With Game 1 of the NBA Finals proving a bit of a lemon from a competitive standpoint, most neutrals – myself included – would have been hoping and praying for a more resilient Boston team to show up in the second game. They didn’t disappoint. If you weren’t lucky (or unemployed) enough to be free during the day on a Monday, make sure you catch the replay. If you don’t have ESPN, cross your fingers that OneHD will screen a replay sometime on Wednesday night. If they don’t, hunt it down via any means necessary. Seriously, find that shit, and come back to read this review when you’ve seen it. You won’t regret it.

This game was one of those rare gems where each quarter differs entirely from the previous one in the most delightfully unpredictable way. Throughout, myriad storylines infiltrated the game to the point that you had to concentrate not just on the two teams, but on all the players individually – and as such, it seems only right that we do a write-up of all the key guys, rather than just the usual 3,2,1. This game deserved it. Roughly in order of worst to best, culminating in the votes;

Sasha Vujacic – On the upside, only took one shot, and hit it. On the downside, he prompted this quote from Mark Jackson early in the fourth quarter after Doc Rivers finally decided to bring in Nate Robinson (who hit a couple of important buckets):

Easier for Doc to put Nate in when you look on the floor and see Vujacic

Shannon Brown – Tough to put into words how poor he was. This is a dude that has been known for his toughness and aggressiveness throughout the regular season. In this game, he decided to be known for leaving Ray Allen open. Where Derek Fisher failed because he’s just too slow and short to keep up with Ray Ray on his routes at this point, Shannon Brown failed because he willingly and deliberately left an on-fire Ray Allen unattended. His decision to leave Ray to triple-team Kendrick Perkins in the post has to be close to the single dumbest move of the playoffs, beating out JJ Reddick’s time-out fiasco.

Given the success of LetShannonDunk.com earlier this year, the Celtics’ front-office staff would do well to set up a LetShannonPlayMoreMinutesOnRayAllen.com. If found out, they could just blame Paul Pierce’s twitter “hacker”.

Lamar Odom – I’ve defended him a lot over the years, primarily because Laker fans over-value scoring and under-value everything else, which means Odom doesn’t get nearly the love he should. In fact, he’s probably the first underrated player the Lakers have had since Elden Campbell. That said, the guy needs to lift. Tried to come in overly aggressive on defense in this game, as a result picked up 5 fouls in 15 minutes, and the Lakers were -10 in that time.

At his best, he’s a smooth, almost casual point-forward, who creates really well in broken play situations and snags rebounds at will. He just needs to do what he do. It’s when he tries to psyche himself up to be a traditional tough big man that he seems to struggle most. I trust that Phil will get him in the right frame of mind for Game 3.

Kendrick Perkins – He’s in a funk. In 2008, he was able to concentrate directly on Pau Gasol and just keep him away from the paint, which went a long way toward Boston winning the 2008 title. This year, he seems overwhelmed by having to switch between Bynum and Gasol, and the length of both is giving him fits. Particularly telling was Bynum’s ability to continuously push his way to the rim. And it’s not because Perkins lacks strength this is a guy that kept Dwight out of the paint, after all he just seems mentally confused out there, which is leaving him unable to exert his usual defensive influence.

Kevin Garnett – His gimpiness was really painful to watch in this game. It was suggested in the media that he was fired up or whatever by Gasol’s (truthful) comments regarding his deteriorating athleticism. As a result I harboured some pregame hopes that a fired up Garnett might be able to dig deep and make some big plays against Gasol.

Instead, he looked like Ben Wallace: Chicago Edition. KG was once again schooled by Gasol on both ends and although he did end up with 6 assists, it was hard not to view him as a liability out there. Particularly as ‘Sheed and Big Baby looked a lot more effective against the Lakers length.

Perhaps the home crowd will manage to fire him up better than Gasol’s tame comments could. After all, this is a player only a couple of weeks removed from a very solid showing in the Orlando series, so I’m not prepared to declare him The Corpse Mk II just yet. But with Gasol probably in the lead for Finals MVP over the first 2 games, Boston need to get something from KG. A scowl, a menacing bounce even – just something to show that he’s still alive.

