By Gethin Coolbaugh
LOS ANGELES – As the old saying goes, it’s not how you start, it’s how you finish.
But it wouldn’t have hurt the Celtics to actually show up at the start.
Boston scored a dismal 31 points in the first half on 14-of-41 shooting as Los Angeles rolled to an 89-67 victory in Game 6 of the NBA Finals at Staples Center on Tuesday night.
The Lakers’ win tied the series at 3-3 and forced a Game 7 against the Celtics at Staples Center on Thursday night at 8 p.m. EST (TV/Radio: ABC, TSN/WEEI).
Kobe Bryant led the game in scoring with 26 points on 9-of-19 shooting and also had 11 rebounds. Ron Artest, who struggled to score while the series was in Boston, was red hot right off the bat and finished with 15 points on 6-of-11 shooting from the floor and 3-of-6 shooting from three-point range.
Boston was outscored 28-18 in the first quarter and 23-13 in the second as the Lakers took a 51-31 lead into the break. The Celtics’ 31 points was their second-lowest total in a single half of a playoff game, as they scored 29 against the Detroit Pistons back in 2002.
The Celtics suffered a major setback late in the first quarter when center Kendrick Perkins injured his right knee on an awkward landing. Perkins had an X-ray in the locker room and would not return, and a league source indicated that his status is uncertain for Thursday’s Game 7.
The second half featured more of the same for the Celtics as the Lakers edged them in scoring again, 25-20. Boston managed to outscore Los Angeles 16-13 in the fourth quarter, but it was too little, way too late.
The secondary story of the game was the Celtics’ lackluster performance on the boards. Boston was out-rebounded 30-13 in the first half and 52-39 in the game.
“Our defense was good but our rebounding was better,” said Lakers coach Phil Jackson.
Pau Gasol scored 17 points and had 13 rebounds and nine assists. Derek Fisher scored four points and Andrew Bynum had two points and four rebounds.
Sasha Vujacic led the bench in scoring with nine points and Lamar Odom was right behind him with eight points. Both Shannon Brown and Jordan Farmar scored four points.
Ray Allen led the Celtics with 19 points and Paul Pierce had 13 points and four rebounds. Kevin Garnett totaled 12 points and six rebounds and Rajon Rondo had 10 points, six assists and five rebounds.
The bench struggled as Rasheed Wallace (0 points, 4 fouls), Glen Davis (0 points, 3 fouls) and Tony Allen (2 points, 3 fouls) were limited by foul trouble.
The bench committed 13 fouls and contributed a lowly 13 points. In total, the Celtics had 21 fouls while the Lakers had 17.
For the game, Boston made 28-of-84 shots to shoot 33.3% from the field and made 5-of-23 three pointers (21.7%) and hit 6-of-10 free throws (60%).
Los Angeles hit 33-of-79 shots to shoot 41.8% while connecting on 6-of-19 three pointers (31.6%) and making 17-of-19 free throws (89.5%).
The Celtics had 17 assists, 14 turnovers, eight steals and four blocks while the Lakers totaled 17 assists, 13 turnovers, 12 steals and eight blocks.
While the series has gone back and forth in the first six games, we know one thing: a champion will be crowned on Thursday night.
And after wasting a golden opportunity in Game 6, the Celtics have their work cut out for them.
Gethin Coolbaugh is the Associate Editor of Boston Sports U18. He can be reached at 774-279-1995 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also visit Gethin Coolbaugh’s official website and follow Gethin Coolbaugh on Twitter.