LOS ANGELES, CA - JUNE 17: Pau Gasol #16 of the Los Angeles Lakers reacts in the second half while taking on the Boston Celtics in Game Seven of the 2010 NBA Finals at Staples Center on June 17, 2010 in Los Angeles, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
One wonders, years from now, if this game is going to be considered a 'classic'. After all, it was a Game Seven, the first time the Lakers have beaten the Celtics in a Game Seven, and it featured a pretty significant turnaround in the second half, with the Lakers coming back from a 13 point third quarter deficit. In fact, the AP game recap has already dubbed it a 'classic', though that seems more than a bit premature.
Because the only thing 'classic' about this game is how classically ugly it was. The Lakers made fewer than a third of their shots, and had only 11 assists as a team. The Celtics were not much better - they made a tick over 40% of their shots. The Finals MVP, Kobe Bryant, made a quarter of his shots - 6 for 24. It was, frankly, a pretty brutal game to watch. The NBA and ESPN were thrilled to have the Celtics and the Lakers in the Finals and playing in a seventh game, but this was no advertisement for NBA basketball. If the casual fans who tune in once or twice a year were actually paying attention (which they probably weren't), they won't become fans of the game based on this one.
Jeff Van Gundy almost had the courage to say what I was thinking... almost. He praised the defense (and rightfully so), but he also called out the inept offenses (and then he backed off a little).
When two teams are willing to do that much bodying and that much grabbing (while admittedly working their asses off on defense, there's no question about that), it puts the referees in a very difficult position. Call it too close, and it becomes a parade to the free throw line. Call it too loose, and it becomes a wrestling match. Somehow, they managed to have it be both in the same game.
In some situations, you might expect them to call it loose early, in hopes of getting the teams to adjust and back off a little, and then let them play in the fourth. Instead, they did the opposite. It was anything goes through three quarters - and then a whistle-fest in the fourth. When the Lakers shot their first bonus free throws with 6:48 to go in the game, I turned to the guys I was watching with and told them that was it, the Lakers had won. Because even though Boston still led at the time, and even though LA shot their free throws poorly (indeed Pau missed both at 6:48), because both teams had struggled so much to score, it was clear that the Lakers would take advantage of the easy points and make enough free throws to win the game. In fact, the Lakers scored 16 of their 30 fourth quarter points from the line. Even if you agree with the calls, it's no way to finish a game seven.
Conspiracy theorists will say that the NBA wanted the Lakers to win and called the game close down the stretch to make it happen. Citizen flybyknight said on the game thread that he knew the outcome the minute he saw the ref assignments (and he's right that having Joey Crawford work Game Seven did not bode well for Boston). I remain unconvinced that the NBA is sophisticated enough to pull those strings that adeptly... but it won't stop people from talking. 21 Lakers free throws in the fourth quarter compared to 17 Boston free throws in the game? Ouch.
I went into this series hoping that both teams could lose, since they are my least favorite franchises. For a moment there, I thought I might get my wish. A reasonable league might have stepped in and declared that neither deserved to win tonight.