By Gethin Coolbaugh
It’s the wonder of sports that allows one game to define an entire season.
That’s the position that the Celtics find themselves in entering tonight’s Game 7 of the NBA Finals at Staples Center (9 p.m. EST, TV/Radio: ABC, TSN/WEEI).
A whole body of work, regular season and postseason alike, will mean absolutely nothing if the Celtics cannot emerge as the victors tonight.
Or it could mean everything.
The Celtics’ 50-32 regular season record? Meaningless. Boston’s 15-8 record in the playoffs? Zero importance.
It all comes down to the 48 minutes of basketball played tonight in Los Angeles. The winner of this one game will be remembered by all for an eternity.
The NBA truly is where amazing happens.
And you know that the Celtics’ Big Three will do absolutely everything in their power to make sure that they’ll be the ones hoisting the Larry O’Brien trophy at around 11:30 this evening.
Unfortunately, so will Kobe Bryant.
For the Celtics to win the all-important Game 7, they’ll have to buckle down and focus on several factors, the first of which being the absence of Kendrick Perkins after his season-ending right knee injury.
Perkins hasn’t been an offensive threat in this series, averaging 5.8 points in six games against the Lakers. Yet it’s Perkins defense that will be sorely missed in the Celtics’ last game of the season.
Averaging 5.8 rebounds, Perkins was unquestionably Boston’s anchor in the paint, providing strong defense. Aside from Lakers center Andrew Bynum, Perkins was the strongest player on the floor, and his presence was key in stopping the likes of Bynum and the rejuvenated Pau Gasol.
Stepping up in his place is sixth-man Rasheed Wallace. Two months ago, Celtics fans would have groaned and buried their heads in the sand upon this announcement, but Wallace has reinvented his image in the 2010 playoffs as a player that actually shows up in big games.
In 23 postseason games, Wallace is averaging 5.9 points, 2.7 rebounds and 41.2% shooting. The numbers alone aren’t all that impressive, but it’s the way that Wallace obtained them.
Wallace has been a very serviceable reserve in the playoffs, stepping up in the critical minutes while the Celtics rested their starters. Wallace has scored in double-digits five times and has scored over six points nine times.
In the Finals, Wallace has seen a dip in production, averaging 4.3 points and four rebounds in six games. But on the offensive end, scoring production from Wallace is a plus, as Perkins was not a major contributor.
Losing Perkins is a major setback for Boston, but Wallace has proven that he is capable of stepping up in the big moments. He will have to do so tonight or else the Lakers may be celebrating a championship on their home court.
Another important key for the Celtics success tonight will be the shooting performance of young guard Rajon Rondo.
Rondo does not possess a strong jump shot and is much better at driving to the hoop, but his mid-range success on the parquet tonight is a must.
By hitting a few deep jumpers, Rondo will force his defenders to play him tight instead of waiting for him to attack the paint. In turn, that will allow both Kevin Garnett and Wallace to open up in the post and will allow Paul Pierce and Ray Allen to position themselves on the perimeter.
Who would have thought that Rondo’s jumper would play a crucial role at this stage?
Finally, the Celtics will need to get a big game out of at least two of the Big Three, most likely Pierce and Garnett.
Pierce is the offensive motor of this team. When he’s firing on all cylinders, the Celtics are able to build up a big lead.
As for Garnett, having him play a major factor in the post is key to open up the floor for Pierce and Allen. If KG is having his way in the paint, the Lakers will be forced to double team him, leaving an open shooter.
Ray Allen has proven to be a prolific scorer throughout his Hall of Fame career, but any points from him tonight will be an added bonus.
Allen has struggled ever since his Finals record eight three pointers in Game 2. It would be nice for Allen to hit his stride and nail several jumpers, but his resume alone will force defenders to play him tight.
With Allen, any shot can be the start of a momentum-shifting run.
If Boston is able to successfully integrate all of these strategies into its game plan, the game’s outcome will most likely be in its favor.
If not, Kobe Bryant and Derek Fisher will have the Lakers tied with the Celtics for the most championships in league history at 17 (Yes, I am counting Los Angeles’ NBL title in 1948). That alone is a horrific thought.
Fortunately, the Celtics aren’t going to let that happen.
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.