LOS ANGELES — Those old guys ran out of gas just short of the finish line.
The Boston Celtics nearly pulled off an improbable championship, leading most of the way against the Los Angeles Lakers in Game 7 of the NBA finals on Thursday night before losing 83-79.
They wasted a superb defensive effort when their offense stalled midway through the fourth quarter. Boston went without a field goal for nearly five minutes, a decisive stretch when Los Angeles grabbed 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,” Celtics coach Doc Rivers said. “I thought it hurt us.”
It was nearly an 18th title for the league’s most decorated team, and perhaps its most unlikely. The Celtics were the No. 4 seed in the Eastern Conference after playing .500 ball over the second half of the season and were dismissed as too old to compete for a championship.
They finally looked their age Thursday night. Ray Allen’s jumper, one of the prettiest and most reliable in the NBA, was flat all night in a 3-for-14 performance.
Paul Pierce was 5 of 15. Kevin Garnett, the other member of the aging Big Three, scored 17 points but managed only three rebounds and couldn’t keep Pau Gasol off the backboards.
Pierce and Garnett both bent over with hands on shorts in the fourth quarter, usually a sign of fatigue. A more recognizable sign: Rasheed Wallace, another old guy who was forced to start and play 36 minutes because of Kendrick Perkins’ knee injury, had to throw his hand up to ask out of the game when he became winded in the second half.
“He was just trying to figure out a way to stay on the floor,” said Rivers, who called the 35-year-old Wallace a “warrior” who was considering retirement.
Rivers said Wallace was battling cramps and strains, which kept him from going inside as he did early in the game.
“We had to keep subbing him for 1 minute and 2 minutes, and I thought the reason we got up early was because of Rasheed Wallace,” Rivers said. “We got it low in the post, he started scoring, and I thought what happened was late in the game he got tired and had the injuries and we couldn’t go down anymore, and I think that had a huge impact on how we were playing. We had to go away from the post almost because of fatigue.”
The Celtics led by 13 in the second half with an efficient offense and an even better defense that was frustrating Kobe Bryant. That’s what Boston did to get past LeBron James and Cleveland, then defending East champion Orlando in the previous two rounds.
But all those games perhaps took their toll on the Celtics, who simply didn’t have the energy down the stretch. They were outrebounded 53-40 and couldn’t leap to corral the most important rebound of the game, which Gasol grabbed to retain possession with the Lakers up three and 30 seconds to go.
It was a great run for the Celtics. They just didn’t have the legs to finish it.
Back in Boston, authorities said hundreds of Massachusetts state troopers and local police officers deployed around Boston haven’t reported any rowdy fan behavior after the Celtics’ loss.
Boston police temporarily closed some streets and ordered bars not to take in new customers at the end of the third quarter of Thursday night’s game in LA.
Some of the streets closed were in and around the Celtics’ home court, TD Garden, and around Fenway Park, where the Boston Red Sox had a home game against the Arizona Diamondbacks.
State police also had more than 100 troopers from various units staged in the city to assist Boston police.
Some Boston sports celebrations in the past decade have ended in tragedy, including three deaths since 2004.
NBA NOTES: Switzerland upset tournament favorite Spain 1-0 Wednesday in World Cup soccer, which wasn’t good news to Lakers center Pau Gasol of Barcelona. The loss ended Spain’s run of 12 straight wins and handed the Spanish just their second loss in 50 games. “I woke up, I couldn’t sleep anymore, it’s 8:30, turned the game on, and the next thing I know we were down 1-0 and struggling and scrambling to score a goal,” Gasol said. “Not the way that we expected our team to start a championship, of course, and it puts them in a position where they have to win probably two games they have left against Honduras and Chile.” … The NBA finals have gone to a deciding seventh game for the 17th time, and just the second since 1994. In the previous 16 Game 7s, the home team is 13-3. … The last time the Celtics and Lakers played a Game 7 against each other was in 1984, when Boston won 111-102 at the old Boston Garden. It was the first of three meetings between the teams in the finals over the next four years. … The team with the overall rebounding edge has won the first six games. The Lakers had the edge and won Games 1, 3 and 6. The Celtics dominated the boards and won Games 2, 4 and 5.