“[The Celtics] know how to lose in the fourth quarter.” ~ Phil Jackson
Luckily, they also know how to win. After dominating the entire game, shooting an other-worldly 65% through three quarters, the Celtics were a vintage Kobe Bryant performance and a fourth quarter collapse away from being down 3-2.
Instead, the Celtics hold on to take what would seem to be a commanding lead in a series that has failed to have a clear-cut better team. Most have said that the first team to win two in a row will win this series. Let’s hope they are right.
Celtics fans have been waiting for their team to live up to their billing. To play like everyone knows they can play. Finally, Paul Pierce shows some 2008 Finals type play with a huge 27 points. I say “huge” because he was able to score from all over the floor, mixing in a healthy level of step-back jumpers, strong takes to the hoop, and timely three point shooting. He may not be as flashy as Kobe Bryant, but when he is on, he gets it done in a big way.
This game had a “First 25” written all over it. The Celtics controlled the pace, played great defense, got out in transition, and also had 16 turnovers. Rajon Rondo nearly messed around and got a triple-double. Seriously, it was messy at times as Rondo totaled seven turnovers all by himself. Most of these miscues came as a result of Rondo reverting back to what he did before he reached elite status: trying to do too much. Threading passes through impossibly small areas, getting an offensive rebound and trying to quickly spin-dribble and go baseline without checking for a defender, and just over-passing.
Sticking with the “First 25” theme, Kevin Garnett motored his way to a strong double-double, scoring 18 and snatching 10 boards. He was aggressive and elevated like he was in Orlando or Cleveland. I think it is safe to say that was ever going on with him in the beginning of this series has worked itself out.
Ray Allen continues to struggle from deep. It’s as if he used up all the firepower he had breaking that Finals record in Game 2. Still, he is doing all the little things that is really making him earn his money. For example, the ball he saved from going out of bounds to Rondo for the easy lay-up? Gigantic. Getting up in Kobe’s face and not falling for head-fakes? Even bigger. And jawing with Derek Fisher provides endless comedic appeal. Seriously, their trash talking must contain the most polite insults ever uttered. Here’s how I think it goes:
RAY: Come on Fish, that’s a flop.
FISHER: No way Ray, your forearm is right in my face. You got three inches on me, it’s only natural that your arm is at my head’s level.
RAY: Alright, I’ll try to do better next time. How’s your daughter, by the way?
FISHER: Doing much better, thanks!
Okay, so maybe that’s pushing it a little and I’m sure they are well-accomplished trash-talkers. I mean, they have both been in the league so long. However, they’re also two of the nicest guys in the league.
I think it’s time for Ray to start doing a little bit of a Rip Hamilton impression. The last three he took, ya know, the one Celtics fans are sure hit rim and Lakers fans are sure they’ve been bamboozled, was bad. Real bad. In fact, his three point shooting was awful all game. In the previous games where he has struggled, the ball at least looks like it’s halfway down before popping out. Tonight, those shots were just way off. Conversely, his mid-range game is still intact and should be utilized.
What can I say about Kobe Bryant? No, I’m serious. I do not know what to say about Kobe Bryant. Some times, there are just no words for his game and the third quarter was one of those times. Though, for most of the night he reminded me of the guy at the sports club who is just head and shoulders above everyone else. You know, he played Division 1 back in the early nineties and spent a couple of years in Europe before completely blowing out his knee? It’s safe to say Kobe Bryant can do whatever he wants on the floor but his teammates have not been able to follow suit. For the Celtics, it is very fortuitous. Bryant’s teammates are not random gym rats. They are all-world basketball players who are suffering from a bad stretch of games all while facing an elite defense. Just a bad combination for morale.
It was interesting how the story of Game Four was the bench, and the story tonight was the starters. The Celtics have enjoyed a different collection of players stepping up each game. They will need to continue to get this kind of production if they are going to win one out of two in Los Angeles. Speaking of the bench, a bit of an underwhelming performance tonight. I mean, aside from the huge block from Tony Allen and the Rasheed top-of-the-key-three. The TA play was so nice he blocked it twice and the Wallace three was a momentum killer.
There’s a lot more to discuss regarding this game and we’ll be sure to sift through all of it in the coming days. For now, rest up because the magic number is one.