LOS ANGELES -- Game 5 of the NBA Finals is Sunday night, and anything is possible. Literally. Neither coach has the faintest idea which players are going to come out of his own locker room.
Boston's Doc Rivers has an injury epidemic on his hands. Two starters -- point guard Rajon Rondo and center Kendrick Perkins -- are banged up and leading scorer Paul Pierce is playing on a sore knee and ankle, either of which could go at any minute.
|The sight of Kendrick Perkins doubled over in pain is unsettling to the Celtics. (Getty Images)|
And then there's Kobe Bryant.
Bryant is the biggest mystery in basketball. Maybe that's because, for such a mentally strong player, his head is susceptible to outside attacks. Is he schizophrenic? It's possible. And Jackson is left to play psychiatrist not only with his star player, but with almost every one of his teammates. Notice how I didn't even mention Game 3 hero Sasha Vujacic, who followed that 20-point effort with three lousy points in Game 4.
The Lakers are equal parts basketball and basket case. But at least their bodies are in working order.
Boston has no idea who, or how, it will play in Game 5. Rivers said Saturday that Perkins will start, but how long his shoulder will hold up is anyone's guess. Without him the Celtics would use the one-big, four-small lineup featuring Kevin Garnett at center that in Game 4 produced the biggest NBA Finals comeback since at least 1971. That plan worked -- and Rivers would have no choice but to use it again without another starter-quality center on the roster. P.J. Brown as a role player is fine. P.J. Brown as a starter is a problem. And Game 2 star Leon Powe is typically good for spot minutes, but isn't dependable enough to be part of a 48-minute game plan.
The situation at point guard is more stable, if equally game-changing. Rivers said Rondo will start, but if his lingering ankle issue crops up again, Rivers is comfortable with Eddie House and Sam Cassell splitting 48 minutes. Still, the Celtics would be dramatically affected at both ends. Rondo is a disruptive perimeter defender, while House and Cassell are, to put it nicely, not. The Boston offense feeds off penetration and passing when the explosive Rondo is on the floor, but slows down when he's not.
And then there's Pierce, who probably would be sitting out a game or two if this were the regular season, but cannot afford that luxury in June.
"Well, we're not in great physical shape, there's no doubt about that," Rivers said. "But that's what it is, and there's nothing you can do about that. I think our guys are mostly gamers ... but it's amazing going through this."
Boston's enemy is the body. The Lakers are plagued by their brains, which is why Jackson gave his team off Friday, saying, "we need rest and recuperation in this situation, probably more psychologically than we do physically."
No one needs it more than Kobe Bryant, who joked after Game 4 -- though he could have been serious -- that it would take "a lot of wine, a lot of beer, a couple shots, maybe 20 of them," to get over Game 4.
Far as I know, Bryant doesn't have a drinking problem. He has a thinking problem.