(Sports Network) - After nearly eight months of basketball, the NBA season will boil down to a winner-take-all Game 7 between the two most successful franchises in league history as the Los Angeles Lakers host the Boston Celtics tonight.
Facing elimination on Tuesday, Pau Gasol narrowly missed a triple-double with 17 points, 13 rebounds and nine assists, as the Lakers forced the deciding contest in the 2010 NBA Finals with an 89-67 blowout of the Celtics.
History is certainly on Boston's side as far as the rivalry goes. The Celtics are 4-0 in Game 7s against the Lakers with the last taking place in 1984 when Larry Bird's C's bested Magic Johnson's Lakers. However, a visiting team hasn't won a Game 7 in the NBA Finals in over 30 years since Washington won at Seattle in 1978.
Meanwhile, this is just the second time since 1994 and the third time in 22 years that the NBA Finals are going to a seventh game. The most recent Game 7 in the finals was 2005 when San Antonio beat Detroit.
Kobe Bryant poured in 26 points and pulled down 11 rebounds in Game 6 for the Lakers, who bounced back from a 92-86 loss in Game 5 at TD Garden in Boston. Ron Artest had 15 points, while Lamar Odom chipped in eight points and 10 boards as the Lakers dominated the bench play with a 25-13 scoring advantage on Tuesday.
"The opportunity is not something that makes me happy, it's winning and taking advantage of the opportunity that makes me happy," Bryant said. "That buzzer goes off and we're not victorious, am I thankful for the opportunity? Nope."
Win tonight at Staples Center, and the Lakers will earn their 16th NBA title and become the first repeat champions since they captured three straight titles (2000-02).
"I've said the whole season, you don't win a championship, it's a failure," Bryant said at practice on Wednesday. "It's as simple as that."
Standing in the way, however, is the franchise with the most titles as Boston guns for its 18th championship and second in three years after polishing off the Lakers in six games in 2008.
"I just love the pressure," Boston forward and LA native Paul Pierce said. "I love the fact that I get to play against the Los Angeles Lakers in a Game 7 on the road. I love the fact that if I don't win multiple championships that I probably won't be mentioned amongst the other guys in Celtic history that have done it before. That type of stuff motivates me. That?s what the challenge is for me."
Ray Allen led the Celtics with 19 points in Game 6, but Boston ended 33.3 percent from the floor and went 5-of-23 from three-point range. Pierce netted 13 points and Kevin Garnett 12, while Rajon Rondo scored 10.
The Celtics were also dealt a severe blow in the first quarter when they lost starting center Kendrick Perkins to a right knee sprain.
Perkins, who is averaging 5.7 points and 6.2 rebounds in the postseason, has already been ruled out of tonight's contest after Celtics coach Doc Rivers revealed on Wednesday that tests showed his big man suffered a multiple ligament sprain. Rivers added that Perkins will have an MRI once the team gets back to Boston, following the deciding contest of the series.
"Once they did the tests that they did do and they realized he couldn't play tomorrow, there was no reason to send him to an MRI, too," Rivers said. "That'll come and then we'll make a determination what we have to do."
Rivers would not say would start in place of Perkins. The viable options are veteran Rasheed Wallace and Glen "Big Baby" Davis.
"It just takes a seven-footer, a very valuable player, off the floor for us," Rivers said. "It's like I told our guys this morning, somebody has a great opportunity tomorrow, and that's the way we have to look at it."
The Lakers are 10-1 during the postseason on their home floor but the lone loss came to these very same Celtics in Game 2 of the finals back on June 6.
"The Lakers have played the best between us to get home court advantage, but we've played the best all year on the road," Rivers said. "So our team will be ready, and it's going to be a hell of a challenge for us because they're going to be great, and we're going to have to beat them at their best."
If the Celtics win the series it would also halt an incredible streak by Lakers coach Phil Jackson. When Jackson's teams have won Game 1 of any playoff series, which they did in this set, they are a perfect 47-0. When holding a series lead of any kind, Jackson's teams are 54-1 all-time.
"If you look at it, they've come home and carried the 3-2 lead back," Jackson said. "It's basically home court, home court. Now we're going back to home court to win it. That's the way it's supposed to be, isn't it?"
The 2010 Finals marks the Lakers' 31st trip to the championship series and Boston's 21st appearance with 12 of those overlapping.
Their storied finals history dates all the way back to the 1958-59 season when the Lakers still called Minneapolis home. Boston and the game's ultimate winner, Bill Russell, dominated the early years of the rivalry. The Red Auerbach-era Celtics took the Lakers all seven times they met in the finals, although the Jerry West, Elgin Baylor-fueled LA clubs did manage to take Boston to seven games on three different occasions.
The rivalry lay dormant for 15 years until Bird and Johnson "saved" the NBA by bringing their own storied college rivalry to the pros. Bird avenged his loss at Indiana State to Magic's Michigan State Spartans in the 1979 NCAA Finals when the Celtics got past the Lakers in seven games to win the 1984 NBA title.
Johnson and his Lakers responded the next season as LA finally beat Boston in the finals for the first time. Magic also won the rubber match two years later before the rivalry went cold again, this time for 20 years as the Celtics struggled mightily in the post-Bird era.
Boston basketball chief Danny Ainge re-ignited things by acquiring both Garnett and Allen before the 2007-08 season. The two All-Stars teamed with Pierce to create the "Boston Three Party" and the Celtics were relevant again. A 17th Boston championship was the result as Garnett and his Celtics got the best of Bryant's Lakers.
A rematch could have been in the offing last season but a knee injury to Garnett derailed any hopes of a Celtics repeat. Instead, LA earned its 15th championship by taking Orlando in five games.
The Lakers and Celtics have combined to win 32 of the NBA's 63 titles coming into this series.