Ron Artest – Sneaking into our votes for Game 1 obviously inflated Ron’s ego a bit too much going into Game 2. Where in the first game he stuck very well to the offense and primarily took open threes, this game brought out the worst in Ron offensively. He over-dribbled, he tried to post up repeatedly, he jacked bad shots – and nothing was working for him. He finished 1-10, with his last miss providing a nice – and hilarious – summary of his night offensively (see below).

Still, as bad as Ron Artest was offensively, he once again managed to render Paul Pierce completely ineffective on offense, and he deserves credit for his work on that end of the floor. But I can guarantee that Phil and Kobe are totally having a secret meeting about how to keep the ball away from Ron on offense in Game 3.

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Paul Pierce – Actually played a game that resembled Artest’s in a lot of ways, although his struggles on offense weren’t nearly as entertaining. Missed a couple of shots that he would usually make with his eyes closed, but most of the time was just shadowed really well by Artest. Jeff Van Gundy brought up a good point, I think, in suggesting that the Celts really need to get Pierce into pick-and-roll situations, as that’s the only way to get separation between him and Artest. As anyone who plays basketball knows, when your defender is quicker and stronger, it’s tough not to get discouraged when your shot isn’t falling. Where do you attack? Well, more picks would definitely be a good start, even off the ball.

Like Ron though, Pierce was very good on defense, hustling all over the floor to contest shots and grab loose balls in addition to eliciting an awful offensive display from Ron. I’d love to have a dedicated camera focused exclusively on the Artest/Pierce match-up, with a mic to pick up any trash talk. It would be riveting viewing.

Kobe Bryant – Got dicked by the refs. Sure, it was probably for the first time in his career, but it happened nonetheless. Picked up his third foul on a blatant flop from Ray Allen, his forth was an iffy blocking call, and his fifth was a questionable charge call after Glen Davis slid forward into him on a floater attempt.

As a result he spent only 34 minutes on the court, with his play mostly a mixed bag. Early in the game he delivered a couple of superb passes – the highlight was a fumbled alley-oop that he recovered and then dumped to Bynum for a dunk, all whilst in the air. He also knocked in a typical Kobe 30-footer on the halftime buzzer off a dumb Boston turnover that gave LA the momentum to start the third.

On the downside, his defense really let him down today. His inability to stop Rondo in transition was indirectly responsible for several of Ray Allen’s threes, and it was a (tentative) Kobe Bryant that Rondo took apart in the last quarter. I’m not sure if the decision to play 6 feet away from Rondo was Phil’s decision or Kobe’s, but whoever was responsible fucked up.

Pau Gasol – Another really good game, and would have made the votes on most other nights. Had one cupcake effort that reminded of 2008 – a soft fast break lay-up attempt against ‘Sheed in the 1st that he should have dunked on his head – but mostly he combined exceptionally well with Bynum on both ends. It seems to me that with Kobe becoming a more willing passer in this series, both Gasol and Bynum are playing with more energy in anticipation of getting the ball, and it carries over onto the defensive end as well.

Shot the ball great (7-10 from the field), drew a ton of fouls (12 free throws), and recorded an impressive 6 blocks. My only criticism is that he did float out of the game a bit at times, particularly when paired with Odom, but on the whole he’s the man with the early lead in the Finals MVP after two excellent back-to-back performances to start the series.

By the way, when Pau delivered a gorgeous one-handed reverse lay-up in the second quarter, Mark Jackson claimed that that move “is called ‘delivering pizza’ in the streets”, which has me intrigued. Obviously Brooklyn-born Mark Jackson knows more about “the streets” than I do, but I’m really struggling to see how you could possibly work that into a sentence, even in “the streets”. I could try;

-          That’s the sweetest pizza delivery I’ve ever seen…OR

-          Yo Chris, I’m gonna deliver some pizza in your face today.

