It’s All In The Game: What Will It Take to Win?

 

The 2008 NBA Finals have given us a few things we didn’t

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 couldn’t have been scripted by any Hollywood

writer.

 

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 Seven’s victories over Atlanta and Cleveland in the first two

rounds.

 

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 they’ve let two huge leads

slip away on their home court.

 

Boston

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 can’t 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 haven’t 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 game’s

biggest stage, and Luke Walton is averaging 1.4 points per game.

 

Those aren’t 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 aren’t jumping off

the page, but they seem to be stepping up at the right moment. It was the

Truth’s offense in Game One, the Big Ticket’s rebounding and defense in Game Two,

and Ray Ray’s last minute layup in Game Four. They all have each others back.

 

That’s 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, Boston’s

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.

 

Don’t get me wrong, the Lakers aren’t done. But as Kobe

alluded to in his postgame comments after a victory in Game Five, they won’t

win if they play like that again.

 

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