Having been traveling with my family on a road trip all day, I'm cautiously looking forward to watching Game 4. I am wary, however, having read reports about Paul Pierce still feeling laid back and relaxed about the series, and saying inflammatory things like "We have the better team." Guess what, genius -- Magic thought he had the better team in '84, and you know, he actually might have, but he lost. Pierce's "confidence" hasn't conjured this much foreboding since Tom Brady muttered the words: "Plaxico thinks we're only gonna score 17 points?
" Arrogance can ruin even the most talented player.First Half:
On the way out of Chili's, I extract myself from the family for a second to check the score at the bar - 34 to 14, Lakers. Yikes. The satisfying cheese steak in my belly threatens to return ingloriously. I wonder to myself "How in the hell does a team take a 20-point lead in the first quarter?" It's going to be a long night.
I settle myself in front of a hotel lobby TV at 40 - 19, Lakers, 8:13 left in the 2nd. I am reminded that not too long ago, the Lakers were down by a similar deficit in Game 2 and almost came roaring back. The difference here -- I have far less confidence in the Celtics away from the Garden. This could get ugly.
Michele Tafoya interviews Will Smith. If there aren't enough reasons to hate the Lakers, the star-studded array of Hollywood faces in their crowd is yet another. In the interview, we learn that Will "only" has a "personal relationship" with Kobe. He would know more of the Lakers personally, but he's been "immersed in a character" for 6 months. Barf.
9:57 pm: The Larry / Magic split screen commercial again -- I'm watching it on a wide screen where the image is scrunched down...I learn that when his image is distorted, Larry actually looks like a human being, and not a bloated alien. Scratch that; he just looks like a less bloated alien.
Stat flashes on screen: Kobe has three points, but the Lakers are dominating. Still feeling you have the better team, Mr. Pierce? This is the Lakers team to fear -- the one where Kobe draws defensive attention, but distributes the ball immaculately, causing players like Gasol and Odom and Fisher to flourish. The Celtics defense has that we're-still-enjoying-a-series-lead-and-will-wait-until-our-backs-are-against-the-wall feeling.
3:24 left in the 2nd. Posey three. Lead is down to 13. The Lakers have established a lead early enough where a comeback feels more than feasible. The advantage to playing from behind is that you've got "nothing to lose," while the team with the lead can easily get a little freaked out by the pressure of losing that big lead. even the Zen Master has talked of the difficulty of playing with the lead. It's all psychological; just because you're up 20 doesn't mean you automatically are able to maintain it.
"Wired" Doc Rivers: "We're right there, but we gotta make plays." His voice cracks like Peter Brady in the "time to change" Brady Bunch episode. Every now and again, I get the sense he doesn't know what to say to these guys.
2:25, 2nd: Rondo refuses to shoot, tosses across court to give Allen a terrible 3-point shot.
1:33, 2nd: Posey another three.
Huge Garnett block followed by another hasty Allen missed three. Sometimes when Allen shoots a brick, you can almost hear him emoting "I have
to shoot it. I'm Ray Allen, dammit."
Doc inexplicably takes KG out for the final minute of the half. This feels like a mistake, and the commentators are saying it too. The Celts have a chance to bring the lead down to 11 or 10, and instead missed Celts opportunity and a Gasol 3-point play in a KG-less lane takes it to 15.
Farmar hits a three at the buzzer of the first half and the Laker lead is 17. It's a reasonable deficit, but feels like it should have been even closer. Maybe it's just hindsight being 20/20, but KG's absence in that final minute feels like bad coaching. Doc has his "rotation," which likely involves getting people rest at the end of quarters, but sometimes you have to cast aside rotation for the feel of the ballgame. I think about something I've said many times: A coach is judged by whether he over-accomplishes or under-accomplishes with his talent. Doc has plenty of talented players. He needs to live up to them. (Note from Basketbawful:
Doc took KG out to avoid having him pick up his third foul; it wasn't a rotation issue. Sorry, ET). (Reply from ET:
Great players, even good ones, should be able to avoid a foul call in a 58 second stretch. But given the state of officiating, I suppose I see the point.)Halftime: (a.k.a., a brief respite from the Laker beating).
Slow motion highlights reveal Pau Gasol to be even uglier than today's Larry Bird. Twenty years from now, I expect his half of the split screen commercial to look like a dead alligator.
Wilbon asks: "Are the Celtics here?" No, Mike. They are in Boston. They expect to go home and win Games 6 and 7. They hate playing away from the Garden and are showing it. If they lose three away and win their four home games to take it all, this will be a very weak champion, in my estimation. Great teams win on the road. Yes, the Celtics took two in Detroit, but three playoff series without a road win will detract from the legacy.
