The Los Angeles Lakers: Going into the final 12 minutes of Game 4, the Lakers were leading 62-60 and looked ready to put a 3-1 Ric Flair-style figure four leglock on the 2010 NBA Finals. All they had to do, really, was outplay the Boston bench.
Yep. That's all.
Only Boston's bench -- plus Ray Allen -- scored on the team's first nine possessions of the fourth quarter. In fact, at one point the Celtics' pine riders had outscored the Lakers 25-15 in the final period. For the game, Boston's reserves outscored their L.A. counterparts 36-18, led by former throwaway draft pick Big Baby (22 minutes, 18 points, 7-for-10, 4 offensive rebounds) and Knicks castoff/U Dub alumnus Nate Robinson (17 minutes, 12 points, 4-for-8, 2-for-4 on threes). Rasheed Wallace and Tony Allen didn't contribute much to the box score, but they provided plenty of grit and defensive tenacity.
What's more, T.A. even assisted a huge trey by 'Sheed with 6:18 left that gave the Celtics a 79-70 lead.
Boston's towel wavers were playing so well that, with a little over four minutes left in the game and three Celtics starters (Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Rajon Rondo) about to check back in, Doc Rivers made the call to keep his super subs in he game...and ride the awesome wave of their momentum.
To which I ask: Who are you and what did you do with the real Doc Rivers?!
Said Doc: "Hell, Rondo and all of them were begging me to keep guys in. 'Don't take them out. Don't take them out.' It was great. That was the loudest I've seen our bench, and it was our starters cheering from the bench. I thought it was terrific."
It was quite a scene. After the Celtics lost Game 3, Kendrick Perkins complained about being left out of the game in favor of Big Baby. Not so last night. In fact, during one sequence Baby went down and Perk rushed onto the floor to pick him up.
But getting owned by guys who wouldn't start for most NBA teams wasn't the only reason the Lakers lost. After Game 3, I noted that, in these Finals, the team that wins the Battle of the Boards is probably the team that's working harder and wants it more. Well, Boston owned a 41-34 rebounding advantage, including 16-8 on the offensive glass. For those of you who enjoy the Four Factors, the Celtics had a 38-24 advantage in Offensive Rebounding Percentage.
Usually, Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum feast on the offensive glass. Last night, Gasol had only 1 O-board. Bynum had none. Excuse me, Lakers? Allow me to introduce you to the Celtics' pimp hand.
More pro-Celtic numbers: Boston outscored L.A. 54-34 in the paint -- wait, which team has the inside game again? -- and 15-2 on the fast break. The C's attempted 32 shots at the rim, compared to 17 for the Lakers, which is a pretty good indication of which team was more aggressive. The Celtics pushed. They fought. They rammed the ball down the Lakers throats. And trust me, you do not want to know where that ball has been. Feel free to ask Hedo Turkoglu, tho'.
A couple last points: The Lakers are at their best when the ball is moving. Last night it wasn't, and they finished with only 13 assists.
Kobe Bryant: On the one hand, Mamba scored a game-high 33 points, his shooting wasn't awful (10-for-22), and he was actually pretty hot from downtown (6-for-11). On the other hand...how good was he really?
Before the game, Jeff Van Gundy and Mark Jackson were (as usual) fellating Kobe and predicting a "signature performance" if only because Bryant hadn't had one yet. That's kind of like predicting Lindsay Lohan will do something slutty at some future time, but I digress. Anyway, it appears Kobe was thinking the same thing because he basically abandoned the Triangle. He's playing Hero Ball right now, and it's disrupting the flow of L.A.'s offense.
For quick reference, here's a breakdown of Kobe's shot attempts: 1-for-2 at the rim, 0-for-2 inside 10 feet, 2-for-2 from 10-15 feet, 1-for-5 from 16-23 feet, 6-for-11 from beyond the arc. That's right: 16 of his 22 field goal attempts were dialed in from long distance. And let's be honest: Most of them were bad shots forced over tough defense. The only thing that saved Kobe (and the Lakers) from catastrophe is that Mamba hit well over his normal three-point percentage.
But as a Celtics fan, I was thrilled with the shots Kobe was chucking up...even when he made them. When your team forces the other team's best player into a steady diet of crap shots, that's a victory for the defense. I'm guessing the Celtics would love for Kobe to keep taking those shots, because he's probably not going 6-for-11 on threes again.
