Wait for Lakers-Celtics in OT

PHOENIX — And now for that eagerly awaited Lakers-Celtics series?

I know I started talking about it a week ago, but who didn't?

But a funny thing happened on the way to that matchup. The semifinal opponents didn't play along.

With the Magic slicing their 3-0 lead to 3-2, the Celtics were one home loss and one in Orlando from the NBA gag job of the new century.

Not that their fans ever stopped believing but there was concern as the Bruins had just blown a 3-0 lead over the Flyers for the NHL gag job of the century, starting with a Game 4 overtime loss to the Flyers … like the Celtics' Game 4 overtime loss to the Magic.

OK, it was all-panic-all-the-time on the airwaves, but that's what airwaves are for, to issue alerts in case the sky actually falls.

Happily for New England, the league, the networks, et al., the Celtics polished off the Magic in Game 6, so it's back on!

Well, it will be on if the Lakers win one of the next two against the Suns to avoid the NBA gag job of the new century.

Of course, without a little miracle in Game 5, the Lakers, who led the Suns 2-0, might have come back here trailing 3-2.

After the gag jobs, dumb shots and airballs dropping in their arms for the winning put-back that won Game 5, Saturday's Lakers game plan was simple:

•Can we run the occasional play before jacking up a 3?

•I know we have Game 7 at home, but think about defending.

•Just stay close. The way we're going, if Steve Nash has a chance to win it at the end, the ground will open up under him and swallow him.

A week ago, the Celtics and Lakers looked like each could sweep its conference finals.

Then Amare Stoudemire put up 42 in Game 3, the Suns' bench put on a fireworks show in Games 4 and 5, which was why the Lakers, who led Game 5 by 18, had to get lucky to win.

Meanwhile, in the East …

It was the one-sided series I expected, just with the other side on top.

The Celtics decapitated the Magic's stellar inside-outside offense that barely could run a play for three games. It helped that Vince Carter's head was loosely attached in the first place.

Underrated Kendrick Perkins not only single-covered Dwight Howard, he took him out of the series until point guard Jameer Nelson figured out how to get the ball to his center — over the top.

Voila! Howard got back in it, for two games, anyway.

Now the Magic can figure out what to do with Carter, who scored 23-16-15-3-8-17, and Rashard Lewis, who scored 6-5-4-13-14-17, making $17.3 million and $20.5 million, respectively.

Not that you may have heard all that much about it with the league running around fining anyone who said the words "LeBron James," and ESPN's scoops regarding Phil Jackson's future and pay scale with the Lakers, Bulls or Nets.

The new "back-channel contacts" described in the stories are actually ongoing 24/7 and as newsworthy as that Clippers' demonstration urging James to come to them.

Dealing with a similar story professionally, the Cleveland Plain Dealer's Brian Windhorst just reported Jackson is on the Cavaliers' wish list too.

Because some Cavaliers official will call Jackson's agent to gauge Phil's interest — none, or as much as he had when they asked in 2005 — this also amounts to a back-channel contact, just without the blaring headlines prompting editors to call their reporters.

Most of the ESPN.com guys are former newspaper people and friends of mine, but their "news organization" wants new stuff to trumpet moment by moment, regardless of how contrived or divorced from reality.

Then there was ESPN's all-timer celebrity interview at Game 3 in Boston where sideline reporter Doris Burke, presumably under duress, interviewed actor Jake Gyllenaal.

Not that there weren't 2 million Celtics fans more deserving of his courtside seat, but Gyllenaal said he likes the Celtics and Lakers, noting, "I'm just waiting for a Boston-L.A series to make my decision."

Burke had to ask about "deviating from your traditional roles" — whatever those were — in his new pic, "Prince of Persia."

"Oh man, it's like a whole bunch of fun," Gyllenaal gushed, getting to the reason for the interview, "and a huge, big, epic, action, comedic, romantic movie."

According to the New York Times' Manohla Dargis, it's actually "at once generically insulting and relatively innocuous."

I'm not positive what that means, but it doesn't sound like that much fun.

Of course, if you look at it that way, the conference finals turned out to be huge, big, epic, comedic and romantic, too.

And they're just the warm-up.


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