Ahmad Rashad: I'm going to let Basketbawful reader Sami take this one. "I was watching 'Live at the Finals with Ahmad Rashad' on NBATV an hour before Game 4 began. Ahmad was interviewing Andy Garcia when he asked what I assume to be one of the dumbest sentences ever uttered, to go Bill Walton on you, in the history of Western Civilization: 'Do you think Kobe Bryant is the greatest Laker ever?' (My wording may not be spot on perfect, but that was the question.) Was Rashad even thinking when he asked the question? George Mikan, Jerry West, Elgin Baylor, Wilt Chamberlain (although he was older when he joined the Lakers), Kareem, James Worthy, Shaquille O'Neal, and probably some more that I'm forgetting. Oh, and I think I may have forgotten to mention that one guy...oh yeah! Magic Johnson! Kobe is a great scorer, in the discussion for Top 10 Lakers ever, and possibly Top 5 Lakers. But the greatest? I don't know what to say."
Wow. Me either. Inexcusable question (at this point). Here are my top five Lakers: Magic, Mikan, West, Kareem and Shaq, with Elgin Baylor sixth (thanks CW) and either Kobe or Worthy at number seven. Aw, screw it. Worthy's seventh. He has just as many titles (3) and a Finals MVP to boot (doesn't look like Mamba's getting a Finals MVP this year). And Big Game James never blistered his teammates the way Kobe has over the years.
The Celtics in the first quarter: My memory of it all is very, very blurry. I don't know the psychological term for it is, and I'm too lazy to look it up even though the Internet is only five fingers away. Let's just say I've blocked the details out. Trying to remember them is like trying to read stereo instructions through a dirty ashtray without my contacts on. Bad passes, worse shots, Rondo looking terrified of the ball. At some point, I think when the Lakers were up by 24, ABC flashed a graphic at the bottom of the screen that said the 21-point wound was the largest first-quarter deficit in NBA history. Thanks for making a bad situation feel even worse, ABC.
Random note on Rondo: He has officially become a liability and Doc should yank him out of the starting lineup. You know, a similar thing happened when the Boston Celtics were playing the Detroit Pistons in the 1991 Eastern Conference Semis. Brian Shaw was Boston's starting point guard at the time, and he wasn't just playing poorly, you could see his confidence was shot. Dee Brown, on the other hand, was playing great. But NBA head coaches are always really nervous about making major rotation changes during the playoffs, and Chris Ford was no different. So even though the Celtics were playing much better with Brown on the floor, he stuck with Shaw as the starter and Boston went on to lose the series in six.
And although I think that, at this point, the Celtics can still win with Rondo starting...why take the chance? Did you see Rajon's face when he got pulled in the second half? He had one of those thousand-yard stares going on. If I was on the Celtics, I wouldn't want somebody who looked like they were about to go Private Pyle on somebody running my team with a title on the line. This was the first time all season I thought all those "Matt Maloney on the 1996-97 Houston Rockets" comparisons were justified.
Right now, Boston's best lineup is KG, Paul Pierce, Ray Allen (back from the dead!), James Posey, and Eddie House. There's no question. Doc needs to go with that lineup and sub out (KA-POWE!!) when necessary. Am I wrong?
Boston's end-of-the-half defense: The second quarter was going about as well as I could have hoped. Boston had cut the Lakers' lead to a very reasonable 12 points (51-39) with under a minute to go when Doc Rivers took out Kevin Garnett. Now, I understand why he did it. He didn't want KG to pick up his third foul before the second half because he was going to need a full two quarters out of the DPoY if the Celtics were going to have a shot at winning this one. But almost immediately after KG went out Pau Gasol converted a three-point play. Lakers by 15.