Stern (commenting on the Donaghy scandal): "We'll go back and ask the officials again
[if you insist]." Stern has that stupid, defiant smile. Stern and Paul Pierce need to go out to dinner together to be arrogant and confident with each other. And go down in flames together.
Phil Jackson career piece: Early slow-motion footage of Jackson with the Knicks proves Gasol is not, in fact, the most butt-ugly player ever to lace 'em up. Later coaching footage of Jackson proves that men do, in fact, get better looking as they get older.
"Brilliant" -- Kobe Bryant about Phil Jackson. Kobe is just so sweet when he's winning. He'll even ignore a nasty tell-all book that essentially said "Kobe is a selfish, immature turd."Wired coaches at the half:
Doc: "Make plays on defense."
Phil: "Win the third quarter." (In other words "Don't play like you're ahead by 17." This appears to be, at the moment, not Phil's team's problem, but instead Doc Rivers' greatest challenge: Getting his team to not
play like they're ahead 2 games to 1. Yes, the Lakers' defense is better, but it's not that
much better, is it?)Second Half:
Garnett from the top of the key cuts it to 14. I don't care if you're making jumpshots, Kevin -- drive to the hole. Really. No one can stop you. If you don't learn to take it to the hole, I'm going to question your smarts. I'll NEVER question your heart, but I WILL question your smarts.
10:18 in the 3rd. Rondo passes on a LAY UP. No wonder they're not guarding him. This guy needs an IV-mix of Cassell/House plasma. Not a lot, just a little.
More faces in the audience: David Beckham, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Magic Johnson, Jack
Nicholson. Which of these things is not like the others?
6:20 in the 3rd. Finally House is in the game to provide a shooting presence and force the D to play him. Rondo is cooked if he keeps playing this way.
5:00 in the 3rd. Pierce with a great block on Kobe. Allen slammed by Fisher at the other end. No flagrant called. No big deal. I decide my expectation of a flagrant here is Homer Hope. Note to Bawful: "Homer Hope" as a word of the day? Related term: Homer POV - the point of view of a biased individual, which makes arguing with them about a given game or team a pointless endeavor.
3:57 in the 3rd. Posey called for a phantom foul on Odom. Officiating in this league continues to be a joke, as documented by so, so many bloggers. So let's not start.
2:29: 3rd. Illegal screen called on Garnett. Another lame call. Has The Stern Button
been pressed to ensure this thing goes seven?
2:01, 3rd. Pierce with a drive, great reverse lay up. Hits the free throw to take it to 9. If he and the Celts pull this one out, I still won't excuse him for being arrogant and overconfident.
1:20, 3rd. House 3 takes it to 6. The Celtics are clearly more effective with House on the floor. Sorry, Rajon: you've been rondo'd
End of 3. Two Allen free throws and a Brown slam take the Celtics to within 2. There appears to be a God, and he appears to be a Celtics fan.
This is where the rubber meets the road. Kobe will try to take over. If he succeeds, more ridiculous MJ comparisons will be made (it appears people have forgotten just how unbelievably dominating Micheal Jordan was. Kobe, I've seen you play in person. I've seen Jordan play in person. You're no Jordan. You're no Jack Kennedy either.).
End of 3. Doc says to his team: "Do you believe?" Not until you win it all, Doc.
Michele Tafoya asks Phil Jackson about the staggering momentum change. His reply: "Momentum's a strange girl. She just jumped to the other side of the ship." There are so many mixed metaphors there, I don't know where to start. Oh well, he's the Zen Master; he must know what he's talking about, right?
10:10, 4th. Tie game; all of my Stern Button theories appear to be flummoxed. If there are any officiating conspiracies, they are so sophisticated that nobody could possibly uncover them. It's also impressive how they conceal all the fixed
calls beneath all of the just plain bad
calls; makes it very difficult to prove anything is afoul. Genius.
9:00, 4th. Bryant dribbles the ball off his foot out of bounds. Ref calls a blocking foul on Pierce, as if he can't imagine Kobe would ever bounce a ball out of bounds without being messed with.
8:14, 4th. Garnett misses a tough jumper over Odom (I'm thinking "Why doesn't he spin baseline?" And "Why doesn't he EVER spin baseline?" Guess that's why the D gives him baseline.)
Love Guru movie trailer. Initial trailers looked like crap. More recent trailers make it look...well, watchable, anyway.
