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What to Watch For: Game 6

06.15.10 at 11:17 am ET
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LOS ANGELES — The Celtics are one game away from an unlikely championship but they understand that what they are going to try to do tonight in Game 6 of the NBA finals will be difficult. Elimination games always are, and even in this fantastic playoff run, the Celtics are only 3-2 when trying to close out the other team and 0-2 on the road.

“This will probably be the hardest game of the season, if not of the series, if not of everybody’s career,” said Kevin Garnett. “This game coming up.”

The Celtics don’t want a Game 7. They want to end it tonight. Here’s five things to watch as they try to do just that.

WHO HAS THE HOT HAND?

If you were going to pick an MVP from the Celtics side during the finals who would it be? Rajon Rondo, Ray Allen, Paul Pierce and Garnett have all had big games, and they have all had poor ones too. This plays to the Celtics benefit, as well, because it makes them very difficult to prepare for.

“At the start of the third quarter, Ray had a shot and passed it back to Paul for a shot,” Doc Rivers said after Game 5. “That’s letting the ball find the open guy. That’s who we are when we’re good, and when we’re not, we’re not very good. It’s the way we should play.”

The scary thing for the Lakers is that the Celtics still haven’t put together a complete 48 minutes of offensive basketball yet. They almost did it in Game 5, but turnovers kept them below 100 points. Unless the reserve unit is planning on winning another game in the fourth quarter (unlikely), the Celtics need two of their big four to have it going to win.

Pierce has seemingly found his rhythm, while Garnett has rediscovered his post game. The key may be Allen, however, because he seems to be one made jump shot away from getting hot again. They need two, they’ll take three, and then they can sort out the MVP vote later.

WILL KOBE TRY TO WIN IT HIMSELF?

The way it works out here is that Kobe Bryant does what he likes and everyone else is just part of the machinery. So when he goes in to takeover mode and it doesn’t work, the blames falls on Pau Gasol and Lamar Odom.

This was Bryant after Game 5 on Gasol: “He’s been consistent for us for a while now, so he can afford to have a bad game every once in a while.”

He’s also been the best center in the world for a while now, so maybe it wouldn’t be a bad idea to try to get him the ball every once in a while.

Either way, Gasol and Odom, particularly Odom, have to play better for the Lakers. Odom has been outhustled and outworked by Glen Davis off the bench and that negates what should be an advantage for Los Angeles.

If Kobe does try to do it himself, it will be interesting to see if the other Lakers come along for the ride, or tune him out? We have been told again and again that this is a more cohesive team and that Bryant is a better teammate than in years past. Now they have to prove it.

WHAT CAN ANDREW BYNUM GIVE THE LAKERS?

Part of Odom’s problem is that he has also been matched up with Garnett as the Lakers have had to go to a conventional lineup without Andrew Bynum on the floor.

Bynum’s knee is clearly an issue, and at this point in his career you begin to wonder if he’s ever going to be able to stay healthy. His presence in the middle of the paint is a huge deterrent for the Celtics, especially Rondo, but only if he is able to move and jump.

Bynum started off hot in the first quarter of Game 5, but couldn’t sustain it. If he can’t give them more than 20 minutes, it will have a huge impact.

WHOSE BENCH COMES TO PLAY?

Nate Robinson, Tony Allen, Glen Davis and Rasheed Wallace are one good performance away from achieving cult-hero status in Boston. They have completely outplayed their Laker counterparts, and even their own starters at points in the series.

“I thought the first half, though, they had one little stretch there that was terrific,” Rivers said after Game 5. “In the second half not as good, but that’s okay, you can’t expect them to be great every night.”

Maybe not, but Rivers needs them to be good in this game. Each of them has carved out their own niche and each of them has performed well in that role. The Lakers meanwhile have not been able to rely on much of anything from their second unit.

WILL THE REFS MATTER?

Monty McCutchen, Joe DeRosa and Ken Mauer are your officials for tonight. McCutchen and Mauer worked Game 2, which the Celtics won, while DeRosa was part of the crew that worked Game 1.

In both of those games the officials came under scrutiny for the amount of fouls and free throws. Neither game had a very good flow and star players were in foul trouble in both games. Allen in Game 1 and Garnett and Bryant in Game 2.

That said, the officials have become less of the story as the finals have gone along mainly because they have stopped calling ticky-tack fouls on the perimeter and they have let the big men bang inside. That plays into the Celtics benefit, but it doesn’t hurt the Lakers all that much either.

Both teams are defensive-minded teams and that’s what we can expect in an elimination game tonight, provided they are allowed to play that kind of defense.

Beyond the officials, the numbers to watch are rebounding and turnovers. The Celtics got away with that in Game 5 because they shot the ball so well, but they can’t expect that to continue in LA.

If they can take care of the boards, hold on to the ball and get either Rondo or Allen going with either Pierce or Garnett they can close this out tonight.

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