Editor's note: Due to some serious technical difficulties, I can't check email or use Blogger's editing functions (i.e., I can't insert links and such). So sorry for the lack of references and I apologize if I missed any cool submissions. Hopefully Al Gore will fix the Internet soon.
The Lakers for the first 40ish minutes: They were flat and stagnant on offense. They were listless and lazy on defense (a fact that was highlighted by Leon Powe's coast-to-coast -- and completely uncontested -- fourth-quarter slamma-jamma). They whined and flailed around after every call and no-call that didn't go their way (more on that below). In short: They were a complete embarrassment to the sport of basketball. And, not surprisingly, they found themselves down 95-71 with 7:55 remaining.
Kobe Bryant, quote machine: At some point during the fourth quarter, Kobe waded through the flotsam and jetsam of what was turning into a historic ass-whupping and went curse-crazy on his 'mates in the team huddle. And Mamba described his Matt Foley-esque motivational speech like this: "Get our bleep in gear. Play bleep harder, a bunch of other bleeps. It's beep, beep, beep, beep. 'Eddie Murphy Raw' times 10."
The Celtics for the last 7ish minutes: On paper, Boston played the perfect game: They shot 53 percent from the field and 9-for-16 from three-point range, won the freethrow battle by a lot (more on that below), won the rebounding battle by a little, registered an amazing 31 assists on 36 baskets -- how is that not a record? -- and took a 2-0 series lead in the NBA bleeping Finals. But as hollow victories go, this one feels about as empty as my grandpa's wooden leg. The Celtics were up by 24 with just under eight minutes to go. They were still up by 16 with 3:38 remaining. Yet that overpowering lead was cut to only two with 38 ticks left on the clock. And there wasn't a Celtic fan on this planet or any other who wasn't pissing him or herself.
How? Why?! Well, the Lakers got fired up, obviously. They got hot, too (L.A. outscored Boston 41-25 in the fourth by shooting 14-for-21 from the field and hitting seven three-pointers). But the biggest reason is that the Celtics just went to sleep. You could see it on offense, where they were simply trying to eat up as much clock as they could. You could see it on defense, where they stopped aggressively pursuing L.A.'s long-distance shooters. It was obvious they simply expected the Lakers to roll over and die quietly. You could read it on their faces, especially Paul Pierce's, with the way he was grinning and giggling all over the court (especially after he got called for travelling on a three-point attempt and nearly started humping the referees leg).
Doc Rivers certainly recognized what was going on. "We've got to play through the game for 48 minutes, and I didn't think we did that. I thought we got cute when we got the lead." True enough. But there's one problem with that statement: Isn't Doc, above anyone else, supposed to keep all that cutesy-pie stuff from happening? The Celtics might have decided to take the rest of the night off, but Doc was the one who let 'em do it.
And it's not like this is a one-game aberration. Boston twice frittered away big leads against the Pistons in the Eastern Conference Finals. And, like last night, they won both of those games...but it's still a disturbing trend. Because if they keep screwing around, one of these nights they're going to lose that way. Hopefully, Game 2 was a wakeup call.
Update! Evil Ted thinks that the almost-comeback might actually benefit the Celtics: "From a psychology standpoint, Game 2 worked out about as well as it could have for the Celtics. After building a huge lead, the Celtics had an enormous competitive letdown (which, in my estimation, began when LEON POWE went coast-to-coast uncontested) that nearly allowed the Lakers to steal the game. For the Celtics: they learned a valuable lesson about 'losing your competitive edge' and let still managed to win the game. For the Lakers: instead of going into game 3 with an 'us against the world' and a 'we must prove ourselves' attitude that would naturally come from being decisively blown out, they crawled back into the game and nearly pulled off one of the greatest comebacks in Finals history. Instead of making the Lakers feel "comfortable" for Game 3, it could just as easily strip them of the fury (and of Phil Jackson's potential 'bulletin board material') that would have come from a more humiliating loss."
