Lakers preparing for the unexpected in Game 7 against Boston
The scenario had played out many times in Lamar Odom's head. He imagined it happening when he grew up playing in his backyard, pretending to count down to zero before hitting the game winner in front of an electric crowd. He imitated it when he played "Lakers versus Celtics and the NBA Playoffs" for Sega Genesis, the first basketball video game that actually acquired the rights to real NBA players. And now he's living it, with the Lakers forward gearing up for Game 7 of the NBA Finals against the Celtics on Thursday night.
"It's going to be tough," Odom said. "It's going to be hard. It might be 42-41 with the way this series is going."
For all the experience the Lakers have, they are actually entering uncharted territory. Coach Phil Jackson has won 10 NBA championships and appeared in 12 NBA Finals, but has never experienced a Finals Game 7. Guard Kobe Bryant has collected four rings and appeared in six Finals, but has never experienced a Finals Game 7. Neither has guard Derek Fisher.
Lakers fans can bring up the fact that the home team has won 13 of the previous 16 Game 7s, but you also have to consider that the Lakers are 0-4 in Game 7 match-ups against Boston. Lakers fans may get some added comfort from Kendrick Perkins' absence after suffering torn MCL and PCL ligaments in his right knee in the Lakers' Game 6 victory. However, there's also insecurity on how much Lakers center Andrew Bynum can provide, with the torn cartilage in his right knee still ailing him. Lakers fans can predict the team will replicate its Game 6 effort because of the stakes, but you also have to think that the Celtics will bring a stronger effort than in their Game 6 stinker.
Jackson and Fisher acknowledge that this isn't just like any other game, but say they still need to treat it as such.
"You have to go through the same execution things," Jackson said. "You may be moving at a faster rate, you may be playing at a quicker elevation, spirit, et cetera. But if you're not going to be able to do the most basic things, if you come out of your skin, in other words, if you're out of character, things are going to happen awry."
Yet there's no question the Lakers are trying to learn from past big-game experiences.
Bryant said he is drawing on the day leading up to the gold-medal game between the U.S. and Spain in the 2008 Beijing Olympics, noticing the energy level feels similar although his responsibilities are different. He fondly recalled his first Game 7 experience, when the Lakers won the 2000 Western Conference finals against the Portland Trail Blazers. "Once you kind of deal with that, you look that pressure situation in the face and you come out on top," Bryant said. "You've pretty much been through all of that at that point."
Still, nothing quite compares with a Lakers-Celtics Game 7 match-up. Bryant could always consult former Laker Jerry West, whom Bryant looked up to as his idol after West brought him to the Lakers. Though Jackson recalled hearing from West that Bryant peppered him with questions about how he and Elgin Baylor managed to score nearly 30 points per game, there's one topic Bryant said he has refused to ask West about: how he handled those seven-game-series losses in the 1962, 1966 and 1969 NBA Finals.
"That's not a topic of conversation that a 17-year-old kid wants to talk to The Logo about," Bryant said. "Happier times."
Lakers forward Pau Gasol said he's tried leaning on his experience playing for his native Spain in the FIBA World Championships and 2008 Olympics, but ultimately feels like they're different circumstances. Lakers forward Ron Artest doesn't have so much experience to fall back on, with this being his first NBA Finals. And Odom surely knows that playing basketball in his backyard and playing video games is different than playing on the actual stage. That's why Artest said he has blocked out the significance of the game, something he'll ponder later if the Lakers win the title.
"The only time I realize it's a Game 7 is when I have these press conferences. But we don't need to tune you out. It's still cool talking to the media about everything. But when we go home, we just focus on the game," he said.
-- Mark Medina
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