If the 2010 NBA Finals were the Land of Missed Opportunities, the Lakers would reign supreme. After a harrowing 4th quarter performance by Derek Fisher to win Game 3, they led by 8 points in the third quarter in Game 4, then allowed Boston’s bench to outplay them to tie the series 2-2.
After trailing by double digits (actually, trailing most of the time in tonight’s Game 5), Kobe Bryant put in a 19-point 3rd quarter, and the Lakers got within five with just under two minutes left in the fourth quarter and what did they do? They failed to box out for rebounds, faltered on defense and allowed uncontested lay-ups, not to mention missed crunch time free throws. They’ve missed two chances to put themselves in a favorable position before the trip back to L.A.
Down 3-2, the Lakers have only themselves to blame.
It was like déjà vu. Bryant tried to do everything (38 points, 5 rebounds, 4 assists) and the Celtics tried everything to stop him.
Pau Gasol, too much for the Celtics to handle early in the series, has been spooked back into ineffectiveness (12 points on 5-12 and, despite collecting 12 rebounds, had three of his own shots blocked, one by 6’4” Tony Allen). Lamar Odom, again, doing his best impression of Lamar Odom (8 points on 4-6, 8 rebounds) — has been waiting for the opportunity to make a difference, rather than seizing it. Andrew Bynum, for all the determination and mental toughness he has shown by playing through his injury, is still limited physically (6 points, 1 rebound).
All that talk before this series about how much they had changed; all that swagger they brought into Game 1 when they pounded the Celtics; all the wonder and hope of Artest pushing Paul Pierce into offensive oblivion — it was all amiss tonight. The Celtics shot 56% from the field and the Lakers shot 40% (at one point in the first quarter, the Lakers shot 29%!). The Celtics only got to the charity stripe 13 times, half of the opportunities the Lakers received. The Celtics were 9-13, the Lakers were 17-26. Nine missed free throws, a six-point loss.
The team that won the rebounding war has won every game in this series. This evening, the Lakers were only out-rebounded by one, 35-34, but it appeared to be a much greater differential. The energy and hustle was all Celtics tonight, as were the sense of urgency and pride.
Kobe Bryant said at the podium that he’d already forgotten about the loss, which is probably a good idea considering there wasn’t much good to glean from such a poorly-played game by the Lakers, even despite his 19-point effort in the third quarter.
Phil Jackson cited the team’s attitude in the locker room as “upbeat.” Maybe the Lakers are just happy to be heading home, despite being down 3-2. Maybe they’ve been reminded of how difficult this series would be to win and are confident about Game 6. Maybe they’ve gotten a renewed sense of motivation.
How much more motivation do the Lakers need to win Game 6 and force a Game 7? Forget the memory of losing by 39 points in 2008. Forget the images of Kevin Garnett pounding his chest, Nate Robinson taunting after every single basket, Paul Pierce acting his way into more free throws, Doc Rivers sitting at the podium and complaining about the officiating and forget the classless fan in the stands who threw something at Lamar Odom as Kobe shot free throws. Forget all these memories that have come and gone.
Down 3-2, with their hated rivals one win away from a championship, the Lakers are on the defensive. To get what they want, they have to prevent the Celtics from getting what they want first. Otherwise, the disappointment and heartache caused by the celebration on the parquet floor in 2008 won’t compare to the horror of a green party at Staples Center. If that’s not an image what could motivate this Lakers team (and every supporter of the Purple and Gold), I don’t know what would.
So rally up, Lakers Nation! This is no time to get discouraged. Lakers in 7 begins Tuesday.
Pre-Game Thoughts: Andrew Bynum is as tough mentally, and hopefully, physically. Let’s hope the rest of his teammates are on the same wavelength (cough, Lamar Odom, cough).
Half-Time Thoughts: This Lakers team looks anything but a team who wants to win a championship. In fact, they look exactly like the team who lost it in 2008. Kobe can’t get a shot up, Pau isn’t rebounding, defending or scoring and they just don’t look ready to play tonight. 39-45 Celtics lead.
Most Thoughtless Player(s) of the Game: Pau Gasol, for reverting back to his 2008 form, just as the Celtics hoped for, and Ron Artest for failing to do what he’s been asked to do –play defense.
Most Thought-filled Player(s) of the Game: Kobe Bryant, for scoring 19 points in the 3rd quarter to keep his team in the game. No one else seemed to want the responsibility. Why shouldn’t he try to shoulder the load…AGAIN?