AP Photo/Winslow Townson
So the Boston Celtics are one win away from being crowned NBA Champions for 2010, and I absolutely expected this. I expected it because they are the hungrier team, the tougher team, the more balanced team. The better team.
Nothing epitomized that better than the first six minutes of the third quarter in this game. It was, in my opinion, a perfect microcosm of this Celtics vs Lakers Finals series. In the Purple and Gold corner we had Kobe Bryant, pulling off what was the most remarkable six minutes of shot-making I have witnessed in the Finals since probably MJ in ‘93. It was absurd. I’ve seen guys make 7 straight shots before, but not in a game of this magnitude, and certainly not against the kind of defensive pressure the Celtics were applying.
In the Green corner we had the entire Boston Celtics unit, rolling with Kobe’s punches and never flinching. Finding holes in the Lakers defense time and time again. Constantly reminding us basketball is a game played at two ends of the floor, and that what happens at the defensive end is probably a little more important.
After six minutes, Kobe had lit up Boston for 17 points.
After six minutes, the Celtics lead still stood at 8 points.
We didn’t know it at the time, but the Celtics had just taken the Lakers knock-out blow and bounced right back up. LA would make a game of it late, but thanks to more mistakes, missed shots and free-throws, and some Rondo brilliance, they never really had the Celtics on the ropes.
3 votes – Kevin Garnett. This was KG’s best game of the Finals, by far. He was extremely active at both ends of the floor, raking up 5 steals, 3 assists, 2 blocks and 10 boards to go with his 18 points. He defended Gasol perfectly and set an aggressive defensive tone (as usual) that carried over to the rest of the team. One memory that will linger is when Gasol tried to take on KG early in the third, only to have KG and Perkins both emphatically block his shot at the same time. Gasol looked broken. That kind of stuff is mentally scarring. That kind of stuff was 2008 all over again.
2 votes – Paul Pierce. Shouldered the Celtics offensive load on a very efficient 12-21 shooting. A couple of days ago I remember hearing Doc Rivers say that his team needed to remember Paul was their best offensive player. He was spot on. I think that was lost the last few games and Pierce himself may have been a tad too unselfish. Tonight he was looking for his shots early, and in the third when Kobe was going crazy, he hit a couple of critical buckets to quieten the storm. It was a perfectly measured game from Pierce, who may have just hit the lead in the Celtics Finals MVP stakes – with Rondo a close second.
1 vote – Kobe Bryant. Would have given this to Rondo if not for the 7 turnovers. Hard not to grant Kobe a vote, even if it’s just for that sublime third quarter. But here’s the thing: Kobe’s brilliance is sometimes the Lakers own worst enemy. When he’s in the zone like he was in the third, he operates in a complete vacuum. It meant for six minutes not one other Laker could get in rhythm offensively, and it ultimately killed them in the fourth quarter. So at the end of the game, who do you blame? Do you blame Phil for not balancing the offense enough? Do you blame Gasol for not demanding more of the ball in the post? Do you blame the Lakers bench for failing to provide any spark to alleviate the load on Kobe? I’ll tell you who you don’t blame, and that’s Kobe Bryant. Yes for six minutes he played 1-on-5 basketball, but there were 42 other minutes in this game for his teammates to stand up to the challenge, and they didn’t. On this night Kobe may not have been the fourth-quarter closer we all expect him to be, but if it wasn’t for his one-man show in the third, this game would have been well over before the fourth even started.
So what to expect for Game 6? Honestly, I think the Lakers are getting a bit too comfy about heading back home. The self-assured comments I’ve heard from Phil, Kobe and everyone else seems to suggest that going home will solve all their problems. It will absolutely not. Watching the Lakers today towards the end of the game, I saw a team in crisis. Where was the spark? The chemistry? The urgency? Boston’s bench looked like a pack of cheerleaders in comparison.
If I had to bet from being an observer on the outside, I’d say there’s little question that the Boston camp is in a much better place, mentally, than where these Lakers are. And why shouldn’t they be? They’ve already beaten the Lakers at Staples (Game 2), and they won’t be forgetting their historic Game 4 comeback in 2008 anytime soon. They’ve shown they can withstand anything and everything Kobe Bryant can thrown at them, and they’ve shown they may have the only coach in NBA history to rightfully claim he “owns” Phil Jackson.
The Lakers will be happy coming back to Staples. A place they call home.
For these Celtics, it’s just a place they go to crush Lakers fan’s dreams.