June 14, 2010

We’ll start today by hearing from Bob Ryan of the Boston Globe. He pointed out that Kobe had a masterpiece game but it wasn’t good enough.

“Doc Rivers knew there was a Kobe Bryant bomb planted somewhere in this series.
At least, he hopes there was only one.
“I hope so,’’ he said after watching the maestro score 23 consecutive Lakers points in this one, beginning with the last 4 of the second quarter and the first 19 of the second half. “It’s amazing what that does to your team. We’re up 12, and I’ve got to call a timeout to settle down our guys.’’
It was a great show, all right. But it’s just a footnote in Lakers history. Despite those 23 straight, and despite his series-high 38, the Celtics were once again a far better T-E-A-M, and with last night’s 92-86 victory they will head back to Los Angeles one game from another NBA championship.
More and more the story of this series is the breadth and depth of the Celtics, who have not relied on any one, two, or even five players to grab this 3-2 series lead. Last night, Paul Pierce (27 points), Kevin Garnett (18 points, 10 rebounds, 5 steals) and Rajon Rondo (18 points, 8 assists and 5 rebounds, but let’s not talk about the seven turnovers) had strong games. Rasheed Wallace was big off the bench. Nate Robinson, a.k.a. the Donkey, had his moments. As for Shrek, sometimes known as Glen “Big Baby’’ Davis, he had no points and three rebounds. Maybe tomorrow.
The Celtics have played 10 playoff games against the Lakers in 2008 and 2010 and Kobe Bryant has gone off just twice. He hit them for 36 points in Game 3 back in ’08, capping the performance with some game-changing plays. The Celtics could live with everything he did in the next seven games, and they had to be feeling good after he had another big struggle in the first half last night, shooting an ugly 4 for 12 as his team entered the locker room trailing 45-39.
But you can never get cocky with this guy. He is proud and he is relentless. Oh, and he’s pretty good, too, as he reminded the Celtics by shooting 7 of 9 in the third quarter, all jumpers and three or four of them borderline outrageous. It was truly the Kobe of legend.
“Kobe struggled in the first half,’’ said Phil Jackson. “The second half, I thought he was his dynamic self again and got us back and going.’’
But all he was able to do was keep the Celtics from putting the game out of sight. He was keeping his team in the game, but he was not winning the game.
When he began his astonishing run his team was down by 4 (41-37), and when he scored the last of those 23 points his team was down by 9 (67-58) on its
way to being down by 13. The Celtics (that’s plural) were matching Kobe. The Celtics were busy scoring on 12 of their first 13 second-half possessions.
This did not escape Doc Rivers’s attention.
“Yeah, that’s the point I was trying to stress,’’ Rivers explained. “It would have been one thing if he had been scoring and we had not been scoring; then it would have been an issue. But we were scoring and we had great offensive rhythm and you could see that. That’s what made me tell them to just keep playing.
I was very concerned when Kobe did that, that we were going to stop playing offensive because we were so concerned defensively.’’
Kobe having a big night is something opposing teams always worry about, but it often comes with a price. Do the math. He had 38 of his team’s 86. Not
good, and hardly his fault. He had no help whatsoever. When Pau Gasol stepped to the free throw line for two shots with 2:25 remaining, Kobe Bryant, with 35, was the only Laker in double figures. From a Boston standpoint, that’s a dream scenario.
Still, when he goes off like that a rival coach can’t exactly feel comfortable. You know the most each basket can count is 3, but Kobe’s can feel and look like 33.
“I tried to keep telling them, ‘It’s only 2 points each time he scores,’ ’’ Rivers said. (Unless it was 3). “It’s not 10. It’s just like someone else was scoring.’’
With his team keeping pace with Kobe, Doc was actually able to enjoy the show — a little.
“He’s the best shot-maker in the game,’’ Doc declared. “There’s maybe better athletes and all that, but there’s no better shot-maker than Kobe Bryant. I
mean, you know, in that stretch I kept turning to Thibs [assistant coach Tom Thibodeau] and [assistant coach] Armond [Hill] and saying, ‘Those are tough
shots.’ He was making tough shots.’’
It was a virtuoso performance, but keep in mind that the Celtics have dealt with things like this before. In Round 1 they coped with All-League performer Dwyane Wade. In the next round they managed to survive a guy named LeBron. Last round they worked their way through the league’s best inside force, Dwight Howard. That’s three-fifths of the All-NBA team.
Kobe is a fourth. The only one they’re missing in this postseason is Oklahoma City’s Kevin Durant. Perhaps they can book the Thunder for an exhibition game or two next fall.
What this all means is that a team trumps a solo act in this league, no matter how great. As we all head back to LA, Rivers isn’t sure who will do what
tomorrow night, only that he will get help from multiple sources. The Lakers could still win this series, but they will need help from someone other than Kobe.
Thirty-eight out of 86. The Celtics will take that every night.”

