the game.
When asked if he were excited, or happy, to have the opportunity to play a Game 7 in the Finals particularly against the Celtics, Bryant simply said “No.” That’s now what makes him happy.
“Winning is what makes me happy,” he concluded.
He and the Lakers will have their chance in 48 hours. Until then, your numbers:
9 L.A.’s collective advantage in the steals and blocks categories, blocking eight shots to Boston’s four (led by Pau Gasol’s three) and stealing 13 balls to the C’s eight (led by Kobe Bryant’s four).
15 Minutes played by Andrew Bynum, who sat out for all but two minutes of the second half to rest his ailing right knee. Bynum suffered no additional damage, but was having trouble moving normally and thought it better to rest considering L.A.’s 20+ point lead. His counterpart Kendrick Perkins, however, suffered a knee injury after just six minutes, and C’s coach Doc Rivers said it “doesn’t look good” for Perk to play in Game 7.
17 More rebounds corralled by the Lakers than the Celtics in the first half (30-13), which dwindled slightly to 13 (52-39) for the game. The team that won the board battle has won all five games.
24 Bench points scored by the Lakers before Boston had mustered even a single point off their bench, composed of Sasha Vujacic’s nine, Lamar Odom’s eight and four each from Shannon Brown and Jordan Farmar. Bryant led all scorers with 26 points, while Gasol had 17 and Ron Artest 15.
67 Points scored by Boston, the fewest the Lakers had allowed throughout the postseason. The previous low was 79, from Oklahoma City in Game 1 of Round 1.