What a huge weekend it was in sports. Sunday evening I watched the Blues pull off one of the greatest comebacks I can remember – after scoring only 3 goals through the first three quarters, we piled on 7 more in the final term (and held Port goalless). Late Sunday night I settled in to watch Federer and Nadal, and while we didn’t get the classic encounter we all hoped for, we did get to see Nadal re-stake his claim as the best clay player in the world, and arguably, of all time. Most people will argue that title belongs to Bjorn Borg (6 French Opens to Nadal’s 4), but here’s my logic: many people regard Roger Federer as the greatest tennis player of all time (or at least concede he will be when he retires), yet he hasn’t even come close to beating Nadal at the French Open. While Roger has proved over the past few years that there is a big gap between himself and the rest of the men’s competition, Nadal emphatically demonstrated on Sunday night that the gulf between himself and Roger, on clay, is even greater. That’s gotta count for something, doesn’t it? And in an interesting bit of Tennis-related NBA reading, check out this article from ESPN: There’s no quit in Kobe, but there is in Federer.
Following the tennis the next morning was obviously game 2, and going into the game I had three big questions: 1) Is Pierce too injured to contribute? 2) Will the Lakers show a bit more aggression today, namely Odom and Gasol? and 3) Will Kobe break out and torch the Celtics like we all know he can? In short, the answers to those questions were 1) No, 2) Yes and 3) Kind of. The long answers:
1) Pierce hit a three on his first possession of the game, and remarkably, has not missed a three point shot (6/6) since he went down with his knee injury in game 1. Which leads me to speculate that Pierce may have undergone breakthrough three-point transplant surgery during that halftime break, whereby they removed the injured ligaments in Pierce’s knee and replaced them with Jeff Hornacek’s. Pierce showed no signs of injury throughout the game, and quite simply, he was brilliant. With the injury behind him, you’d think Pierce will only get better as this Finals progresses which is worrying for the Lakers because right now, they have no answers for him. Before the series I speculated that Odom would be a great cover for Pierce, but Lamar has done a complete disappearing act so far. This has forced Phil Jackson to put Kobe on Pierce for stretches, but on too many occasions have I seen Kobe arriving 2-3 seconds late on a Paul Pierce three that splashes in, and ignites the Boston crowd.
2) The Lakers did come out really aggressive. Within the first few minutes we saw an Odom dunk and a Gasol dunk, and I don’t remember any Lakers dunks in game 1. The Lakers ball movement was almost frenzied. Everyone looked extremely switched on, and it’s why the Lakers enjoyed an early 7 point lead. That aggression wore off on everyone except Gasol – I thought he looked strong and dangerous, and I think it’s an absolute atrocity he only took 12 shots in this game. When the Celtics started to run away with it I was screaming for Gasol to get more shots. The problem? Instead of me screaming, it should have been Pau himself.
3) Kobe played much better than he did in game 1. He found his teammates earlier and more often, and he got a couple of his jump shots to stick. In that fourth quarter he almost rallied his team to the greatest comeback in Finals history (as much as I love Vujacic, it was a crime for him to take that last three instead of Kobe). Kobe heated up late in that game, and I expect him to keep it going for the next three in LA. I expect lots of points, lots more free throws, a much better shooting percentage, and at least one classic fourth-quarter take over. That’s not me hoping for some entertaining games – that’s what the Lakers need to send this thing back to Boston.
Other observations from game 2:
- Ray Allen’s first possession was a turnover, resulting in a loud groan from my house mate. Ray Allen’s second possession was also a turnover, resulting in a disgruntled cry of “F–ken Ray!!”. Ray eventually found his stroke in this one, but from those first few minutes it looked like he was on path to stink it up on historic levels. And that’s saying something, because Ray Allen has already done his fair share of stinking these playoffs.
- I’ve tamed my criticism of ESPN lately because they redeemed themselves by showing both conference Finals. But my patience is really drawing thin with the ad breaks we see over and over again throughout the Finals games, which I suspect are only shown to the Pacific Rim viewers. I’m starting to have nightmares about that Venetian Hotel ad (the one that looks like its in Venice, except its not) – as an ESPN rule, that ad is shown once every commercial break. Then there’s the “On This Day” segments that highlight the most useless sporting facts and past events that no NBA fan would care about, like horse riding or seventies soccer in Mexico. There’s that cricinfo.com ad where everyone is just catching cricket balls (next time you watch that ad, pay close attention to the Indian women who makes a catch next to a railway track while a freight train is speeding past just meters behind her… that is one harmless bit of filming that could have gone so horribly wrong). Then there’s the World’s Strongest Minute, which I must say, is the most entertaining segment of them all. My two favorite World’s Strongest Man Minute’s are the event when everyone is trying to bend steel poles across their heads (this is hilarious), and the event where two guys are racing each other while trying to carry what looks like a metal staircase. If you’ve seen it you’ll know the one I’m talking about. Two meters into the race, one of the guys’ legs completely snaps – he’s left crouched over, leg dangling in two pieces, with half a ton of stairs on him. But the priceless reaction comes afterwards, when this dude is interviewed and told the doctor’s have diagnosed him with a broken leg. In a think European accent he says: “They say it’s broken, but I know it’s not broken… I am a chiropractor myself”. Ahh dude, I don’t know what kind of chiropractor you are, but when a guys leg snaps in two pieces while he’s trying to carry half a house I’m pretty sure it’s broken. Either way, I’m campaigning for the World’s Strongest Man Minute to be reformatted into the “World’s Strongest Man Three Minutes” so we don’t have to be subjected to all the other horrible ad breaks.
- KG deserves a HTFU for this game. Most of his shots came from the perimeter, a big man symptom more commonly known as Sheeditis. Boston fans, I can sympathize with you for yelling at KG to take more shots in the post. I’ve been yelling that at Sheed for five years. At least be thankful KG settles for 20 footers and not 27 footers.
- The Lakers comeback. When the game ended one of my house mates said something very true: “That comeback gives the Lakers a huge psychological edge… they will never feel like they’re out of a game, for the rest of this series”. I couldn’t agree more. Yes Boston fans will be happy with the win, but they should be very concerned. It took the Celtics 40 minutes to build a 24-point lead, and it took the Lakers 8 minutes to dismantle it. It just echoes what so many people had been saying prior to the start of this Finals: the Lakers have a lot of firepower, and when everyone is firing, no one can stop them. Boston have done a good job at holding down the floodgates in the first two games. But something tells me they’re just about to open in Lakerland.