Plaschke sounded more like a Red Sox beat writer in July than a Lakers writer for the LA Times, after Game 5.

“So this is what the wall looks like.

Sickly green, bulging with elbows, dripping with sweat, a solid sheet of basketball will.

So this is how the Lakers look with backs flattened against it.

Kobe Bryant screaming, Ron Artest bricking, Pau Gasol disappearing, Andrew Bynum limping, Lamar Odom smiling?

“We’ll respond,” he said.

You will? How? If the Lakers’ answer is anything like it was on this steamroller of a Sunday night at TD Garden, they will soon end their season with a loud
and pronounced cry of uncle.

Ouch! they moaned when the Boston Celtics’ tiny Rajon Rondo soared over Odom and Bryant for a key fourth-quarter tip-in.

Aww! they wept when Paul Pierce took an inbounds pass, shrugged off Derek Fisher and found Rondo running past Artest for a key uncontested fourth-quarter layup.

Oh no! they whined when the Celtics grabbed so many loose balls and shoved so many purple bodies, former and current New England Patriots heroes Tedy Bruschi and Wes Welker stood up in the stands and roared as if their team had just punched in a touchdown.

This is no longer a series, it is a stereotype, the resilient Celtics boxing around the retreating Lakers, 92-86, Sunday at TD Garden to take a three-games-to-two lead.

The Finals return to the comfort of Staples Center for Game 6 on Tuesday, with a possible Game 7 there on Thursday, but don’t be fooled. If home is where the heart is, the Lakers need to conduct an all-out search once they arrive.

At this point, the better team is not the better team. The biggest is not the strongest. Style is getting whacked by substance. Talent is getting whacked by tough.

Said Bynum: “We’ve got to get into it.”

Said the Celtics’ Tony Allen: “We’re way into it.”

That pretty much said it all on a night when a biology class turned into a history lesson. Less than two weeks after the Lakers began the series showing their
2010 guts, they have reverted to their 2008 softness.

For nearly three hours here, in front of a crowd that hooted like empowered bullies, one team played basketball while the other team performed ballet.

In building a 13-point lead and holding off a late surge, the Celtics sent the Lakers flying into the stands, pushed them spinning across the floor, twirled them in circles on loose balls.

“Again they got all the hustle points in terms of loose balls and offensive rebounds down the stretch,” said Bryant.

“They played with more tenacity than we did in that stretch.”

The game’s best closer tried to close it with 19 consecutive points in the third quarter, but, goodness, he needs a little help.

Gasol was barely there, two points in the first half, beaten badly by Kevin Garnett throughout, and who’s lost their explosiveness now? Bryum is struggling with a torn knee, but how does the biggest guy on the court play 31 minutes and get one just one rebound?

Then there was Artest who, on the verge of being the most costly signing of the Mitch Kupchak era, added a new twist to his game, being awful on defense as well as offense, allowing Paul Pierce to work him for 27 points.

When Artest had a chance for redemption with two free throws with the Lakers trailing by five with 43 seconds left, he clanked them both.

“Tonight was all about how we played as a team,” protested Artest.

Well, the Lakers flunked that part, too, with just two scorers in double figures and only a dozen assists, while the Celtics had four guys in double figures and
21 assists.

“Everybody on our team knows their role, and everybody plays it 110%, we’re all on the same page, and it shows,” said Allen.

Of the previous 25 times an NBA Finals was tied at two games apiece, the winner of Game 5 has won the series 19 times.

Yet afterward, the only page that seems shared by the Lakers seems to be the one that is covered in idle doodles.

When Bryant was asked about the fear of being within a few hours of elimination, he responded with his usual spring sarcasm.

“I’m not very confident at all,” he said, laughing.

When Lakers Coach Phil Jackson was asked essentially the same thing, he gave essentially the same answer.

“Now we’re going back to home court to win it,” he said. “That’s the way it’s supposed to be, isn’t it?”

Late in this game, a courtside microphone picked up Jackson telling his players that nobody blows fourth-quarter leads like the Celtics.

“They know how to lose,” Jackson told his team.

Right idea. Wrong team. The wall awaits.”


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