Then, after Rondo hit one of two foul shots, Jordan Farmar ran unmolested three-fourths the length of the court and banked in a three-pointer as time expired. Mind you, Kobe had picked up his third foul and wasn't even on the floor at the time, so it's not like the Celtics were overplaying Mamba and that's why they gave up the shot. As Hubie Brown would say: You always have to stop the ball handler. Always, always, always. Boston didn't do that, and the Lakers killed their momentum and built their lead back to 17 by halftime. What a boner. Now I know how an ant feels when I accidentally sprinkle it with lighter fluid and set it on fire.
The Lakers in the second half: First of all, let me just say, I gave up on this game midway through the third. Yeah, I should have known better. I've been watching the NBA long enough to realize that every team makes a run. But Farmar's three at the half broke my spirit. With the Celtics still down by 20 points, I grabbed a book and went to take a dump. I tuned everything out, forgot about the game, and read a book about zombies.
About 15ish minutes later, I shuffled out of the bathroom like a zombie myself only to hear Mike Breen excitedly saying something like, "And the Celtics cut it to two!"
Turns out Boston outscored L.A. 31-15 in the third quarter, and most of that happened during a huge 21-3 run in the final five minutes of the third...during which I was making a donation to the children of Crapistan. I couldn't believe I missed all that, but it's not totally unprecedented. The exact same thing happened in 2007 when the Indianapolis Colts made an historic comeback against the New England Patriots. I walked away from that one, too, only to come back later and find out my team was back in the game. Yes, yes...I truly was the difference in both situations.
But despite Boston's debt management, I still wasn't sold. Teams that have to claw their way back from ginormous deficits on the road rarely have enough to get over the hump at the end (see the Lakers in Game 2). Plus, the Lakers are coached by a Zen Mastery, Hall of Fame coach. As Breen's bleating voice kept reminding me, they also have the best closer in the game in Kobe Bryant. How could the Celtics possibly do this?
This is how: Perkins (bum shoulder) and Rondo (missing confidence) were out, Posey and House were in. Suddenly, instead of having only three scorers on the floor, the Celtics had five. Whether Doc made this decision consciously or whether injuries forced his hand, we may never know. But the Lakers defense -- which really isn't all that good -- appeared to be helpless when forced to cover five capable shooters. This was never more apparent than when Ray Allen walked by Sasha Vujacic for a reverse layup with 20 seconds left, essentially clenching the game. Oh, and it's not like Ray-Ray was fresh; he played all 48 minutes last night.
For your viewing pleasure, here's Sasha -- who shot 1-for-9 last night -- throwing a post-ego-ectomy hissy fit on the L.A. bench. This made me almost as happy as seeing Derek Fisher crying after the Spurs eliminated the Lakers back in '03. Almost.
From Basketbawful reader socalsun: "Regarding that clip of Sasha lashing out at his own team staffer -- that's the sort of thing you get from the Kobe 'curse you publicly for your mistakes' Bryant school of leadership." Speaking of the Mamba...
Kobe Bryant: You guys knew this was coming, right? Kobe was the shining star of last night's Epic Failure. He didn't score in the first half. He finished the game with 17 points on 6-for-19 shooting (although he did have 10 assists). And he was completely unable to impose his will on the game in the fourth quarter, which is his supposed specialty. And let's face it: This isn't a one-game aberration. Mamba has not impressed during the 2008 Finals. He was kinda-sorta spectacular only once: In Game 3. Well, once and a fourth if you count the final quarter of Game 2.
Now, I've been taking heat for ragging on Kobe for years. But here's the thing: I've never denied his greatness. Nor have I failed to give proper respect to his ability to score the basketball. To me, he's among the league's five all-time great scorers (with Wilt Chamberlain, Michael Jordan, Kareem Abdul-jabbar and Karl Malone). My arguments against Mamba have been that he has often been a lousy teammate (there's just no reasonable way to deny this), sometimes lapses into selfishness (although he's been better about that this year than he ever has), ultimately trusts no one but himself (and that's the bleeping truth), and -- SHOCK ALERT!! -- he probably isn't the greatest player of all time.
