By Kevin Henkin
Forget the X’s and O’s. For the Celtics and the Lakers in Game 2 of the Finals, it was all about the A-B-C’s. As in: A-Always. B-Be. C-Closing. Always be closing, the mantra by which Boston operated in the middle quarters, in a fashion dominating enough to ultimately decide the game. The final score was 108-102, but more on that later. First, the closings of the final three quarters in this bizarre and thrilling game.
The Second Quarter. Leading up to the closing minutes of that frame, the Lakers submitted a sustained effort to close the gap. Los Angeles had the lead whittled down to 5 at 4:22 (from a high of 10 earlier in the quarter) and then at 7 with 2:06 remaining. By the time the horn sounded for halftime, however, Boston’ lead had expanded to 12, largely due to the aggressive play of Rajon Rondo on both ends of the floor and from the shooting of Paul Pierce.
The Third Quarter. Earlier in, Boston had been threatening to blows the doors open. For example, at the 7:40 mark, Ray Allen missed an open three in transition that would have put Boston ahead by 18. However, a 10-3 Lakers run that ended with a Doc Rivers timeout with 4:29 to go brought Los Angeles back within 9 points. Out of the timeout, Boston went on a dominating run that can barely be put into words. Let’s start with the numbers. During that final 4:29 stretch, the Celtics went on a 13-0 run and overall outscored the Lakers 15-2. In the 4:29, the Lakers shot 1-for-6 and turned the ball over 4 times. On the other end, Leon Powe closed things out by scoring Boston’s last 6 points of the quarter in loud and spectacular fashion.
The Fourth Quarter. With the lead as high as 24 points at the 7:55 mark, the Celtics settled in, lost their aggression and waited for the game clock to expire. Hell, a 24 point lead with less than 8 minutes to play? Game over, right? Wrong. Always be closing. The Lakers took on the role of aggressor and erased all but 2 of those 24 points, leaving Boston ahead 104-102 with 38 seconds to play. Alas, Boston got their ABC’s back just in time and closed it out with a pair of skillfully earned and converted freebies by Paul Pierce and a diving save of a loose ball and subsequent sunk free throws by James Posey that sealed the win for good.
Several of the Celtics deserve individual accolades. Specifically:
Paul Pierce scored 28 points on 9-for-16 shooting, including 4-4 from behind the arc. He also earned those free throws when his team desperately needed them to stave off the last gasp of the Lakers. The importance of that play cannot be overstated. That’s what great players do. They submit fine performances and execute when the game is ultimately on the line. Add this one into his legacy vault.
Leon Powe. Where to begin? 21 points on 6-of-7 shooting. 9-for-13 from the line. Highlights included a surreal near end-to-end sprint though a napping Lakers defense that ended with a thunderous dunk, as well as a 6:33 stretch in the first half where he earned nine trips to the line. For the sake of comparison, the entire Lakers team had two free throws in the first half. Let’s say Leon Powe becomes what we think he will: A nice player, someone you can rely on to be a physical energy guy, a player capable of very productive spurts, a gobbler of offensive rebounds. But this? Fast forward 50 years and it’s a pretty safe bet he’s recollecting this game to his grandkids.
Rajon Rondo had a nice game. 16 assists (including 10 in the second half) versus 2 turnovers. He looked every bit as poised and aggressive as his savvy and respected counterpart in Derek Fisher. That’s saying quite a lot for a guy that should have just finished his senior season at Kentucky.
Upon reflection, it’s a difficult game upon which to settle any firm conclusions. I go back and forth on what to come away with. For example, down the stretch of the third quarter, Boston looked so utterly dominant that one had to begin speculating whether LA’s home court edge over the next three games would be enough to send the series back to Boston. After that abomination of a fourth quarter, however (41 points allowed, 29 of which over the last 7:40), all those thoughts were a distant memory. On the turn of a dime, the game switched from a laugher in Boston’s favor to what can only be categorized as an embarrassing victory by the Celtics. I know, it doesn’t matter. It’s a win and there is no such thing as a moral victory, especially in the Finals. Even so, you have to conclude that if A) that game had lasted two minutes longer, or B) it had been played in Los Angeles, the Lakers would have won. Neither is a comforting thought for anyone associated with the Celtics. Then again, coming back to reality, who really cares? The Celtics are still left with their own best case scenario: a 2-0 lead heading into Los Angeles. All the rest is window dressing. Well, except for that valuable object lesson on which the Lakers were so kind as to provide a refresher course. Always. Be. Closing.