On a Sunday, no less.Jim Rogash/Getty Images
Hugs! Hugs for all the people!
Kobe has made a habit of this sort of thing over the '09-'10 season, so it really shouldn't have surprised to see him manage to squeeze out just enough space against against Boston's Ray Allen, stuck on 24 like weirdness to Starbury, for his dagger fadeaway. It was a great cap to what had been a poor shooting quarter for Kobe, who had missed five of his previous six shots and 12-19 on the day. Still, Bryant was sure he'd make his last, if given another bite at the apple. You gonna tell him he can't? (Certainly Andrew Bynum wasn't about to. His reaction to briefly touching the ball on the Lakers' final possession was awesome.)
Of course, Kobe had plenty of help Sunday afternoon, starting with big Drew. His 19 points and 11 boards included an emphatic dunk on Kevin Garnett, part of arguably his best performance in a Lakers uniform and reflective of an aggressive mindset from the get-go. Ron Artest was also a major factor, scoring critical points in the final minute and playing rock-solid defense on Paul Pierce, including drawing a charge against PP on Boston's penultimate possession.
Of course, in Boston they're kicking themselves for giving away the game. The Celtics certainly helped the Lakers with late turnovers (and, some might argue, the refs kicked in with a couple questionable whistles as well). On the other hand, credit the Lakers for some excellent second half defense. Over the final 24 minutes, L.A. held Boston to 37 points, put the clamps on Rajon Rondo after a Q2 in which he played a hand in 28 of Boston's 33 points, and turned the home team into a group of jump shooters.
All that's left is to determine what it means. For that, check below the jump...
Remember how Boston bullied the Lakers in the '08 Finals? Back then, the Celtics used their superior strength to complement their skill. This time around, that muscle is being used to mask inferior talent. When Rasheed Wallace was called for a technical ('Sheed's 14th 'T' on the season) for mixing it up with Gasol (who was also T'd up), it wasn't because Wallace was being physical. It was because Gasol had established deep position and Wallace whacked him out of frustration. With Bynum and Ron Artest in the lineup, the Lakers can match the Celtics' toughness. If the game gets a little chippy, Boston no longer has an automatic advantage.
Dave McMenamin of ESPN Los Angeles writes Rondo's red hot second frame illustrates a serious problem with the team:
Quick, penetrating guards make the Lakers' defense fold faster than a Texas hold 'em player who draws a 2-4 unsuited. The latest player to dice up L.A.'s defense was Boston's Rajon Rondo. The fourth-year guard, who torched the Lakers for 21 points, eight assists and six steals in the Celtics' Game 6 Finals clincher two seasons ago, was just as effective Sunday, piling up 21 points and 12 assists, and according to Lakers coach Phil Jackson, "literally changed the ballgame in a matter of about four minutes" in the second quarter. Coming into the game, all of the hubbub surrounding L.A.'s trip to the Hub was about the team's toughness. It turned out to be a nonissue after the first quarter when Pau Gasol didn't back down when Rasheed Wallace was ready to rumble. The Lakers had a 13-point lead at that point, so the Celtics' intimidation tactics weren't really working anyway. Rondo's at-will penetration is the reason L.A. lost its lead in the second quarter and found itself down by 11 in the fourth.
He lists a group of guards- Deron Williams, Tony Parker, Steve Nash, Russell Westbrook, Chris Paul (though he's now injured, blasting a huge hole in the postseason hopes of the Hornets), Aaron Brooks, Ty Lawson- the Lakers could see in the playoffs, just in Western Conference. No doubt the Lakers are vulnerable here, but given the guys on the list (and including Rondo out of the E.C.), it's worth pointing out half of them are All-Stars or future All-Stars. They give every team trouble. L.A.'s inability to consistently bottle up a guy like Rondo is hardly unique.
Doesn't make it less a problem, but context is important. And in the end, Boston was limited to 89 points and the Lakers have been an elite defensive team this year. If PG's have success but the other guys don't, is this really an issue?
Still, John Ireland saw enough from Rondo to believe a trade for backcourt help before the deadline is now more likely.
In his notes on Sunday's game, True Hoop's Henry Abbott sees evolution in Phil Jackson's rotations:
A little while ago, I dug into the different lineups Phil Jackson was using in crunch times. At that time, the finishers looked pretty different from the starters. He had been playing non-starters like Shannon Brown or Jordan Farmar in place of Derek Fisher or Ron Artest. The exception, however, was in a big nationally televised game against the Cavaliers. In that game, Jackson closed with his starters, in a losing effort. The Lakers' next huge game on national TV was yesterday, and he did essentially the same thing again (with Lamar Odom playing some crunch time for Gasol, then Bynum). I wonder which system represents Jackson's true desires. Does he think the starters are the best closers, and he has been experimenting with Brown and the like in less prominent games? Or is he closing with the starters in huge games, to preserve the dignity of Artest and Fisher, while he tries to figure out something that will work better in the playoffs? Or is it just based on matchups? I hate to speculate about the man's thinking, but it certainly is true that in huge games he deploys the troops differently down the stretch, with Artest and Fisher getting crunch time burn.
After playing to a virtual tie in the 3rd quarter, the closing period arrived the Lakers showed the combination of heart and skill that earned them a title last June. They continued to fight and made enough plays to keep the game close going into the final minutes. Then, in the closing moments of the game the Lakers did all the little things that help win – they cleaned their defensive glass, they found a soft spot to exploit in the Celtics defense (Kobe at the elbow), and just kept attacking. The Lakers finally clinched the game on a four possession sequence (two offensive, two defensive) where Artest made an incredibly difficult layup to bring us with one, followed by (Ron again) drawing an offensive foul on Pierce, then Kobe sinking an amazing line drive jumper with Ray Allen all over him, and climaxing with the Celtics running a play for Ray Allen and Lamar closing out to contest what would have been the game winner. Just a fantastic finish to game that had my heart pounding for the final 5 minutes of the contest.