And you know what? There's no "probably" to it. He's not. The comparisons to Michael Jordan need to stop. Hell, they've needed to stop for almost a decade now. Kobe is not Mike. He will never be Mike. How is this not obvious? Why does this subject come up year after year after year? Let me put it this way: Had Jordan's Bulls been up by 24 points at home in a must-win game in the NBA Finals, do you think there's any way in hell the Bulls would have lost the game? No. Freaking. Way.
And this isn't me hating on Kobe. I'm not being subjective when I say he didn't come through last night. He failed. Imagine if Dirk Nowitzki stumbled in the Finals the way Kobe did last night? Actually, scratch that. Dirk already did it, and he was absolutely crucified for it. Which was unfair then, and it would be unfair now. I'm not suggesting we string Kobe up for losing a big game, because that's happened to many great players before him and it'll happen to many great players after him. But this game should be Exhibits A through Z that Kobe Bryant is Kobe Bryant...and not Michael Jordan.
Update! Stephanie G reminded me about P.J. Brown's dunk on Kobe, which totally reminded me of Kevin Willis' putback slam on Shaq when the Spurs knocked out the Lakers in '03. Here's the video:
Kobe Bryant, quote machine: Paul Pierce specifically asked to guard Kobe in the second half. And, all things considered, he did a damn fine job of it. But when asked about Pierce's D, Kobe was immediately dismissive. "There's no difference [from Ray Allen's defense]. They were determined not to let me beat them tonight. I saw three, four bodies every time I touched the ball." Yes, the Celtics gave help, just like every team in the league has done against Kobe for his entire career. But that's a pretty lame excuse. The fact is, Pierce did a fantastic job of containing and contesting Kobe, and getting help when necessary. Not that I expect Kobe to admit it, but that's what I saw.
But here was Mamba's best post-game quote, in reference to a question about how he would deal with the loss: "Whine about it tonight. Lot of wine...lot of beer...a couple shots...maybe like 20 of 'em... digest it, get back to work. Nothing you can do." Here's the second-best: "We wet the bed. A nice big one, too. One of the ones you can't put a towel over. It was terrible." I've got to admit, that was awesome. Here's the full video from Kobe's press conference.
Update! Random extra: I got the following text this morning from my buddy Craig (who's a huge Lakers fan) from The Association: "I took Kobe's advice and tried about 20 shots...it's worse the next day." To which I replied: "Wow. Then you must have hit more of your shots than Kobe hit of his." His response: "Haha...very hung over. Enjoy it." I will.
Phil Jackson: After the loss, the Zen Master was stunned by typically defiant. "Some turnaround in that game. The air went out of the building. Well, it's not over. This is not over. The series is not over." Technically speaking, no. And sure, anything can happen. The Lakers could come back. But...well, I'm not going to say anything. Anyway, let it be known that Doc Rivers -- who has taken a lot of heat in the press and was recently referred to as the worst coach to ever call plays in the NBA Finals -- thoroughly out-thunk Jackson the Great last night. Phil should stuff that in his peace pipe and smoke it. Maybe he'll have a vision about how to hold onto a 24-point lead.
Fun with photos: Got the following e-mail from Rob of Upside and Motor: "Saw these and my first thought was Basketbawful: Lamar Odom is great at layups. People in LA make signs that make sense. I promise. And Rick Fox shooting us all a very sultry look through the camera." True, true and true.
Update! Advanced stats: Basketbawful reader Mike pointed this out. Tony Allen played two minutes and 15 seconds. He had 1 rebound and was zero for everything else. Yet he had a +/- score of +10. Which was better than Paul Pierce (+9) and Ray Allen (+6). So I guess he was better than either of those guys. Right, Mr. Lenovo?
Update! The Hollywood elite: They may spend most of the game trapped in a money-and-fame-induced stupor, but -- as Yahoo's Ball Don't Lie has shown us -- they sure got pretty weepy when their team pulls the biggest choke job in NBA Finals history.
Update! Me: Okay. I'm ready to admit it. I was wrong. Posey does not suck. That is all.