LOS ANGELES -- This is how the revolution starts. It doesn't start with anything dramatically out of the ordinary. Revolutions never do. They start small, with a single act, perhaps an act as insignificant as the home team winning a game in the NBA playoffs, which has happened roughly 90 percent of the time this year and happened again Sunday night in Game 5 when the Lakers beat Boston to stave off elimination in the NBA Finals.
Boston still holds a 3-2 series lead and will have two chances to close out Los Angeles at home. In the 23 years since the NBA went to the 2-3-2 format for the NBA Finals -- two games in one city, three in the other city, then two in the original city -- no team has ever won the title by winning Game 6 and Game 7 on the road.
|Rajon Rondo and Kevin Garnett failed to step up in Game 5. (Getty Images)|
Boston is one beat-up basketball team. Granted, at this time of year -- after playing several preseason games and 82 regular-season games and more than 20 intense playoff games, including five mini-wars in the NBA Finals -- neither team is going to feel good. The Lakers' top center, Andrew Bynum, hasn't played in months because of a knee injury, and starting guards Kobe Bryant (torn ligament in his pinkie) and Derek Fisher (torn tendon in his foot) are playing on injuries that often require surgery.
The Lakers are hurting. But the Celtics are crushed. Their locker room looks like a doctor's office. Half the team is gone, getting treatment in the trainer's room. The other half sits in front of their lockers with ice wrapped around knees and elbows. Most locker rooms smell like sweat. Not this one. Boston's locker room smells like liniment.
So this is how the revolution could start. With Los Angeles winning a game, and with Boston flailing not just against the Lakers, but also against time itself. Celtics coach Doc Rivers acknowledged the latter struggle before Game 5, saying the clock is ticking against his crumbling team.
"We have a sense of urgency. We need to play with one," he said. "We have to play that way every night, and we absolutely have to play that way now from this point forward with the injuries. They're clearly mounting for us."
Center Kendrick Perkins didn't play in Game 5, and Rivers said he's "doubtful" to play in Game 6. (Perkins, for the record, told me he would definitely be ready for Game 6. So for the second game in a row, the Celtics are hiding their starting center behind a smoke screen.)
Point guard Rajon Rondo has played rarely, and played poorly, since turning his ankle in Game 3. He started Games 4 and 5 but averaged just four points and 2.5 assists in 16 minutes.
Rivers said Rondo is fine physically, but you have to wonder. The timeline is damning: In Games 1 and 2 he averaged 9.5 points, 11.5 assists and 5.5 rebounds. He was hurt in Game 3. He has been ineffective since.
Paul Pierce is not replaceable. He is Boston's leading scorer in the NBA Finals at 22.8 ppg as well as one of their two most effective defenders on Bryant. And he is hurting. Rivers went for it in Game 5, playing Pierce for all but two seconds, and Pierce responded with a monster game: 38 points, eight assists, six rebounds. But at what cost? How much would playing basically 48 minutes take out of any 30-year-old veteran at this time of the year? And how much more will they take out of a 30-year-old playing on a bum knee and twisted ankle?
Pierce knows he isn't operating at full strength. He knows he won't until next season.