LOS ANGELES // The ageing Boston Celtics ran out of gas just short of the finish line. "I think everyone is not only physically fatigued, but mentally fatigued," said Kevin Garnett, the veteran forward. The Celtics nearly pulled off an improbable championship, leading most of the way against the Los Angeles Lakers in Game 7 of the NBA Finals.
They wasted a superb defensive effort when their offence stalled midway through the fourth quarter. Boston went without a field goal for nearly five minutes, a decisive stretch when LA seized control. "You know, it's the first time all year that you can actually say at the end of the day we were old at the end of the game because we didn't have enough bodies," said Doc Rivers, the Celtics coach. "I thought it hurt us."
Boston started four players over age 30 - Rasheed Wallace (35), Ray Allen (34), Garnett (34) and Paul Pierce (32) - and their age was evident in the final minutes of a long season. It was nearly an 18th title for the league's most decorated team, who had been dismissed as too old to win a championship. "We had so much adversity. That's why putting ourselves in a situation to do this would have been miraculous for us," Allen said. "It would have been wonderful."
Instead, they finally looked their age. Allen's jump shot was flat in a 3-for-14 shooting performance. Pierce made five of 15 shots. Garnett scored 17 points but managed only three rebounds in a game with 98 missed shots. Wallace, forced to play 36 minutes because of the injury to Kendrick Perkins, suffered from cramping and was so winded he once signalled to take a rest. Boston had mounted upsets of higher-seeded teams in the previous two rounds of the play-offs, eliminating LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers and the defending conference champion Orlando Magic in six games each.
But all those games perhaps took their toll on the Celtics.