Either of those work for you guys? I really feel like I need some clarification from Mark Jackson before I can integrate it into my basketball trash-talk. Now onto the votes…

1 vote – Ray Allen aka Ray Ray aka Jesus Shuttlesworth: On my Most Delicious list, watching Ray Ray swish threes in the playoffs ranks somewhere between great Spanish tapas and Adrianna Lima (Marko Jaric, you son-of-a-gun). So I was always going to love a game that featured Ray going off for a perfect 7-for-7 from downtown in a half.

He started the game defended by a determined Derek Fisher. Unfortunately for the Lakers, all the determination in the world couldn’t help Fisher get around Boston’s stagger screens quick enough to seriously contest Allen’s jumper, a fact that Doc Rivers wisely exploited all through the first quarter by running said screens over and over. Ray, finding himself open time and again, made LA pay.

The second quarter brought more of the same, only now Ray’s shots were coming in transition, with Rondo pushing the pace and creating great looks for Allen who kept obliging. By the time he hit his sixth straight 3-pointer, the focus had temporarily moved from the game itself, to the question of when Ray Allen would miss (which he finally did at the start of the 3rd quarter).

With 27 points and a near-flawless shooting performance, Ray was hands down the story of the first half, so it was no surprise LA started paying him a lot more attention in the second (then again, he’s Ray fucking Allen, you didn’t know he could shoot?) In any case, Ray was unable to break free of the Lakers’ defense in the second half, scoring just one more 3-pointer and finishing with a final tally of 32.

2 votes – Andrew Bynum: Ten years from now, when talking about his career, it would not surprise me to hear Andrew Bynum point to this game as a turning point. It was certainly the gutsiest game he’s ever played.

To understand just how tough Bynum was in Game 2, you only need to watch the opening tip and see Bynum, beaten by Perkins, visibly limp back to his defensive post. Watching it live, I was certain this meant Bynum was only going to be in for short bursts, and if the Lakers could get anything from him it’d be a bonus. As it turned out, his play on both ends was absolutely crucial to the Lakers first absorbing the Ray Allen barrage, and eventually regaining the lead.

His numbers were impressive, no doubt. The 12 free throws he attempted and the 7 blocks were both season highs, after all. But it was more than that. The manner in which he simply forced his way to the rim for dunks or fouls was truly inspiring – particularly so considering he did it whilst injured, mainly against an old-fashioned widebody in Kendrick Perkins.

Consistency hasn’t traditionally been Bynum’s forte, so it might be unrealistic to expect a repeat performance in Game 3, particularly playing away at Boston. But as long as he shows the same intent and toughness, he’ll keep making life very difficult for the Boston bigs, and give LA every opportunity to steal back home-court advantage.

3 votes – Rajon Rondo: This guy seems to just play out of his mind whenever I’m doing the votes. In Game 2, he got better every quarter, culminating in a memorable 4th quarter performance which almost single-handedly ripped the game back from LA’s grasp. In total, he finished with 19/10/12, for the first Finals TD since TD himself (i.e. Tim Duncan) notched one up in 2003.

And as impressive as the triple-double was, perhaps his two most important plays of the night didn’t actually contribute towards it. The first was his block on Derek Fisher, which was ridiculous because Fisher pump-faked causing Rondo to fly past him…yet Rondo is still quick enough to recover and block the shot from behind with time to spare (see below). And the second was the more familiar wrap-around strip on Kobe, which as Jeff Van Gundy pointed out, is the ultimate high-stakes gamble. Had Rondo missed the attempted strip, Kobe has an open look late in the 4th quarter of a close NBA Finals game. I mean, come on!

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There was plenty of good stuff before the 4th quarter too, though. Crisp passes to set up team-mates, a ridiculous floating bank-shot over Bynum, a behind-the-back fake off immediately after an offensive rebound…he did it all. A particular highlight came early in the second quarter, when Rondo up-faked the shit out of an unsuspecting Andrew Bynum on a lay-up, leading to this piece of commentary by Jeff VG;

That’s a Goran Dragic move. He just got Dragic’d right there.

That’s right, Doubting Thomas entrant Goran Dragic, used as a verb by Van Gundy to describe a highlight play in the NBA Finals. The NBA is fantastic!

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