With the Celtics coming to town Sunday afternoon, I fired up Game 7 of last year's NBA Finals on my DVR Wednesday afternoon. I'd never re-watched it in full, and taking it in, six months later in the calm of my living room, makes for a wildly different experience. The context of the day is gone, replaced by a new season and new goals. Without it, Game 7 is sometimes difficult to watch. Inelegantly played, filled with mistakes, painfully ineffective offense, and spotty performances from most of the game's stars. Boston barely cracked the 40 percent mark from the floor, the Lakers didn't get to 33. Plus, they clanged 12 free throws.
Kobe Bryant missed 18 of his 24 shots overall, and Pau Gasol bricked nine of his first 12. Not until Kevin Garnett hit a driving layup at the 6:30 mark did either team crack 50 points. It would take the Lakers another four minutes to get there.
Had it been some random game in November, channels across the nation would have changed by halftime.
It wasn't, of course, and there's no other way to view it than with appropriate context attached. The emotion comes back fast, and with it Game 7 remains the most fascinating event I've ever had a chance to view in my professional life. One game between storied rivals so rich in basketball history they occupy their own lofty tax bracket to determine the NBA champions, played before fans so often mocked for their indifference, but that night filling Staples Center with an incredible electricity. The faithful became part of the game's narrative, supporting Kobe with chants and cheers in what, for three quarters at least, was a nightmarish game.
While the aesthetics of the game don't improve with time, the unadulterated sense of want from everyone on the floor is no less diminished. Nobody, whether in green or gold, did anything less than totally sell out in pursuit of the win. For the Lakers, it was most clearly seen in the way they dominated the glass from the get go, the incredible swaths of territory covered by Lamar Odom in his fourth quarter rotations, the physicality of Ron Artest, and the almost painful amount of will summoned by a totally exhausted Bryant down the stretch just to execute a free throw.
It's interesting to look back now and see what's different, from the big (Sasha Vujacic and Jordan Farmar aren't on the team anymore) to the small (Derek Fisher's facial hair). The night seems distant in some ways, very fresh in others. What happened after, from Kobe's fairly stunning admission of vulnerability in arguably the most significant game of his career to the unfiltered happiness of Artest in his postgame press conference (still the most spectacular moment in press conference history) was just as incredible.
Before completely turning the page on last year's epic Finals battle with the Celtics, Andy and I looked back on Game 7 and the series with Chris Forsberg of ESPNBoston.com. Needless to say, Boston fans have their own perspective on the game, which put together with the experience of Lakers fans paints a full picture of a landmark day in NBA history.