With no Kobe in the line-up for a fifth straight game, the need for a clutch understudy was up for grabs.
Sadly, not even a Fish could save Los Angeles tonight. But the Lakers had it. They were almost there. Yes, Boston had dominated for the greater part of the game, but even despite the 11-point lead to break down, there was still hope.
The bench came in the third quarter and nearly ran these old and creaky Celtics ragged. Sasha Vujacic, probably thankful that he was still in a Laker uniform after this afternoon’s trade deadline had passed, chipped in 4 quick points and stuck to red-hot Ray Allen much more effectively than Derek Fisher could the entire game. Allen scored 24 points on 10-15 shooting and proved that his struggles of late were not at all indicative of what he still had the ability to do, and tonight what the Lakers missed most about Kobe was not just his clutch appeal, but his defense on Allen.
Andrew Bynum, still nursing an injured hip, played as well as he could, contributing 14 points on 7-15 shooting and bumping against wide loads like Kendrick Perkins and Glenn “call me Uno-Uno” Davis.
Pau Gasol, not to be intimidated by technical foul-loving Rasheed Wallace, did not back down, but did allow Rajon Rondo to steal the ball right from under him three times too often. Though with 22 points and seven rebounds, this loss was not for his lack of effort.
Ron Artest and Lamar Odom led the Lakers in toughness tonight. Artest, with 15 points, eight rebounds and three assists, did his damage on Paul Pierce, who only managed 11 points on 4-9 shooting. Odom’s 13 points and 14 rebounds do not reflect his aggressiveness, especially when getting in Kevin Garnett’s face. Unfortunately, it didn’t carry out throughout the fourth.
Momentum had clearly shifted the Lakers’ way midway through the third quarter, and it carried them from the end of the third through the middle of the final 12 minutes when suddenly, a four-point lead was theirs for the raising. With Odom, Gasol, Brown, Vujacic and Farmar on the floor, the Lakers’ quickness was difficult for Boston and it’s a wonder Phil Jackson didn’t stay with this line-up longer.
Brown, who has made long strides in improvement, is still lacking in sensible decision-making. Too much isolation, and not enough ball movement on his part led to wasted possessions.
Yes, Boston needed this win more. It’s true the Lakers had beaten them the previous three meetings, and yes every critic has called out the 2008 Champions and they’ve had something to prove for months. But did it have to be this game, when the Nuggets did the home team such a great favor by beating the Cavaliers and helping the second best team in the league close the gap? Did it have to be at Staples, the Lakers home turf?
Maybe Boston owed L.A. one, and maybe the last 2.2 seconds showed exactly what the Lakers miss in not having Kobe on the floor. Or maybe, just a few thousand freethrows at practice tomorrow is necessary. In a one-point loss to a heated rival, all the toughness, physicality and quickness can translate to a vain effort.
In a one-point loss, nine missed shots at the charity stripe is simply not nothing.
Pre-Game Thoughts: The problem with TNT double-headers is that the first game always cuts into the second. But on a more relevant note, Kobe’s out again tonight but the Lakers seem to be fine without Mamba. Hopefully they rise to the occasion again, especially against Boston.
Half-Time Thoughts: Only 5 points behind. We’re still in this!
Most Thoughtless Player(s) of the Game: Everyone who missed a freethrow: Farmar (0-2), Bynum (0-2), Brown (3-5), Fisher (1-3), Odom (2-3) = 9 freebies… lost by one. Just something to think about.
Most Thought-filled Player(s) of the Game: Frontline gets the credit for this one. Pau, Ron-Ron, Drew and L.O. toughed it out tonight with 64 points, 38 rebounds, 7 assists, and 3 steals. Too bad it wasn’t enough.