By Kevin Henkin
Lakers 105, Celtics 98. What a damned shame of a heart-breaking loss. And a damned shame of a wasted headline opportunity (“Who’s Your Daddy? Celtics Slam Lakers for Series Clincher on Father’s Day”). At least maybe now that the league has reached its desired minimum goal of a six game series, it will allow its officiating crews to call more balanced games going forward.
Regardless, this was truly a game of inches and on this evening, those inches happened to belong to the Lakers when it mattered most. The real shame of it all was the wasted monster effort by Paul Pierce, who scored 38 points (including 16 hard-earned free throws). Pierce strapped his team across his back and nearly dragged them to glory before allowing a tragic poke from behind steal by Kobe Bryant, who converted the subsequent breakaway dunk. The play, which happened with 40 seconds left in the fourth, put the Lakers back ahead by 4.
Of note, on the following possession, Boston set up a play for Ray Allen, who drove hard and nearly converted on the drive in heavy traffic. Kevin Garnett had a clean look at a put-back but missed wide, a play that epitomized his evening in that he worked hard to be in the right place at the right time but just wasn’t able to convert. Not enough, anyway. His team needed more from him on offense and he just wasn’t there to provide it. Exhibit B: His two missed free throws at the 2:31 mark that would have brought Boston back to a tie.
Allow me to expand on Garnett’s game a bit further here, because it was a complicated performance to assess. His official line for the game was 13 points on 6-11 shooting as well as 14 rebounds and 4 turnovers. Although the 14 boards accurately reflect Garnett’s terrific work on the glass, the statistics otherwise tell only a fraction of the story. On defense, he was an outright menace and was the direct cause of numerous disruptions to the Lakers’ offense. He was also especially effective on the offensive glass where he collected 7 of his 14 rebounds. Expanding on his role in the offense, he was an integral part of the pick and roll that continued to work so well in freeing up space for his teammates. BUT….on the dark side, he remained mostly absent in the offense in terms of contributing directly. Down the stretch, again, he looked far more comfortable passing out to his shooters on the perimeter than in taking on the inferior Laker bigs and creating his own shot against them. It was frankly disappointing and marred an otherwise solid performance.
With Rajon Rondo’s game, on the other hand, there wasn’t much of a silver lining to be found. He finished with 3 points on 1-7 shooting along with 3 assists and 2 turnovers. Whatever percentage of capacity he deems himself to be, it simply isn’t high enough to help his team at this point. Look no further than Rondo’s last moments spent on the court in the third quarter before Doc Rivers mercifully replaced him:
5:42 Rondo misses open jumper
5:25 Gets tied up with Derek Fisher on a loose ball. Loses tip to Fisher on the jump ball.
5:17 Arrives late on defense as Fisher spots up an open mid-range jumper and crashes into Fisher, who sinks the shot and the free throw.
5:11 Turns the ball over to Vladomir Radmanovic on a terrible pass.
5:00 In transition, Randmanovic sinks the open three.
Let’s review. At the midpoint of the third quarter, Boston trailed by one at 65-64 and had the ball, poised to take the lead. Less than a minute later, the Celtics trailed by 7 and were back on their heels against yet another Lakers run.
Out of a timeout, Rivers replaced Rondo with Eddie House but his stint was cut short by a bleeding problem after a collision with Derek Fisher. To his credit, Sam Cassell came in and came up big, at one point scoring 7 straight for Boston (he finished with 9 on 4-8 shooting).
All of the above said, the game might not have even been so close had the Celtics played a respectable first quarter. Instead, they again allowed the Lakers to run wild out of the gates, outscoring the Celtics 39-22 in the first 12 minutes. Read that again. 39-22? Early Hole, meet Boston, Boston meet Early Hole…Oh, I see you two have already met. Thus, the Celtics were forced to clamp down hard and expend extra energy just to get back into the game, which they did by shutting down the Lakers to just 16 points in the second quarter vs. Boston’s 30. At the half, LA’s lead was 3 and again, everyone repeat after me…the Celtics had to feel fortunate to be down by only 3 after such uneven play. Of note, Kobe Bryant palyed a big role in that early Lakers lead by scoring 15 of his points in the first, looking ever the part of the hyped dominator. Over the final three quarters, though, he shot 3-13 and scored only 10 more.
Coming out of the half, Boston submitted a disappointing third quarter. If there had been one constant throughout this series to count on, it had been Boston’s domination of the third. Alas, that trend came to an end in Game 5 as the Lakers increased their lead by another 6. In that third frame, Boston became over-reliant on the three but just didn’t hit many of them.
Thus, they entered the final frame down 9 and were down by as much as 14 at the 9:17 mark before storming back to tie it all 90-90 on the backs of Posey, Pierce and Cassell. After that, though, the wheels came off. A chintzy call that sent Derek Fisher to the free throw lin here, the aggresive Kobe Bryant steal there and LA was onto victory. Although the Celtics came within reach of the win, it was all simply too much to overcome.
Two games to go. Boston needs only one. Cue the Jumbotron…
The inches we need are everywhere around us. They’re in every break of the game, every minute, every second. On this team, we fight for that inch. On this team, we tear ourselves and everyone around us to pieces for that inch….
Until Game 6 back in Beantown…