Friday, June 18, 2010

Probably the most honest comment about game seven came from Kobe Bryant when he said he didn't know how they won that game. Consensus was that the Celtics' age finally got to them as the Lakers piled up 30 points in the 4th, and as well the absence of their center Kendrick Perkins because the Lakers dominated rebounds. Kobe hit a few big shots, got to the line, played defense and especially rebounded well. Derek Fisher hit the big three, and Pau Gasol finally began to dominate around the basket in the fourth quarter.

But from start to finish in this game, the difference for the Lakers was Ron Artest. He played terrific defense on Paul Pierce, he rebounded and he scored even when others weren't: he got putbacks, he got in the lane buckets, he hit jump shots and three pointers, including a crucial 3 in the fourth quarter. Artest has had the kind of career the pundits call "troubled," and he's a non-linear personality for sure. He's also the one player who wasn't here last year--and the Lakers were roundly criticized for trading for him, and giving up Trevor Ariza (by among others, me.) But as Magic Johnson said of this game, he was the difference-maker.

Now the Lakers are more likely to basically stay together, and if Phil Jackson's health checks out, he is more likely to return as coach. But it's doubtful that the Celtics will remain intact, or in any case, be back in the finals next year. But...even though I will watch these finals again as motivation while exercising, I'm looking forward to forgetting about NBA basketball for a nice long time.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Game 7

It's a few minutes before tip-off. I'm going to be doing a phone interview for the first quarter probably, which is just as well, but I'll have the vcr running. What's the key? A neophyte would say: who scores the most points. And in this case, that's right on more than the smart alecky level. Whoever shoots better has the advantage, because both teams like to score in transition after missed shots, especially the Celtics. If they get easy baskets at the beginning, it could be a long night. If the Lakers come out strong, and successfully go inside, it will be a long night for the Celtics.

First quarter: With a minute left, it's the Lakers worst nightmare--they have only 14 points, and sure enough they are shooting poorly and the Celtics are scoring in transition. It looks ugly.

Second quarter: Lakers got back into it with a 9-0 run but lost the momentum. Gasol does not look good. They really need to take the lead into the locker room for halftime.

Halftime: Lakers down six. An absolute nightmare first half, shooting under 30%, with Bryant and Gasol especially shooting poorly. Ron Artest is all that kept them in the game, but at this point, even 6 points can be deceptive. The energy it takes to keep coming back tends to flag, and big leads ensue. Unless the Lakers turn this game completely around in the third quarter, they could see themselves losing by 20.

Their only consolation: they couldn't have a worse half than what they just played. But as bad as they were, they have to be proportionately as good to win this game. Even though this is a defensive struggle, they will have to shoot at least 50% in the second half to win this, while keeping Boston below 50%. A very tall order, considering their energy level in the first half.

There is a whole lot at stake in the next half of basketball, if you believe Bill Plaschke, who writes that this Lakers team will be kept together if it wins, and will be torn apart if it loses, and further, that this could be Kobe Bryant's last chance to be in contention for the NBA championship.

Third quarter: Lakers come out looking dazed, without energy. They look done. This is starting to look like game 5. I can't watch.

As the Celtics build a double digit lead, the one play I glimpsed tells me that this game could live in infamy for the Lakers, because they don't look like they're competing. Standing around and watching. Pathetic.

Monitoring rather than watching: midway in the third quarter the Lakers have made a little run, and are again down 6. Cameras sweep the stands to focus on celebrity actors--actors are paid to transmit emotion through their bodies and eyes. You can see nothing but pain and anxiety in their eyes now.

Lakers pick it up to end the third quarter down 3. They look to be outhustling the Celtics at last. The stage is set.

Fourth quarter: Both teams battling. Lakers get close but can't get over the hump. Story so far is Bryant continues to shoot poorly. Lakers down by 4 at first time-out.

The subtext here is coaching. Is Doc Rivers outcoaching Phil Jackson and the Lakers staff? In this game as in several previous, he seems to have made adjustments the Lakers didn't anticipate, or at least can't counter. If the Celtics hang on to win, there's going to be a lot of sentiment that he did in fact outcoach arguably the greatest NBA coach ever. Who is once again contemplating retirement.

Lakers tie it up with 7 minutes to go, and could take the lead but Gasol misses two free throws. Another turning point missed--the narrative so far.

Derek Fisher--who else?-- hits a 3 and ties it again. Time out.

Kobe Bryant--who else?--hit a jumper and the Lakers are up 4, with 5:41 to go.

