Sunday, January 31, 2010
Lakers 90, Celtics 89: One (more Kobe) moment
By Brian Kamenetzky
Jesse D. Garrabrandt/NBAE via Getty Images
We've seen how this movie ends, and it's a popular film locally...
The game winning shot is always a good place to start.
With about 24 seconds left in the fourth and the Lakers down 89-88, Derek Fisher crossed half court, then brought the ball to the left wing as Kobe Bryant established high post position against Ray Allen at the elbow. Fish fed Kobe as Allen, draped all over 24, forced him beyond the three-point line. Bryant drifted, then drove right trying to earn space, but Allen stayed locked on his hip while Paul Pierce rotated off Ron Artest in the corner to help. Trapped, Kobe fed inside to Andrew Bynum.
Time for someone else to take the last shot?
Hardly. Bynum quickly reset to Kobe on the right wing. Bryant dribbled left, pulling up at the free-throw line hoping to establish room to shoot. Allen gave him none.
Kobe tried the up-fake, but Allen didn't bite. By now, he's gone left, he's gone right. He's picked up his dribble. All that's left is to drop a subtle shoulder into his defender, fall away, and fire. Out of his hand, at least from my couch, it looked flat. Maybe it was. Whatever.
With 7.3 seconds, the Lakers were ahead 90-89. It was their first lead since 5:33 mark of the second quarter, erased an 11-point fourth quarter lead for the Celtics, and would become the final score.
Kobe's game-winner, like the game, was a grind. It was uncomfortable, and didn't seem effective until it was. The Lakers have been criticized for not winning tough games, for an inability to play in the mud against teams with enough backbone to take the elegance out of their offense. Certainly the Celtics did the latter. After a red-hot first quarter in which the Lakers dropped 30 turnover-fueled points on the home team, the Lakers were limited to 60 points the rest of the way. What the Lakers did often required as great a struggle as Kobe's game-winner.
Start with a horrible fall-away from Shannon Brown on the baseline with about 4:30 to play. Bynum, working hard, cleaned up the rebound but badly missed the putback. Brown, though, smartly followed the play, grabbed Bynum's miss off the backboard and dunked with authority, cutting a four point Boston lead to two. There was the improbable Artest runner in the lane with 45 seconds to play. Driving the right baseline, he found himself in traffic reminiscent of a Friday night on the 5 Freeway, yet managed to flip the ball into the bucket around Kendrick Perkins and Kevin Garnett.
In between, there was defense. The Lakers quietly held Boston to one field goal over the final 6:32, and stood tall on two critical plays in the final minute. Following Artest's make, he drew a critical charge against Pierce to send possession the other way and set up Kobe's game-winner. On the final shot, the Lakers and Artest defended Pierce well, Kobe helping aggressively, and Lamar Odom closed hard and fast on Allen's last second three to win, coming off Garnett's screen to challenge the potential game winner.
The Celtics will likely kick themselves up and down the Freedom Trail for losing this game, turning the ball over three times over the the final 5:39. Any number of plays could have turned things Boston's way, but that's true of any one-point game. Give the Lakers credit. Offered the chance to stay in the game, they obliged, chipping away at Boston's lead and holding them to 37 points in the second half, 16 in the final quarter.
They weren't going to win this game on offense, so the Lakers found other ways. Second chance points, steals, and tight defense. Certainly they did enough to satisfy those who needed to see a good win against a good team in a hostile building.
And while Kobe didn't blow up to pass Jerry West to become L.A.'s franchise leader in points, he did get to within 29. My guess is the last two were sweet enough for Lakers fans to wait a little while longer for history.