Photo by Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE/Getty Images
For the Celtics, a little too close for comfort.
The Lakers came out needing a stronger performance in Game Two, but waited until late in the fourth to find any sort of rhythm, with a 41 point quarter. Strong Celtic defense for three quarters, 31 assists (16 by Rondo), a great first half performance by Paul Pierce and a dominant performance off the bench by Leon Powe (21 points) were the stories of this game.
An incredible foul disparity (38 for the Celtics, 10 for the Lakers) and poor defense cost the Lakers in this game. In the post game press conference, Phil Jackson pointed out that Doc Rivers complaining to referee Bob Delaney after KG's technical mid first quarter, as well as Boston's aggressiveness, started the onslaught of fouls called in the Celtics favor. Look for a decided difference in Game Three back in LA. When Grandmaster Phil and MVP Kobe whine, the NBA listens.
The first and fourth quarters went to LA, the second and third were Boston's. The Celtics had trouble executing the pick and roll to Garnett early, Gasol started out dominating KG, and Rondo passed up open looks to allow LA a two point lead at the end of the first. Boston came out with a 10-0 run to start the second, with Powe and Pierce providing the energy, and the offense. Powe had eight points in five minutes, Pierce had 16 in the half. The Celtics already had a 15-1 foul shot disparity, and by around the eight minute mark of quarter two, the Lakers had turned the ball over nine times. The first half ended with a 54-42 Celtics lead.
The third quarter started out the same as the second, with Boston providing energy and defense. Kobe, clearly getting more frustrated, got hit with a technical at 8:59. Within one minute, Perkins picked up his fourth foul, and Pierce his third. By 6:15, Boston was in the penalty, but LA could still not get to the charity stripe. Kobe went on a mini-tear, with 8 points in the quarter, but it still wasn't enough, as Boston increased their lead, scoring 29 points in the quarter to go up 83-61.
Boston's comfort zone existed through the middle of the fourth quarter, when the roof caved in and the Celtics lost their focus. The Lakers hit seven threes in the quarter, which I believe is a NBA playoff record. For the game, LA shot .476 from behind the arc, with 10-21 shooting. The Lakers closed within two, but Pierce hit two clutch free throws and blocked a shot to help build the lead back to six and close out the game, 108-102.
KG had 14 rebounds, but did not have a great shooting night, going 7-19, with a -9 for the night. At his post game press conference, one of the reporters asked him if his '03-'04 WCF run taught him anything for this particular Finals experience. To paraphrase, he said he's learned how to enjoy the journey more and stay a little more relaxed, but in still another shot at his former team, he said his current club has better players, better basketball IQ's, and a better staff. At least he didn't mention better broadcasters or fans. Stay classy, KG.
Obviously, with the Celts holding serve in a 2-3-2 format, the pressure is on the Lakers to win all three games at home. It wouldn't be impossible to win two in Boston if they lose one of those games in LA, but I wouldn't bet the farm on it. Lamar Odom needs to show up when they return to California, and LA needs to seriously tighten up their defense. And, get a few calls.
The fun is just beginning.