NBA Fans got what they wanted. An intense battle that wasn’t sewn up until the final buzzer sounded. Celtics fans got what they didn’t want. Not only were they NBA Champions through three and a half quarters but Sasha Vujacic, probably the most hated man in Celtics Nation, hit two key free throws to ice the game and give the Lakers the Larry O’Brien Trophy.
In a lot of ways, this was a microcosm of the Celtics’ regular season and playoffs. Strong fast start, bumps in the middle, really terrible towards the end, and then fireworks to make it interesting before the big letdown.
The Celtics needed Ray Allen to step up in a big way and he failed to deliver. 3- of- 14 shooting from the field and 2-of-7 from three is not why Ray Allen where’s the green. Not all of the blame for this one rests on his shoulders. In fact, inducing Kobe Bryant into one of his worst playoff shooting nights (6- of 24) pretty much gives Allen a pass for this one.
The Celtics’ downfall was all about offensive execution in the second half and rebounding in the first. Both aspects of the Celtics game were simply awful. The Lakers countered with their own awfulness with their shooting (33%) and their free throws (25-of-37). In a Game where no team deserved to win and at the same time deserved to be Co-Champions, the Lakers did just enough down the stretch to eeek this one out- for which they get a ton of credit (int he form of rings).
Think about these plays and really think about how big they were:
The Celtics could only counter with two huge plays and these came during desperation time anyway. These were of course the Rasheed Wallace three out of a timeout and the Rajon Rondo turn-around three. Just too little, too late.
I already mentioned much of the “too late” so let’s focus on the “too little”:
After building impressive leads twice throughout the game, the Celtics went away from what created these runs: solid defense and offensive execution. All too often, Paul Pierce was content to whittle time off the clock instead of making good passes- let alone the proverbial “extra” pass.
The Lakers aggressively attacked the Celtics pick-and-rolls and it took the Celtics until late in the fourth quarter to figure out the best way to exploit the Lakers’ overplay (See the Rasheed Wallace top-of-the key pass to Garnett underneath for a dunk).
In the first half, the Celtics were stringing together multiple stops but failing to secure loose balls and letting the Lakers length dominate them on the glass. Many people will point to rebounding as the key to this loss, but without Kendrick Perkins that was a foregone conclusion. The Celtics still led for most of this game despite giving the Lakers multiple shots at scoring.
The second guessing will take place and probably never end, but the one that sticks in my mind at the moment is the rotation. Throughout the regular season and playoffs, Doc Rivers has had to trust his bench. I understand this was a Game 7 and players just need to reach within themselves and find that energy to keep pushing. That said, the Celtics looked gassed in the second half- at times completely out of it. In a game that begged for energy, the bench may have been able to provide it.
As for those Lakers:
Give them all the credit in the world. On Tuesday night, they came out and smacked the Celtics in the mouth and the Celtics rolled over. Tonight, the Celtics did the “smacking” and the Lakers never quit. They played like Champions and earned this one (as much as it pained me to write that, it’s true).
I am considering writing an open letter to Pau Gasol during the offseason after I have had a chance to deal with this one. Gasol is amazing, dominant, and versitile. Unfortnuately, he’s all that and now “hated” can be added to that list. People don’t think Pau Gasol is soft because he lets himself be pushed around. Gasol IS soft for the way he complains about every call. Before he can lobby the officials, he has to shrug his shoulders and act like the most obvious injustice had just taken place. If he feels any extra contact, he has to go into his controlled-fall complete with butt-slide to soften the blow, and then complaine. Pau Gasol is SO MUCH BETTER THAN THIS! Why can’t he make a great play, pass, shot, jump hook- anything (seriously, almost everything that guy does is beautiful- except for maybe getting haircuts) and just put his head down and go back on defense?
This has been your 2009-2010 NBA Season. While this may seem like a letdown now, I believe the Celtics will have what it takes to be in the same position they were 24 hours ago one year from now- providing the core stays intact. Marquee free agents will have to adjust to new teams and consistency will win out. Rematch? Rubber match? We shall all see.