It all comes down to this: a monumental Game 7 in Southern California pitting the two sides of the greatest rivalry in the history of professional basketball — and things couldn’t appear worse for the Boston Celtics.
Momentum swings of this magnitude don’t come along very often, but the immediate evaporation of hope between a pivotal Game 5 than the Celtics took and the Lakers’ tactical thrashing of the Green on Tuesday night is absolutely palpable. Lakers fans were biting their lips; now they’re screaming their lungs out. It’s not a great site for Celtics fans.
But before the two teams suit up and take the court Thursday, looking on as Kobe Bryant ruthlessly salivates — looking for the kill and and tasting his fifth championship ring — Boston must come to grips with something: they can still do it. If they don’t have that positive attitude going in, they might as well sit the game out. Starting fresh and forgetting about the past is the only way to even conceive of taking this title. The Celtics forgot in 2008.
They forgot the years of being the laughingstock of the entire league. They forgot the times of inferior personnel, poor game execution, and ineffective coaching. They went in with the sentiment that it’s just another year. They brought on Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen, and they didn’t miss a beat. They were a powerhouse again, and they won the title.
The Celtics forgot in the 2009 playoffs. Garnett, their rock, couldn’t play. They didn’t dwell on that. They didn’t sulk. They put it behind them and fought with toughness and grit to the very end. They may not have won the championship last year, but they nearly ousted the heavily favored Orlando Magic thanks to great bench play and a focused mind.
The Celtics forgot in 2010. No one expected anything of Boston by midseason. They weren’t playing with heart, passion, or inspiration the squad had become anonymous with. They were washed up. The days of their domination were over. They were nothing. They had no chance. They limped into the playoffs with a mere No. 4 seed. Then they forgot. They didn’t care what they did or didn’t do during the season. They made the corrections when the time was right, getting back to the core principles that made them winners in the first place. They shocked Cleveland. They shocked Orlando. And they were on the way to shocking L.A.
With an over-the-back foul and an awkward step it was all gone. Kendrick Perkins went crashing down to the floor with the weight of Bill Russell, Kevin McHale, Robert Parish, and Larry Bird on his shoulders. It was a demoralizing moment. The key to an unforgiving defense and an unquestioned embracer of defense was gone, writing in pain the locker room. Boston took to heart the absence of their big man, and Kobe took advantage, surgically dismantling the champions in front of his eyes.
Now it’s Game 7, and the Celtics have two choices: fold and go home or put up a fight.
I’m betting they decide to forget.