Lakers' attitude and effort spurred 89-67 Game 6 victory over Boston Celtics
Hours leading into what could've become an elimination game, the Lakers visualized the outcome going in their favor. The team's morning shootaround included a meditation session, an approach Coach Phil Jackson typically uses to help calm his player's nerves, increase their spirituality and anticipate the challenges ahead.
The Lakers firmly believed they could win out heading into Game 6 of the NBA Finals against Boston because of their talent level, experience, home-court advantage and levelheaded demeanor that's been constant through the wins and losses. So even if the team immediately kept that mindset following its Game 5 loss to the Celtics, the meditation session at least ensured the Lakers' attitude stayed intact. Hours later, the Lakers' 89-67 Game 6 victory Tuesday over Boston ensured the series to last seven games, a length not even Jackson experienced during his storied Finals experience. Fortunately for the Lakers, they already saw it coming.
"You just visualize yourself winning the game and doing what you have to do," center Andrew Bynum said. "That'll pay off for us in the future because you've visually been there before. Once you're in it, you can see yourself playing well."
That included essentially all the areas the Lakers struggled with in their Game 5 loss. The Lakers' offense featured someone beyond Kobe Bryant, who scored a team-leading 26 points on nine-of-19 shooting with 11 rebounds. It's a pale effort when you look at his 38-point effort in Game 5 and his 23-point explosion. But the offense sure looks better when it also features contributions from Pau Gasol (17 points and 13 rebounds), Ron Artest (15 points on six-of-11 shooting) and a reserve unit that that outscored Boston's bench, 25-13. Even if Bryant justifiably took over Game 5 while he had little support around him, a well-oiled offensive machine proves more effective.
The Lakers' improvements went beyond the offense. After allowing Boston to shoot 55% from the field in Game 5, the Lakers held the Celtics to 33.3% with all but Ray Allen (19 points on seven-of-14 shooting) going below .500. After staying even on the glass, the Lakers dominated on the rebounding effort, 52-39. After the Celtics beat them on loose balls and hustle plays, the Lakers essentially put on a role reversal.
Not everything went according to plan. With just 1:42 into the third quarter, Jackson recalled, Bynum motioned to him on the sideline, saying, "You've got to take me out. I can't run." Jackson later learned Bynum experienced more swelling in the back of his leg near the torn cartilage of his right knee. Bynum went to the locker room, did what he called "a couple activation things" and returned to the bench, though he wouldn't play the rest of the game.
"Precautionary measure," said Bynum, who finished with only two points on one-of-four shooting and four rebounds in 15 minutes and 53 seconds. "Save for Game 7. We're going to be ready for it."But unlike previous games, the Lakers proved they could absorb Bynum's limitation, something they may afford in Game 7 considering Celtics center Kendrick Perkins will be reevaluated Wednesday after spraining his right knee and being helped off the court with 5:30 remaining in the first quarter.
"I'm sure it had a big effect in the ballgame," Jackson said. "But I think our energy was good enough that it was not a matter of who wasn't there. It was about what we were going to do. We were trying to determine our own fate tonight."
The reasons for the sudden shift in effort went without saying: The Lakers were on the verge of conceding a championship to Boston for the second time in three seasons, letting go of a second consecutive title and increasing the chances that the team's current makeup would no longer be intact for more title runs. But how the Lakers went about changing their execution required a mature approach in playing with more effort without leading to a tight performance.
"There's a danger, but we're used to being in must-win situations," Bryant said. "The way we look at it, it's just a game we've got to win. We've been in must-win situations before, so we have to approach it in the same way."
Those experiences include when the Lakers entered Game 5 tied 2-2 in their first-round series with Oklahoma City and their West finals match-up with Phoenix. Let's not forget Game 7 of the 2008 West semifinals against Houston, which featured plenty of emotion and pendulum swings. But the Lakers' experience proved to be just one factor in maintaining their attitude.
Jackson saw the spirits remain high after the team realized its 16 offensive rebounds and Boston's 16 turnovers kept them in Game 5 despite featuring a one-man offense and a nonexistent defense. Lamar Odom credited the team's calm attitude immediately after the Game 5 loss with preventing a dire situation from becoming worse. Artest pointed to Bryant's high expectations and Derek Fisher's speeches all season in fueling the team's confidence level. And Lakers forward Luke Walton noticed Bryant appearing relaxed and jovial, while Jackson provided little changes to the team's preparations beyond X's and O's.
"Going into game 6 or 7 and losing is a failure to us. There's nothing that needs to be said. You look around right now. There's not many people celebrating," said Walton, though he shared a laugh with reporters because the crowded locker room caused him to perspire through a new dress shirt. People are ready to get home, get some rest and get ready for Thursday."The Lakers gave themselves a chance by holding very little back.
Odom recorded his first double-digit in rebounds (10) along with eight points, despite playing with sinusitis. "Focus, will, just giving myself up," Odom said. Artest bounced back from a miserable Game 5 by playing within the context of the offense and allowing successful early looks to increase his confidence. "If I can help my team with a good stop, box out or physical, that's a huge part of the game."
Jordan Farmar perfectly demonstrated the team's hustling attitude by successfully diving for a loose ball, despite wearing numerous floor burns. "I got a big blister on my hand," he said. "I got a few things, but that's how it's supposed to feel in an NBA Finals game. Game 6 and your backs are against the wall -- you're supposed to be hurting. Though Fisher picked up four early fouls, the Lakers' reserves in Sasha Vujacic (nine points) Farmar (four points) and Shannon Brown (four points) filled the void, with the latter showcasing two highlight-reel dunks. "That's what it's going to take," Brown said. That's what we lacked in the games we lost."
And Gasol quickly rebounded from his worst Finals performance, with vintage play including hooks, mid-range jumpers and efficiency in the triangle. "You've just got to make sure you bring the kind of intensity, activity that we brought tonight and then things will go your way for the most part."
Things certainly went the Lakers' way in Game 6, an outcome the team had already visualized happening. And with Game 7 quickly approaching, the Lakers plan to maintain that approach,
"You can understand the power of prayer and people coming together and willing themselves," Odom said. "It worked for us as a team and individually."
-- Mark Medina
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Photo: Lakers guard Kobe Bryant, left, tries to take away the ball from Celtics forward Kevin Garnett, center, as forward Ron Artest defends during the first quarter in Game 6 of the NBA Finals on Tuesday. Credit: Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times