Never mind being one win away from a second NBA championship in three years. Never mind the improbability of how these Boston Celtics got here, from a No. 4 seed that had been so mediocre late in the regular season to a valiant playoff run that is so reminiscent of the 1968-69 squad that downed the Lakers in seven games.
Rondo, whose stern gaze is plastered on advertisements all over this city, held the hard look as he walked out on the TD Garden floor late Sunday night. And he had every right to.
Midway through the second quarter of Boston's Game 5 win over the Lakers that gave them a 3-2 lead in the Finals, the 171-pound Rondo put his point guard palms into the chest of the 260-pound Ron Artest. There was no rage-filled reaction, just a play in which Artest had shoved Kevin Garnett excessively and it was Rondo to the rescue as his big man hit the floor.
"We're not trying to be bullies on the court or anything, but we're not intimidated by anybody," Rondo would later explain.
That much is clear now, even if the Lakers went out last summer and signed the player considered by most to be the most physically imposing in the entire league. Artest -- believe it or not -- flopped on the play, flailing backward toward the baseline and acting enough that Rondo was given a technical foul.
The Celtics have more than the edge in this series. They have the edge in this series.
They have the memories of two years ago, when edginess was a major topic of discussion and the Celtics' six-game win over the Lakers in the Finals proved that one locker room had far more grit than the other. Which is why the Artest play was so remarkable, not because the Lakers small forward should have shoved Rondo back but because it represented the greater reality that this approach simply isn't working right now for coach Phil Jackson's team.
He is the preacher of calm, insisting in the days leading up to Game 5 that his team must keep its level head while taking jabs at the way the Celtics' "got away with" taking such an emotionally-charged route to winning Game 4. But desperate times call for desperate measures, and being measured simply won't do it right about now.
Yet with the Lakers facing their end in Game 6 Tuesday in Los Angeles, that was precisely the mood in their locker room afterward. No panic. No concern. No emotion. At this rate, that will lead to one conclusion: no ring.
While Kevin Garnett was staring down inanimate objects (the base of the basket in his pregame ritual) and Glen Davis was trying not to drool out of excitement like he did in Game 4, the Lakers remained robotic even in defeat.
Artest, whose 2-of-9 shooting night dropped his Finals shooting percentage to 30.2, was stoic.
"I feel how I always feel," he told FanHouse as he walked out of the locker room. "I'm not really [panicked]. You just go out there and just go play, you know. That's all you've got to do."
Asked if he would lose any sleep over the loss, Artest shook his head.
"No, not at all," he answered.
Lamar Odom was the spokesman for the cause, discussing the loss with reporters as if it was a preseason game in October.
"We have to do what we have to do on our home court, and we'll be all right," Odom said nonchalantly before he was asked if he was angry. "When you lose a game in November, you're pissed off. I play Checkers and I lose, I'm pissed off. I play PlayStation or Xbox and lose, I want to play you again. You're always upset, but you can't hold onto it for that long because we have a game that we have to win. In order to move on, you have to put things behind you."
Asked how the Lakers' defense could allow the Celtics to shoot 56.3 percent, Odom called on the wrong kind of local analogy.
"We just didn't communicate well enough," Odom said. "It happens. This is sports. Ask [former Red Sox player Bill] Buckner."
Forget the brink of elimination. This is what drives Kobe Bryant to the brink of insanity, competitors who don't live and die with every meaningful game that should leave their insides a mangled mess. His unending drive led him to a 38-point performance against the Celtics, but Boston's Big Four of Rondo, Ray Allen, Pierce and Garnett had 75 of their 92 points in what was the classic case of team vs. individual.
For Bryant and his teammates, it's their in-house version of the recent LeBron James debate. In light of "King James" falling short of a title yet again and seeming more focused on free agency than a title, pundits and fans coast to coast turned on the Cleveland star for his lack of killer instinct. In this case, it's the Laissez Faire Lakers who aren't seizing the moment.
There is sense in Jackson's steady strategy, though, and heaven forbid we question the coach who has an all-time high 10 titles to his name and just two Finals losses. But it just might take getting mad to get even, and getting even in Game 6 would take Jackson to a territory that even he has never been.
His teams have never faced a Game 7 in the Finals, while the Celtics are 11-0 all-time when leading 3-2 in Finals play. At this juncture, it's a more relevant statistical gauge than the 47-0 record Jackson's teams have after winning Game 1 of a seven-game series.
You can throw the numbers out now, though. And unless the Lakers find their fire, you can throw them out, too.
"We want this championship as bad as anybody and more than anybody," insisted Lakers forward Pau Gasol, despite his quiet 12-point, 12-rebound outing that said otherwise on a night in which he let Garnett finish with 18 points, 10 rebounds and five steals. "It is a heck of a challenge, but I think this team has the character, has the quality of being able to turn this around and prove it. ... The will is there. The will and desire is absolutely huge, and we want it more than anybody."
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