Let’s say it up front: The Lakers were better tonight. We could sit here and be defensive and angry, and complain about the bogus call on which KG fouled out with 4:22 to go (and it was bogus) or the (alleged) contact on Ray as he dribbled around a screen on the final possession (you’re never getting that call).
But here are the facts: the Lakers, minus Bynum, were the better team tonight — not by much, but by a noticeable enough margin that I would not have felt comfortable had the C’s somehow pulled this game out.
The Lakers shot a little better (47.7 percent to 45.2 percent), held their own on the boards (Celtics +5) and took care of the basketball (11 turnovers, compared to 16 for the Celtics). Even what the Lakers did wrong — shooting 17-for-29 from the line — only proves they outplayed Boston tonight; if anything, the margin should had have been bigger.
What’s disturbing about the closeness of those team stats is that we can’t lean on the old “the Celtics played horribly tonight” defense. Individually, the Big 3 were 21-of-46 with solid peripherals, and Rondo had a near triple-double (though it felt like a very quiet 16-12-8 to me).
As for the Lakers, it wasn’t Kobe that did us in tonight. He got his 26 points, and he hit some huge shots–in particular, three big three-pointers when the Lakers had fallen behind late in the fourth. The first, with 5:24 to go, cut a five-point lead to two, and the third put the Lakers up by one with 1:30 to go.
But Kobe missed his last five shots, one with 9 seconds left in regulation and then all four of his attempts in OT. The credit goes to Pierce, who played maybe the best man-to-man defense he’s played in his life, including last year’s Finals. He stayed right in front of Kobe amid all the hard jab-step dribbles and quick shoulder jukes, and his left hand was inches from Kobe’s eyes on every shot. If the Celtics win, Pierce’s D is the headline today. Fantastic effort.
It was Odom and Gasol (44 points on 24 shots) that won the game for the Lakers. KG can guard one of them, but he can’t guard both, and the Lakers were determined to find the weak spots underneath and exploit them.
The Lakers dumped the ball into Gasol in the post on three of four possessions early in the 2nd quarter, interrupted only by an errant Vujacic three-pointer (thanks, Sasha!). Here’s what happened:
(11:29): Gasol backs Powe down on the left block, drawing a double-team. He turns toward the paint and dishes to Ariza, who’s cutting to the rim. Big Baby is too late on the rotation, and Ariza lays it in, plus one.
(10:38): Gasol gets the ball in the same position, and backs Powe down with a couple of dribbles before taking a hard dribble into the lane and hoisting an easy jump hook.
(9:52): The Celtics try Big Baby on Gasol in the right block. Gasol faces up and blows by Baby on the baseline, drawing a foul.
That Gasol-heavy stretch is telling, because the lineup that was in the game (Pierce-Davis-Powe-Tony Allen-House) has played the second-most minutes among the C’s five-man combinations. Defensively, it’s been a solid unit, but it’s not built the right way to stop the Lakers post game.
I’m not sure the Celtics have any answers for that, except for playing KG and Perkins even more should these teams meet again in June.
The good news: That unit has performed worse than average (for the Celtics) on offense this season, but it sparked the Celtics tonight. It’ll be forgotten in the highlights today, but the C’s were down by nine midway through the second quarter, and it was Eddie House and Leon Powe who carried them out of the hole.
Powe got it started with a put-back, House stole the ball from Vujacic and went coast-to-coast for the lay-in and nailed a three off a Tony Allen steal and dish.
Powe had three big baskets in the fourth quarter before leaving the game with 6:29 left, never to return. I don’t like to question Doc anymore, but I wondered why he didn’t come back with Powe once KG picked up his fifth foul with 6:18 to go — at least for a couple of minutes.
I know that’s blasphemy, but KG wasn’t all there tonight, anyway. He fouled out with 4:22 after pushing off of Derek Fisher’s right shoulder in trying to gather a semi-loose ball Fisher had poked away. Soft call, not one you’d expect against a superstar one foul away from a DQ.
Some other concerns, after the jump.
Tony Allen was a non-factor. Tonight you saw the difference between Tony Allen and James Posey. There is no circumstance–none–in which James Posey plays 11 minutes, including just two after halftime, in a game like this. Allen was fine when he was in there, but it’s evident Doc doesn’t believe he’s ready to put his stamp on a game at this level.
Perk was invisible on offense tonight. He took three shots, which isn’t all that disturbing. He’s not a scorer, obviously. I just feel like the C’s play better when he’s at least involved, and he’s got such a size and strength advantage on Odom and Gasol that I’d like to see him take a couple of cracks at them in the post.
Baby came back to earth. All of Doc’s jokes about Baby’s new diet plan aside, he was probably tired after the 42 minutes on Tuesday. But this Lakers team plays better defense, and it seemed, to me at least, that Davis had a half-second less to line up those jumpers tonight than against the Sixers Tuesday. And when you’re a shaky jump-shooter, that half-second can make the difference. His one make was a biggie (to put the C’s up 109-108 with 1:08 to go), but he got a little carried away in rushing up another J with 17 seconds left in OT and the the C’s still up 109-108. Gasol blocked it, Odom recovered and got fouled, and a minute later the game was over.