Lakers went up by six and looked to extend but faltered, and now are up by just 3 with under 4 minutes to go. Their defense is the best it's been but the Celtics are still getting key shots. If the Lakers had hit their normal percentage of foul shots, they'd been up comfortably. But even Bryant is off. This one's going down to the final seconds.

Gasol's shot puts the Lakers up 6 with a minute and a half to go, or, an eternity.

Game over: Lakers by 4. Defense and clutch free throws win it. In the end it was will. The Celtics were tremendous, but the Lakers are NBA champs.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Energy. Between these two fairly evenly matched teams, that's been the difference in the last two games. The Lakers had it for game 6, leading by as many as 27 points in a resounding home court victory, forcing a deciding 7th game for the NBA championship.

Received wisdom is that a loud home court crowd--and LA was uncommonly loud--helps young bench players the most, and the Laker bench came through with solid and spectacular play--thunderous dunks by Shannon Brown and Jordan Farmar plus solid offense and rebounding by Lamar Odum and timely shooting by Sasha Vujacic took all the suspense out of the game early. By the end of the third quarter, the Lakers bench had outscored the Celtics bench 24-0.

But it was the energy of the Lakers starters that was so impressive. In game 5 the Celtics came out loose, crisp and energetic. In game 6 the Lakers came out energetic, determined and efficient. Pau Gasol and Ron Artest had much better games, and Kobe Bryant was immediately on target with his shots and passes.

The only bad sign was that Andrew Bynum was ineffective and by the second half couldn't run at all, and took himself out of the game. This makes him questionable for the seventh game on Thursday. The Celtics also have a big man problem, with one of their centers in rotation, Kendrick Perkins, who left the game with a knee injury, and might not be able to play Thursday.

The Lakers dominance on their home floor bodes well for Thursday, but as I pointed out last time, the Celtics haven't played with energy the first game after travel. Including the first game of the series, those were the Lakers' three wins. So it's likely to be more of a fight on Thursday. Still, the Lakers defense was impressive, and it's hard to see what other surprises the Celtics can provide for them to counter. I expect a close game (unfortunately for my nerves) but I like the Lakers chances.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Live blog Game 5

I'm watching by myself so I may as well talk to myself here. The Celtics came out energetic and crisp, their stars are shooting well. The Lakers not so obviously crisp, and Kobe Bryant doesn't have a point well into the first quarter. These are not good signs for the Lakers.

The quarter ends with Celtics shooting about 60%, ahead by two. It may be a case of the Lakers weathering the early storm, but Pierce looks way too comfortable and loose, Rondo too quick.

This is the fifth game, which in most 7 game series is decisive. In this one as well. Although the Lakers finish with two games at home, this is the game they want and need.

Early second quarter, Boston up by 8. This game could quickly get away from the Lakers, who are getting rebounds and second chance points but are shooting flat, look slow and bothered. Celtic defense is smothering Kobe, Artest can't make a shot, Gasol is a nonfactor so far. Only Bynum is conspicuously battling.

--Good sequence for the Lakers. Artest finally hits a 3. He's a streak shooter. Lakers down just one. Maybe this is the way they win this--by being tough, mentally tough.

--Halftime: Lakers down by six. Celtics shooting 65%, Lakers in the 30s. Logic says the Celtics can't continue at that pace, but they have several shooters that haven't been involved so far. Paul Pierce is doing a Kobe, although it's soft defense that's allowing it as well. Further bad news: Artest, guarding him, has 3 fouls. The Lakers need a strong third quarter--which is often when they make their move--and they need to win the fourth. Right now this feels like the Celtics game to lose. If it continues this way, they go to LA up 3 games to 2.

Third quarter: Despite a dazzling individual scoring quarter by Kobe, the Lakers had to close the gap in the last few minutes to be down only by eight. Their only hope is that the Celtics have run out of gas, and they can mount their best fourth quarter of the playoffs. It's not impossible, but Kobe had almost all of the Lakers' third quarter points and the rest of the team looks slow. Plus Pierce has not faltered, and Garnett is having a good game.

End: Lakers fought back and with a few breaks and calls the other way (especially the Celtics 24 second violation that the officials got wrong) might have pulled it out, but they didn't. One way to look at this is scary enough: that it's the Celtics, not the Lakers, who have figured the other team out. Another way to see it is that the Lakers as a team played horribly, the Celtics as a team played extraordinarily well, and the Lakers were within striking distance in the last two minutes.

The sixth game is Tuesday in LA. The Celtics haven't won the first game after travel, and have been flat both times. The Lakers couldn't get any flatter. But the Celtics just have to win one out of two, and the Lakers have to win them both. Without a healthy Bynum, able to play late in the game, the Lakers have to be considered the underdogs.