By Kevin Henkin
Wow. Let me write that again, just for the sheer pleasure of it, and because of what it represents. Wow. In short, it was a historic (and frankly embarrassing from an LA perspective) comeback by the Boston Celtics, one that puts them in prime position to win their first NBA title in 22 years. Sweet. Where to begin? The score, I suppose. Boston 97, Lakers 91. Oh, and a 3-1 series lead for the Celtics.
After submitting one of the most hideous first quarters ever witnessed in the NBA Finals, the Celtics stormed back over the last three quarters until the Lakers finally relented. Seriously, there is no way to overstate how badly the Celtics played in the first quarter. Even Lamar Odom looked spectacular, to the point where he was preening and sticking out his tongue out in reaction to his own good fortune, as short-lived as it would prove to be. Specifically, Odom finished the first half with a surreal 15 points (13 in the first quarter alone) on 7-7 shooting. He was a big factor in building the early Lakers lead, appearing in the lane seemingly out of nowhere to make thunderous dunks and even draining a few 18 foot jumpers. Then, however, his fairy tale carriage morphed right back into a pumpkin again. His second half: 4 points on 1-4 shooting, which provided strong evidence that order had indeed been restored in the universe.
Los Angeles had led by as many as 24 points earlier in the game and by 20 as late as halfway through the third quarter before Boston stormed back furiously. In the final 18 minutes, the Celtics outscored the Lakers to the tune of 47-21. It was the suffocating Boston defense that fed the offense and it was the small ball squad for Boston who led the way in the scoring comeback.
Just to put things in perspective of how bad things went earlier in the game, a couple of first half stats to digest:
Lakers shooting percentage 50%, Celtics 35%
Lakers rebounds 26, Celtics 16
It seems silly to say it now but at the time the Celtics seemed fortunate to only be down by 18 at the half (it would have been 15 if not for that golden horseshoe running desperation three made by Jordan Farmar, which seemed just so indicative of how the evening had been going up until that point).
It must be noted that while the chips were down, it was James Posey and Ray Allen that represented the poise needed to sustain the comeback effort. For the game, Posey contributed an enormous 18 points on 5-of-10 shooting (including 4-8 from beyond the arc) and 4-4 from the line. His biggest shot, of course, was a heart-piercing three with 1:13 left in the fourth that brought Boston’s lead to 5 on the heels of an aggressive layup by Kobe Bryant. Beyond his offense, however, James Posey provided so much of the requisite backbone. He seemed utterly fearless out there and that kind of mental toughness is contagious among veteran players. When Posey was on the floor, you could see teammates gain strength from his presence. It’s not hyperbole. His impact was that visible. He’s like the second coming of Eric Williams, only with a much better stroke.
And Ray Allen? Let’s just say that Cleveland series is all but forgotten. Allen scored 19 in addition to 9 rebounds and 3 steals. He also did another commendable defensive job on Kobe Bryant, playing a big part in holding Mr. Universe to 3 points in the first half before giving way to Paul Pierce on the defensive assignment. But the biggest contribution by Allen was his drive past Sasha Vujacic, who had poked and scratched at Allen on prior possessions like an alley cat in heat, only to collapse at the most crucial moment in the game. After his teammates cleared the entire lane with an area wide enough to land a 747, Allen gave a few obligatory jukes and fakes to Vujacic at the top of the key and then froze his hair-netted opponent with a crossover from heaven and converted a layup with such ease that the officials almost felt obliged to call an offensive foul on him. The play put Boston up by 5 with 16.4 seconds remaining. Doom. Worthy of note: Ray Allen played all 48 minutes.
In another storyline, Rondo played much of the first half (17 minutes total) but eventually gave way to Eddie House, who scored 11 points and provided some high energy. As mentioned by Jeff Van Gundy roughly 8,000 times during the broadcast, House’s threatening J spaced the floor on offense and allowed teammates to roam more freely than when constricted by the Lakers’ 5-on-4 defense with Kobe as the freelancer. Give credit to Doc Rivers for going with and sticking with both House and small-ball throughout the second half. It was gutsy and it worked.
Alas, this is a game to savor. The headline on Yahoo at 12:53 a.m. is: “Historic Collapse by Lakers”. Sublime. The fact that it happened in LA makes it all the sweeter. The additional fact that the game was decided on a play at Game 3 chest-thumper Sasha Vujacic’s expense seems almost to good to be true.
Can you smell it? The cigar smoke from above? Must bother the shit out of Phil Jackson, which makes me smile even wider. Get those Duck Boats fired up, boys. One victory to go.