Bob Delaney, Dan Crawford, Ken Mauer: Ah, once again the Officiating Menace rears it's ugly heads. Let it be known far and wide that the Celtics got a 38-10 freethrow advantage last night. Leon Powe -- who was amazing with 21 points in 15 minutes -- got more free throws than all of the Lakers combined (13-10). Not, it isn't as though Powe or the Celtics didn't earn their trips to the line; they were aggressive and they were clearly getting hit. The Lakers were getting hit too...they just weren't getting the calls. And in case you were wondering, the answer is: Yes, it had an effect on the game.
It's a damn shame, too, considering that Game 1 was so officiated so fairly. As I've said about a jillion-kazillion times before, all I want as a fan of the game is consistency in how the game is called. And when there isn't any, even when it favors my team, it makes me a little sick to my stomach.
Update! Vladimir Radmanovic's "breakaway dunk": This was an unforgivable omission by me on the first go-around. Thanks to Josh for the following reminder: "I can't believe you didn't mention the unfathomable no-call on Radmanovich's steal/breakaway dunk with a few minutes left...dude walked halfway to L.A. on that play." You're so very right, Josh. My bad. Here's the video:
The Lakers' bitching and moaning: There's no question they deserved more calls than they got (although probably not as many as they think they should have gotten). One terrible no-call that springs to mind was a Kevin Garnett "block" on Pau Gasol that was all forearm. The problem is, after suffering a handful of uncalled thwacks and watching Powe put on a freethrow shooting exhibition, the Lakers totally lost their composure. They started complaining and overreacting after almost every miss, regardless of how much contact was or wasn't made. Kobe was cursing at the officials and eventually got T'd up for it.
Quick lesson, kids: Yelling at the refs is not going to win them over to your way of thinking. And it didn't do the Lakers any good last night. I wouldn't be surprised if their whining actually cost them some calls they might otherwise have gotten. Because that's what happens, just like makeup calls happen.
Phil Jackson, never one to shy away from blasting anyone in his path, had plenty to say about the officiating. "I'm more struck by the fact that Leon Powe gets more foul shots than our whole team does in (Powe's) 14 minutes of play. That's ridiculous. You can't play from a deficit like that; that we had in that half, 19-2 in the first half. I've never seen a game like that in all these years I’ve coached in the Finals. Unbelievable. I think my players got fouled, I have no question about the fact my players got fouled and didn't get to the line. Specifically I can enumerate a few things, but I'm not going to get into that." Oh, heavens no. Clearly he doesn't want to get into that.
The Lakers coach wasn't the only one riding in the wah-mbulance last night. Kobe did it do, although subtly ("Guys were getting hit going to the basket and not always being called.") while Sasha Vujacic stated his case a little more clearly ("You can't do anything because if you do anything they're going to go to the line. We went to line 10 times. It will be a different story in L.A.").
That's an interesting excuse for L.A.'s lackluster defensive effort (presumably that's why none of the Lakers wanted to so much as wave a red cape in front of Powe during his last mad dash to the basket). But in my experience, showing up the refs during the game and blasting them in the press doesn't really benefit a team. At least, not immediately. I kind of expect the officiating to be fairly even in Game 3 and then tilt pretty far in the Lakers favor in Game 4. But we'll see.
Sam Cassell: E.T. was in the game for about half a second before he forced up his first shot. The dude has become a straight-up gunner. And he was shooting blanks last night (0-for-2 in 6 minutes). It's gotten so bad that even Mark Jackson and Jeff Van Gundy are making fun of him (one of them, I forget which, responded to a rare Cassell non-shot by saying, "Look, Sam actually passed the ball this time" or something to that effect).
Mark Jackson: Listen to Mark lose his bleeping mind and compare Leon Powe to...well, just listen for yourself.
The NBA: Notice how they added a center line to the court for Game 2? How is it they didn't think of that any earlier?