The 2008 NBA Finals have given us a few things we didnt
expect: Huge leads, huge comebacks, and now two huge games that will decide the
2008 NBA champion.
Boston held home court with relative ease (despite a furious
fourth quarter comeback that came too little too late for the Lakers in Game
Two), and then headed to Los Angeles to try and steal a game.
That idea may not have seemed far-fetched, but how it all
played out certainly couldnt have been scripted by any Hollywood
The Lakers won a defensive battle in Game Three – exactly
what they had to do – and headed into Game Four with quite a bit of confidence.
And that confidence grew early and often as they bolted to a 24 point lead in
the second quarter, and took an 18 point cushion into halftime thanks to the
revival of Lamar Odom.
But as has been the theme all year long, the Celtics never
gave up. They showed the world their true colors, which they also flashed in
back-to-back Game Sevens victories over Atlanta and Cleveland in the first two
Little by little, they chipped away at the lead, until Sasha
Vujucic gave up on defense on a crucial Boston possession where the help
defenders stayed home on the shooters, and Ray Allen put the game away with a
savvy veteran drive to the basket for two.
Their comeback victory was the largest ever in the NBA
Finals. Their wins might not always, or ever, be pretty, but the Celtics are
focused and playing unselfish basketball.
Game Five showcased another Laker meltdown when Kobe cooled
off after an offensive outburst in the first quarter, and they saw their lead
of 19 points disappear by the third quarter. He made up for it with a key
defensive steal on Paul Pierce in the waning moments, but a shaky Laker squad
now heads back to Boston with the knowledge that theyve let two huge leads
slip away on their home court.
has played the Lakers tough all series long because of good strategy and great
hustle. They have been throwing everything imaginable at Kobe Bryant, from Ray
Allen to Paul Pierce to both of them at the same time.
Kobe can do it all by himself in any regular season game,
and even in this series in stretches, but he cant carry this team all by
himself in the intense pressure cooker atmosphere of an NBA Finals game. So he
needs his teammates. So far, they havent fully responded.
Derek Fisher is shooting under 40% from the field and has
missed a few key free throws. Lamar Odom is shooting 66% from the line and Pau
Gasol is just 63% from the charity stripe. Sasha has struggled on the games
biggest stage, and Luke Walton is averaging 1.4 points per game.
Those arent the type of stats Phil Jackson had in mind
entering this series. But the most disconcerting thing for the Lakers has been
their hustle. They have repeatedly been beat to loose balls, and Boston is
attacking the rim at will in order to get to the free throw line.
The Big Three is succeeding at what they set out to do at
the beginning of the season: play together. Their stats arent jumping off
the page, but they seem to be stepping up at the right moment. It was the
Truths offense in Game One, the Big Tickets rebounding and defense in Game Two,
and Ray Rays last minute layup in Game Four. They all have each others back.
Thats what L.A. needs heading back to Boston. Kobe has to carry more of
an offensive load, which also entails continued ball distribution. Lamar Odom
needs to be more assertive on the offensive end of the floor and Pau Gasol
needs to stop worrying about the refs and be aggressive attacking the boards.
The Lakers also need to get more production out of their
bench. Throughout the Finals, Bostons
reserves have outscored L.A.s
bench 136-99. If their second unit can step up, as well as get better solid
veteran leadership from Derek Fisher, they can steal Game Six – and anything
can happen in Game Seven.
Dont get me wrong, the Lakers arent done. But as Kobe
alluded to in his postgame comments after a victory in Game Five, they wont
win if they play like that again.