Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

It was a game the Celtics absolutely had to win, and their defensive effort in the first quarter showed they understood this all too well. The Lakers, to their credit, matched that intensity and the result was a hard-fought Finals game, even though the standard overall was pretty poor.

Before we get into the votes, I thought I’d jot down a couple of key things that became obvious in Game 4:

-          Andrew Bynum has become an integral part of this Lakers team. His absence in this game opened the door for Big Baby to do his thing, and let Perkins and Wallace focus entirely on Gasol in the second half, without having to worry about switching from one big to the other inside the paint. Statistically, the Lakers are about 8 points better defensively with Bynum on the floor during the Finals.

-          Kobe Bryant still very much wants the Finals MVP. In the last two games he’s jacked up at least a dozen really bad shots (even by Kobe standards) and tried to go completely into me-against-the-world mode in both second halves. I actually agree with Rob about Kobe in Game 3; the Lakeshow offense was static, and it made sense for him to try to take over some. Plus his D and his energy were terrific all game, so I thought it was one of the better 10-for-29 games Kobe has had. This time, not so much. He made some spectacular threes, and shot better overall, but his 7 turnovers came at bad times, he got completely shut down by Tony Allen in the 4th quarter, and his inability to feed Gasol when he was opposed to Big Baby was very costly for the Lakers.

-          The Lakers bench is worse than anyone imagined. It’s not even the lack of skill level, but rather the complete lack of heart some of those guys show when they come into the game. I can’t think of a better way to sum up their play than to say that they look like they’ve been acquired from the Wizards. The Lakers already were basically trying to win a title with 6 quality guys…if Bynum has to sit out with his knee, that becomes 5. To me, that’s too great an ask.

-          If Tony Allen adds a corner 3-ball, he could be this generation’s Bruce Bowen. He’s the first player since Bruce to really be able to successfully play ball-denial defense on Kobe Bryant, he’s gotten a lot better at not biting on fakes, and he’s just as offensively inept. I personally hope he can get his shit together and add a semi-reliable jumper, as I just love watching great perimeter defenders to their thing.

3 votes – Glen “Big Baby” Davis: In terms of entertainment value alone, there are few performances that will top Big Baby’s Game 4 explosion. In just 22 minutes, he managed to pour in 18 points (most of them right in the face of the defense) and had 4 offensive rebounds as well. It was great to watch his unbridled emotion as every big bucket was followed by what would certainly be some of the more insane celebrations the NBA has ever seen. We saw drool, we saw weird lip gyrations, tongue action – it was all happening!

But even more entertaining was Davis’ actual basketball, which eschews any historical mould. He’s obviously not the first portly fellow to ever play in the NBA, but he has very little in common with his plump predecessors. Where guys like Oliver Miller and Tractor Traylor were back to the basket dudes who used their weight to bully their defenders, Davis is more like what Amare Stoudemire would be if he had a KFC addiction. And I absolutely mean that as a compliment; how a guy his size has such superb footwork, quickness and body control is really a mystery wrapped in a riddle inside an enigma.

Maybe it was all that backwards running up hills in the off-season:

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2 votes – Pau Gasol: Thought he was again clearly the Lakers’ best player. Shut down Garnett after Garnett’s big Game 3, once again had double figure free throw attempts, and should really have scored closer to 30 if his team-mates could have gotten him the ball more in the second half. He was also responsible for a lot of the Lakers “loose balls” in the first half; Van Gundy mentioned at one point that all the Celtics seemed to be reaching for defensive rebounds with one hand this series, and in my opinion Gasol (and Bynum to a lesser extent) has been the reason for it. Only credited with one offensive rebound in this game, but had several tap-outs leading to team rebounds.

I remain convinced that there are only 2 ways the Lakers can win this series, especially if Bynum’s mobility is as limited as it was in Game 4. Either Kobe shoots the lights out in 2 of the next 3 games (unlikely) or he has to cede and allow Gasol to be the best player on the court. With Gasol as the primary option, the Boston bigs tend to get into foul trouble, the Lakers score more efficiently, and Gasol generally stays more involved on D.

He was also engaged in an entertaining battle with Sheed whenever Sheed was on the floor, as detailed nicely by TrueHoop.

1 vote – Nate Robinson: Was tempted to give 1 vote to Paul Pierce for a much-improved showing in Game 4 (plus he managed to clock a ref right in the face, but Nate really did deserved it. His enthusiasm about finally getting minutes in the last two games was contagious, he knocked in some key shots (including two huge threes), and proved correct all the people that picked him as the X factor this series (to all the people that picked The Machine, thanks for playing).

Before this series, I would have sworn that Boston would need Rondo to play at the same All-NBA level that he’d been showing all playoffs to win, so their ability to steal one with Rondo playing a stinker would have been most pleasing – and Nate giving them great minutes was a big reason for it.

I hope he can keep tearing the Lakers bench stiffs a new one in Game 5 – it’s impossible not to root for the little bloke.

Davis and Robinson gave a great performance in the presser, too:

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