5:20, 4th. Posey with another big three. Waiting for "Posey Sucks" chant. None comes, perhaps because it appears he doesn't. Laker lead is 1. (Note from Basketbawful:
That's because me and Statbuster weren't at the game.) (Reply from ET:
Even Bill Laimbeer would have been revered were he a Celtic. I presume Posey would get a formal reprieve for wearing the Green. And yet a chant of "Vujacic Sucks" doesn't really roll off the tongue, does it. Speaking of which, did I hear "Boston Sucks" from the Laker crowd? That's
what they've come up with as a response to "Beat L.A."? I don't like it when Red Sox fans classlessly chant "Yankees Suck," and I don't buy into it from Laker fans either).
4:58, 4th. Gasol tries to draw the foul, hits a critical baby hook over KG.
4:06, 4th. House gives the C's their first lead. Rajon Rondo, rightly, is nowhere to be found.
3:13, 4th. Allen HUGE up and under lay up to put the C's up by 3. This guy has had a fantastic series, where in previous playoff series, he has looked like he's just dribbling around not knowing what the hell to do with the ball. It appears he's figured it out.
Breen utters the words "one of greatest comeback in Finals history." These words were also uttered in Game 2. And almost came true. But didn't. Has Breen just jinxed this one for the Celtics?
Hancock movie trailer: Will Smith playing a superhero with a personality as annoying as his real one. I'll wait for the DVD.
1:44, 4th. Pierce is fouled and shooting freethrows. Breen Says "Pierce 5-for-5 from the line tonight" from the line. Pierce misses. Stat cursed
. Celts by 4.
1:13, 4th. Posey AGAIN with a three. 18 points off the bench. Posey came to Boston for less money "to win a Championship." Looks like the dude wants this, and is willing to take the big shots to boot. Pays to have won a championship already; he has zero I'm-nervous-about-being-on-the-verge-of-my-first-championship-itis. Still, I'm not sure I'm so into players who "job jump" for the best situation. Seems kind of cheesy (You listening Shaq?). (Note from Basketbawful:
It's called championship piggybacking
. C'mon, ET; I make up these terms for a reason
.) (Reply from ET:
0:16, 4th. Allen single-handedly uses ALL of the shot clock, and then proceeds to single-handedly blow by Vujacic. No help defense is there, exposing this "no-interior-defense" issue the Lakers supposedly have, for one play at least. (Note from Basketbawful:
It helps that Doc had five certified shooters on the floor at the same time.)(Note from ET:
Agreed, yet Jon Barry used this single play as the prime example of the "interior defense" issue. I don't buy it, which is why I tossed the word "supposedly" in there.) One very huge, huge play. Allen is playing like a guy who just wants to be in charge when it counts, just as Pierce has done at various points of the playoff run.
Vujacic slams a chair, not lost on the enormity if the bucket he just allowed. His "defense on an island" play feels like when the Celts left Allen to one-on-one Kobe at the end of Game 3. The difference is, at least Allen kind of stayed with his man. On the that play, Vujacic played defense like I do...the old give-up-and-reach defense. Note to Vujacic: Don't even bother slamming a chair after defense like that. You didn't just get beat, you gave up on the play.
Final seconds: Lakers are missing threes right and left. Kobe does Reggie Miller's old try-to-get-the-foul-by-kicking-out-my-leg on his three point miss. Unfortunately, nobody is there to kick.
Crowd heads for the exits. Stunning. Despite his team's heartbreaking loss, Will Smith realizes he's still a millionaire, and smiles that he gets to be him.
Well, after opening this up at the 40 - 19 score, I thought I would be documenting a Laker blowout victory. Instead, I'm documenting one of those "greatest comeback" games. Celtics defense showed up in the second half, and the Lakers' defense went slack. Over the course of these games, I think a lot of people are interpreting bad offense as just uninspired play, but the level of the defense in this series has completely dictated the success of the offense (and has revealed the level of determination by each team). If people were expecting an offensive series, it has not been about that -- not in the least. When there have been great surges of offense, it has only been because the defense has allowed it.
What a roller coaster. It went from looking like the Lakers would be taking momentum and a huge win into Game 5, and instead the Celtics have stripped them of a victory and any momentum - and perhaps any self-confidence.
It seems like the Celtics have simply been "turning it on" when they need to - which is partly a sign of how good they are, but partly raises concern about whether they have a killer instinct. It makes me wonder how they would do against a more seasoned team like the Spurs.
The Celtics at worst will go to Boston with a 3-2 lead. Pierce said in his post game interview that he looks to close this series out on Father's Day. Had the Celtics not done what they had just done, and had they not done it with such poise, I'd be cursing Pierce for being overconfident and for giving Phil Jackson bulletin board material. But at this point, I have no reason to criticize a winner, and no reason to be wary in the face of his confidence.
But give it time.
Game 5 looms...
Labels: Boston Celtics, Evil Ted, Game 4, Lakers, Live blog