Game 7s — and the opportunity for players to define their legacy — don’t come around all that often in the NBA. When the Celtics and Lakers tip off tonight in Los Angeles, it will mark just the third time in the past 22 years that the NBA?Finals have reached a deciding, do-or-die seventh game.
Game 7s — and the opportunity for players to define their legacy — don’t come around all that often in the NBA.
When the Celtics and Lakers tip off tonight in Los Angeles, it will mark just the third time in the past 22 years that the NBA?Finals have reached a deciding, do-or-die seventh game.
Tonight’s showdown is the fifth time Boston and L.A. have pushed each other to the brink in their decades-long battle for NBA?supremacy, a rivalry that echoes across more than a half-century of hoops. The Celtics have won nine of the previous 11 Finals matchups, including all four that were decided in seven games.
While the Celtics would certainly love to add to those numbers, more is at stake tonight than simply another Larry O’Brien Trophy heading to L.A.?or Boston (the two franchises have combined for 32 championships — which averages out to a banner being hoisted in either city every other year. And you thought the Yankees had it good).
Legacies, and legends, for that matter, can be created or tarnished in the bright spotlight of the Finals. Michael Jordan, for example, only cemented his status as the greatest player the league has ever seen with each successive trip to the NBA’s biggest stage.
Consider one of the superstars Jordan denied a title, Karl Malone, for what can happen to a player on the other end of the spectrum. Malone is the league’s second all-time leading scorer and unquestionably one of its top power forwards ever, but his playoff shortcomings stand in stark contrast to other players at the position, like Tim Duncan and his four rings.
Indeed, the only pre-game Finals montage you’re likely to see Malone pop up on is a Jordan highlight reel. Jordan stripped Malone along the baseline late in Game 6 of the 1998 Finals, setting up his famous game-winning jumper over Byron Russell that capped off the Bulls dynasty with a sixth championship.
That play, more than any statistic, defined the dichotomy between Jordan’s legacy and Malone’s.
So who has the most to gain — or lose — in tonight’s contest?
The easy answer, of course, is the man who has modeled much of his game after Jordan’s — Kobe Bryant.
Coming up short in Game 7 — against the Celtics and at home, no less — would leave a major hole in Bryant’s resume. Maybe not a Malone-sized hole, but a hole nevertheless.
The Boston “Big Three,” meanwhile, are looking to stake their claim in the long book of Celtics lore. A second championship would go a long way towards catapulting the Paul Pierce-Kevin Garnett-Ray Allen trio into the rarefied air reserved for the franchise’s legends. The fact that it could come at Bryant and the Lakers expense only ups the ante even further.
One thing is for certain: Both teams will be all-in tonight.
Chris Potter writes for The Evening Tribune in Hornell, N.Y.