Watching this series makes me really feel that sometimes basketball can be a very simple sport. This whole series has gone back and forth, quarter by quarter, based on who was willing to play harder, hustle for loose balls, and be the aggressor. That is really it. In game five today, the Lakers opened up to a 19 point lead only because Kobe was on fire from the three point land and the Lakers were willing to move without the ball to get open for some easy lay ups. Sure, it was a daunting task, but it came as no surprise that the Celtics were able to catch up because during the second quarter (and fourth by the way) they took the ball to the hoop early and often. Whenever the Lakers settled for contested or early jump shots, they allowed the Celtics to stay in the game. This was a very physical game, but the Lakers better expect it to get even more so come games six and seven. If they play in Boston as they have played these past three games, expect the Celtics to hoist the trophy very soon. However, if the Lakers can fight through the non-calls (and for the most part in the NBA finals they should be non-calls,) then expect the series to go the full seven games with the outcome being a true toss up.
Who Played Well:
Jordan Farmar: The Celtics have worked all series to limit Kobe’s drives, and yet Farmar comes in during a critical stretch in the fourth quarter and gets to hoops repeatedly against the fearsome Celtic defense for key lay ups and rejuvenated an otherwise stagnant Lakers offense with his energy.
Kobe Bryant: after forcing too many jumpers in the fourth, Kobe poked the ball away from Paul Pierce and followed it up with a resounding dunk to put the game away.
Lamar Odom and Pau Gasol: While the duo allowed Kevin Garnett to get too many offensive rebounds (seven!), they also combined to shoot 14-20, 24 rebounds, 8 assists, and 6 blocks to finish also with a combined 39 points. Furthermore, they stayed inside often, and forced the Celtics to consistently worry about someone other than Kobe. Gasol also managed to finish with zero turnovers and have no shots blocked despite being guarded very physically by the Celtics especially KG.
Who Played Poorly:
Sasha Vujacic: the poor guy was clearly affected by game four as he consistently took shots too early in the offense as he so obviously wanted to make up for his numerous mistakes in the previous games. There is a lot to like about a player who so badly wants to be the hero, but that said it didn’t help in this game.
Chris Mihm: he was so clearly nervous to be on the court after not playing for much of the previous 150 games or so. In less than 3 minutes, he managed to miss an easy shot, turn the ball over, and pick up two stupid fouls. He has the talent to be the fifth big man I discussed in my last post, but he sure didn’t show it tonight.
Who Played Well:
Paul Pierce: When I say the Celtics drove to the hoop often, who, I am actually talking about is Paul Pierce. Coming off screens near the top of the key, Pierce was able to get to the line or hit a lay up almost every time. This guy is a big time player who cannot be guarded by the Lakers individually and demands a total team effort, which is something the Lakers didn’t show tonight.
Sam Cassell: I never thought I would put him here for this series, but Cassell was huge in the fourth as he countered Farmar with seven points of his own in the fourth. He may be generally a washed up player, but in the fourth quarter Cassell came to life like he used to earlier in his long career. Although to be fair, if you are Jordan Farmar, how do you ever let a 38 year old player beat you to the hoop?
James Posey: Despite scoring only three points, Posey was the quintessential hustle player in this game diving for every loose ball and coming up with the ball almost every time it was up for grabs. The longer this series goes on, the better he has played.
Who Played Poorly:
Kevin Garnett: despite his seven offensive rebounds and his key basket midway through the fourth to tie it, Kevin Garnett used this game to generally show why he has never won a championship or advance more than twice in his now long career. In the fourth quarter, he missed clutch free throws, couldn’t tip in a Ray Allen miss despite being guarded by Jordan Farmar of all people, and allowed Gasol to do whatever he wanted on him on the other end. The Celtics are favored to win it all still, and rightfully so, but Kevin Garnett may be destined to become the next Karl Malone/ Elvin Hayes if he keeps up his inability to come through for his team when they needed him most.
Ray Allen: After being the team’s most consistent player for the first four games, Allen was reduced to 4-13 shooting in less than 40 minutes after playing all 48 in the last game. With the ball in his hands during a critical sequence in the fourth quarter, Allen was able to get a screen and drive to the hoop. However, unlike when Paul Pierce did it earlier in the quarter, the Lakers finally tried switching with Odom picking up Allen and Farmar suddenly guarding KG. This should have been a huge advantage for the Celtics with them able to make any kind of pass to KG and him being able to catch it and follow it up with a dunk. Instead, Allen took the ball right at Odom for a very difficult lay up (and missed.) On the next play, the Lakers were able to extend their lead to five. This three point swing was another candidate for being what may have iced the game in the Lakers favor.
- If you are Phil Jackson, please highlight this one play. Pierce stands at the top of the three-point line, takes a screen from KG, and then hits a wide open lay up or is fouled. How does Gasol not sink off KG the fifth or sixth time? Instead, the Lakers seemed content to let Pierce (the Celtics best player) get to the hoop single teamed with no help defenders anywhere near his vicinity rather then force him to pass out to KG who was shooting something under 40 percent on his jumpers…
- Now that I am in the market for a new car, I have been watching the car commercials during the game with renewed interest. All I can say is that I could never ever buy a GMC after what I saw. I am too scared the actor in the commercials would follow me around with his endless chatter until I finally snapped and beat him to death with the golf club I always leave in the trunk of whatever car I do drive. The worst part about those 30 seconds of terrible GMC promotion is that somewhere there is a GMC marketing person who found those ads hilarious and probably sent them to all his friends in one of those emails with the subject being “LOL you must check this out.”
- Speaking of ridiculous commercials, what was up with that McDonalds soccer commercial. After watching it, the only thing I thought was: “so only losers get McDonalds?”
- Last commercial note: maybe I should buy the Honda Pilot. That way I can pick up random hitch hikers whenever I want, have like 12 cup holders, and deftly avoid man eating Bison with my super cool car. Moreover, I bet it doesn’t have any danger of exploding after hitting just two big rigs (get your act together BMW!)
- Bill Walton is one of my favorite announcers because he so clearly loves the game more than anyone else, but it’s also nice for him to finally acknowledge his son in a game. Still Walton proved why his knowledge of the game ranks up there with anyone by correctly pointing out during half time the many times the Lakers offense stagnated.
- Speaking of which, when you heard Larry Bird wished Walton luck, did you really think it was as big a deal as Mark Jackson did? I mean, no way was Bird wishing that the Lakers win the series, just that Walton plays well as the Celtics sweep. No way does Larry Legend ever go against the Celtic green even if his own son were to play for the Lakers rather than his friend Bill’s kid.
- In the end, this game didn’t tell us too much, because the Lakers had to win where as the Celtics could lose and then simply win it all in front of their home crowd. Still, I can’t wait for game six. The Lakers should still be hungry while the Celtics will still be hobbled by the loss of Perkins and Rondo.
- Speaking of missing big men, how did Leon Powe only register 5 minutes?
- The key to game six is Kevin Garnett. If he will get a lot of open shot opportunities if the Lakers focus their defense on Pierce. If he can knock down that 20 foot jumper consistently, the game is a blow out in the Celtics favor. If he misses, the Lakers should pull off a close victory.