It’s come down to a coin flip for the NBA Finals. When the Los Angeles Lakers and Boston Celtics tip off Game Seven on Thursday night, it’ll be just the third time since 1994 that the NBA Finals has required a deciding game. And for the NBA and its fans, they wouldn’t have it any other way.

After a second consecutive failed attempt at a LeBron James vs. Kobe Bryant Finals matchup, the league was delighted to settle for an old school brawl between Boston and Los Angeles. The Lakers and Celtics remain as the two best teams in the NBA, headed for a one-game elimination to settle the score for the championship title.

Perfect!

Despite both clubs dealing with key injuries to their starting center positions, plenty of star power remains for Thursday’s game in what could turn into a record breaker for viewership ratings.

“You know it’s Lakers-Celtics, the biggest rivalry in NBA basketball, seven games. It is what it is,” Boston point guard Rajon Rondo told Boston.com when asked about Thursday’s title clincher.

Multiple sources have already confirmed that Celtics center Kendrick Perkins will miss Game Seven after spraining his knee on Tuesday. With Perkins out for the Celtics, the Lakers will probably have to endure another injury-riddled effort from Andrew Bynum, who has gutted it out so far through the Finals with a knee injury but left the second half of Game 6 after complaining of stiffness in his leg. With a championship on the line, Bynum is fully expected to give it one more go.

Boston will also be expected to give it one more go after a poor performance in Tuesday’s 89-67 loss. The Celtics were outrebounded, 52-39, and scored just the second-lowest point total in NBA Finals history. But Game 6 for the Celtics is exactly that at this point, history. With their eyes focused on Game Seven, Boston will be expected to lay it all out on the line for the last time this season.

“To me, the game (Game Six) is over,” Rondo told reporters. “We have one game (left). They have one game. All or nothing. (Game Six is in the past.”

If the Lakers and Celtics’ past is any indication, Los Angeles could be in trouble. The Lakers and Celtics have played in four deciding games in their 11 previous Finals matchups, with Boston winning all four. Although the two clubs haven’t played in a deciding final game since 1984, Boston still owns the edge in the series 9-2.

While the Celtics have the history, the Lakers have Bryant. The four-time champion will try to extend his ring count to five with a win and further add to an already stellar legacy. But maybe more important than adding to his hardware collection will be inducing confidence to a Lakers team that has appeared rattled at times during the series.

“We’re used to being in must-win situations,” Bryant told reporters. “The way we look at it, (Game Seven) is just a game we’ve got to win. I know what’s at stake but I’m not tripping.”

Bryant doesn’t have to “trip,” the NBA’s fan base will be head over heels for the league’s ultimate elimination game between a pair of its ultimate franchises.

“This is what it’s all about,” Glen “Big Baby” Davis told reporters. “This is what you guys are going to talk about for years. You guys are going to remember this moment. You are going to remember Thursday forever. I can’t wait. I can’t wait to step up on the floor and win here in L.A.”

 

Stephen D. Riley

Special to the AFRO