Celtics Tighten The Noose As They Close In On Eighteen

All according to plan. Split in LA, come home and take two, fly out after a strong performance in game five and win it all on LA’s home floor. That is how it was scripted and that is how it’s playing out. And with fifteen playoff wins in the bank, a single win is all that stands in the way of the Boston Celtics and an eighteenth NBA Championship.  Folks, the plan is coming together nicely and I’d warn you to not leave your seat now or you just might miss the sudden finish.

I’m sure this morning many Laker fans are taking solace in the fact that their team hung tough on the road and only lost a six-point game because the Celts hit everything in sight (56 percent). They are entitled to that opinion. In fact, I concede that would be my thought if I had not defected from Santa Monica and the Southern California professional sports world in 1975.  But just because that opinion is widely held, at least in the 310 Area Code, doesn’t mean it’s correct. In fact, I think it is wildly off base.

Folks, Boston might not have knocked out the Lakers last night, but the Celtics won ten rounds as they carved up the LA defense and finally made it rain on the offensive end. So despite taking Kobe’s BEST punch, and even with all the sloppy play from Rajon Rondo, the Celts cruised to a unanimous decision.

It took a while, but we finally saw the Celts have a nice shooting night, perhaps because they are figuring out where the weaknesses are in the LA defense (Bynum) or perhaps it was because it was time for some shots to fall. Either way, the Celts were incredibly efficient last night and when Kobe went nuts in the third, the Celts actually won the quarter because their offense put LA’s defense in the burn ward at Mass General. The Celtic shooters, particularly Paul Pierce, were due for a night like that.

Moreover, it was another big night for the Boston defense as aside from Kobe’s explosion, the Lakers offense got another lesson in frustration. Gasol got stuffed, Kobe was reduced to shooting twisting prayers, Bynum’s leg prevented him from doing much of anyting and Fisher couldn’t find any open space. And then there is Ron Artest who is simply sabotaging the Laker offense at this point as the Celts are using his futility to help out elsewhere.

Most importantly, the Celts survived the night after taking Kobe’s best over-hand right. And yes, that was the best punch he will muster this series. Just take a look at the numbers. Heading into the third quarter last night, Kobe was 42-105 in the series, just 40%. Given that sample versus his torrid third quarter, I think it is clear that one is the truth and one is an anomaly. Folks, Kobe won’t do that again and here is why. The Black Mamba is a fabulous shot maker. Perhaps the best in the world. But even the best shotmaker isn’t going to keep making the horrible shots Kobe is forcing from deep. His degree of difficulty last night was almost unimaginable. To hit half those third period shots would be an accomplishment. And to think that will happen again, in such short order, strikes me as unlikely. Extremely unlikely.

At this point, I just don’t think the Lakers have enough. For all intents and purposes, they have lost Bynum. He was hobbling last night and thirty minutes of play, along with a six hour flight aren’t going to do much for his readiness. But more importantly, LA is figuring out what Orlando and Cleveland and Miami learned the hard way and that is the Celtics defense is stout. So stout, in fact, that it often breaks opposing teams. Last night, it looked like it broke the Lakers and one thing we have learned during these playoffs is when Boston breaks a team, it stays broken. I think the Celts finish this on Tuesday.

OTHER THOUGHTS:

* For all you Kobe fans, chew on this one ….. Bryant has averaged 21ppg on 38% shooting and is 6-8 in fourteen career elimination games.  And as great as Kobe was in the third last night, he was AWFUL down the stretch, turning the ball over, losing his man on defense and having the ball ripped out of his hands.

* KG finally showed up with a big game last night. It took a while, but KG was the difference last night and it came on both ends of the court. His five steals and two blocks were a big part of last night’s story.

* I’ve said this twenty times this season and I’ll say it again …. Tony Allen’s defense is that good. But that begs a question …. Why do his minutes not have more carry-over with Kobe’s time on the court? Allen is often out there while Kobe is getting his three minute break and that makes little sense to me. I know the rotations are what they are, but Allen’s work on Kobe screams for a slight rotation adjustment.   

* If you want to know how a team can shoot fifty-six percent, limit the opposing team to forty percent and only win by six, I give you Rajon Rondo. For three and a half quarters last night, Rondo’s turnovers kept LA in the game. He did, however, redeem himself with six excellent minutes to close the game. His tip in over Kobe was a huge moment and the reverse layup late, off a Pierce pass, belongs in the Museum of Modern Art. With that close, I’d give Rondo a B for the night, but it was a C- at the end of three.

* Ray Allen has missed seventeen three-pointers in a row? Isn’t that a bit of an over-correction from his game two high? It would seem like Allen is ready for a big one.

* Interestingly, Donkey played very well last night but Shrek was quiet. Curious to see how these two play on the road without the home energy.

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