About the only confidence I had in the Boston Celtics heading into last night’s game was the Celts wouldn’t punk out. Coming off an uninspired and tentative performance in game one, it seemed unlikely that this group would come out flat or docile. They might lose, I thought, but they won’t lose lying on their back.
For twenty-one “game” minutes, this prediction looked solid as the Celts did indeed come out more aggressive and more urgent. But at the end of the second quarter, Sheldon Williams (who hardly even counts as a team member) made two awful plays and the Celts got knocked on their heels. Instead of leading by double digits, the Celts headed to half with just a six point lead. And it got worse from there as the Lakers stormed out after halftime and two minutes in the third quarter, they took the lead.
At that moment, it looked very much like Ashton Kutcher was going to jump in Doc Rivers face and yell “you’ve been punked!”
But a funny thing happened on the way to the Shawshank showers for a visit with “The Sisters.” Instead of getting punked, the Celts found some spine. And rather than falling apart, the Celts held the line, holding off the Lakers charge and playing them even over the final ten minutes of the third. ESPN clown John Hollinger called the third quarter a “HUGE WIN” for the Lakers but I saw it differently. I saw it more like Rocky III where Rock takes Clubber Lang’s best shot and begs him to hit him again.
From there, the Celts got a big contributions from Nate and Tony Allen, which allowed them to buy some time for Rondo. And when RR returned, he dominated the final six minutes of the game and proved that he was the most determined player on the court. Kobe might be the best player out there but Rondo gives no quarter when it comes to toughness.
So the Celtics evened things up and leave LA with the game they had to have. It wasn’t pretty at times, but Ray Allen went crazy in the first half, Rondo took over the fourth quarter, and Paul Pierce played his ass off even though his shot was way off. When you throw in some excellent bench work from Baby, Sheed and Nate, you have the making of a nice all-around win.
So what lies ahead? Well, the Celts got their game but I don’t buy this Paul Pierce line that “we aren’t going back.” At this point, I gladly would take going back 3-2 as I remained concerned by this matchup. On the one hand, the Celts won last night without anything from Garnett and little in the way of offense from Pierce. But on the other, KG looks shot and the Lakers were in that game despite getting nothing from Odom, nothing from Artest and not a whole lot from Kobe. I still worry about LA’s length as it is causing fits for some of Boston’s less coordinated closers (Perkins and Davis). And I am still worried that Kobe has a monster game hidden in his bag. So no, I don’t think the Celts are going to sweep these next three. But two are possible and at this point, I’d actually bet on it.
OTHER THOUGHTS ON LAST NIGHT
* I try to stay even-keeled when it comes to officiating but it strikes me that this series is being called way too tightly. Losing Allen killed the Celts in game one and I thought the Celts were getting killed again in the first half last night while it was the Lakers turn in the second half. These things tend to even out but over a small sample, like a seven game series, there is no guarantee. If it were up to me, the referees would let these teams play a little more.
* As I have said repeatedly during this Celtic run, the biggest stat on the Celtics stat sheet is turnovers. Last night, depending on whose numbers you use, the Celtics turned the ball over 12 times in the first half and that played a huge role in limiting the upside from Ray’s explosion. But in the second half, the Celts turned the ball over just twice and if you ask me, that is what kept them in the game until Rondo could finally take it over.
* Andrew Bynum played THIRTY-NINE minutes last night. He may be hurt but he isn’t injured. There is a difference. I’ll be curious to see whether that heavy workload bites him on the quick turnaround. He was huge for the Lakers last night and with Lamar Odom having decided to sit this series out, he becomes a huge figure for the Lakers. As such, if that knee swells up on him, big advantage for the Celts.
* KG just doesn’t look right. He didn’t look real good at the end of the Orlando series and he looks even worse now.
* I realize it is a small sample and you can’t really play him along side Rondo, but Nate Robinson is just screaming for minutes right now. Yeah, he is streaky but you can tell he is swimming in confidence and ready to get it on.
* If Tony Allen had twenty percent more offense, he would be an $8-10M.yr player. His defense is “that” good.
* Meanwhile, Perkins’ offense is “that” bad. He is clearly the most uncoordinated guy in this series but then again, he is always the most uncoordinated player out there. Runner up in this contest is Ron Artest whose dribbling skills are ghastly.
* Am I the only one who can’t figure out why Perkins plays late in games when teams can and should foul him? I realize that Wallace isn’t as a good a rebounder but Perkins is such a big liability at the line that he doesn’t belong out there for the money shot.
* Big Baby is having all kinds of problems closing around the rim but give him credit, he is fighting his ass off inside. He’s not a bad athlete but God just didn’t do him any favors in the lift department.