At various times throughout these playoffs, Kobe has been the facilitator of the Lakers' game plan, setting up his teammates and shooting within the flow of the offense. During those times, he's been awesome. But the Mamba returned in Game 3 when Kobe went all shot happy, and the snake was still slithering in Game 4. Every time Kobe got the ball, it seemed like he wanted to score first and pass only out of desperation as a last resort. It's not surprising then that Bryant finished with a game-high 7 turnovers (compared to only 2 assists). And this was the most crippling of his bobbles:
I know people are going to look at he 33 points and fantastic three-point shooting and claim Bryant had a great game, but Kobe did as much to hurt the Lakers as he did to help them, especially in the second half. Hence the plus-minus score of -8.
When the Celtics switched to Tony Allen sticking Kobe Bryant for the second half of Game 4 instead of Ray Allen, who checked him in the first, it was a different ballgame.
Bryant was 5-for-8 from the field in the first half and the Lakers led by three. He was just 5-for-14 in the second half with the guy the Celtics call "T.A." playing textbook defense on him, and the Lakers lost the game by seven. Allen's harassing presence contributed to Kobe coughing up seven turnovers.
"[He's] just a guy that's in the rotation who thinks about nothing but defense, hustling, getting loose balls," said Paul Pierce, who had the assignment, along with James Posey, of guarding Bryant in the Finals two years ago. "Every great team needs a guy like that. He takes so much pressure off me and Ray, the scorers, working so hard to get points."
And he puts that pressure squarely on Bryant.
According to ESPN Stats & Information, Bryant is now just 5-for-19 (26.6 percent) in the Finals with Tony Allen as the Celtics' primary defender on him. Even when he doesn't cause Bryant to miss a shot, he deters him from even taking one. In the 73 possessions that Allen has guarded him this series, Kobe has touched the ball 79.5 percent of the time. In the 234 possessions when it's been somebody other than Allen checking Kobe, Bryant has touched the ball 88 percent of the time.
All 19 shot attempts by Bryant against Allen have been with a hand in his face too, while he's been able to get off eight uncontested looks against the rest of the Celtics' crew.
This isn't really all the surprising if you watched what T.A. did against LeBron in the Celts-Cavs series. Allen is aggressive, fearless and absolutely relentless. He doesn't care which player he's defending. He never stops. He never gives up.
You know what else I think? I think that Kobe doesn't totally respect Allen, that he takes Allen defending him as a personal challenge, which has always been Bryant's M.O. against lesser players. I think when T.A. is all up in his mug, Kobe transforms into the Mamba and becomes determined to make something happen. Which sort of plays into the Boston game plan.
Pau Gasol: His scoring was reasonably efficient: 21 points on only 13 shots and a game-high 10 free throw attempts (of which he hit nine). But his rebounding was, for him, sub-par (6 total, only 1 offensive). He also lost the ball 4 times, which means he and Kobe combined for almost as many TOs (11) as the entire Celtics teams (12).
When Pau dominates the boards, the Lakers almost always win. Last night, that didn't happen. And his wrestling match with 'Sheed may not have taken him out of the game offensively, but it sure kept him off the boards.
Think 'Sheed is getting under Pau's skin? Gasol was definitely is a pissy mood last night. On one Celtic free throw attempt, he was lined up inside of Rondo. As the freebie was going in, Rondo was actually backing away from the basket, but Gasol reached over, grabbed Rajon's jersey and gave Rondo a little shove. Rondo whacked Pau's arm and Pau shoved back and then they had a mini-faceoff.
Said Phil Jackson: "I thought their animation and their activity level affected us. Guys wanted to get back into it with them a couple times."
When a big man feels the need to rough up a guard for no reason whatsoever, I guess you could say either a) he's really frustrated or b) he's Kevin Garnett.
One last thing: I have a pet theory that Gasol is at his rebounding best when he's got Bynum around to watch his back. However, I've got not real evidence other than what I've observed. Any of you statheads got any numbers on this?
The Lakers' bench: How to put this? Oh, yeah. I know: Fail.
L.A.'s bench is so deep...it's unfathomable!
Thank you, thank you, I'll be here all week...
Kendrick Perkins: Has anyone else noticed that Perkins is starting to edge toward "Starter In Name Only" status? Perk played 25 minutes, finishing with 6 points and 7 boards while shooting 3-for-5 from the field. Not a bad night's work...but there's a reason Doc is going with Big Baby down the stretch. Here's the reason: Perk is an offensive liability against L.A. The Lakers know he can't score. He can't or won't shoot short jumpers. He can't finish quickly at the rim -- he almost always needs at least one slow, shambling dribble -- which means the Lakers can just thug him. Oh, and he's not a great foul shooter.
Meanwhile, his defender -- either Gasol or Bynum -- can play way off him, disrupting passing lanes and preventing drives. Perkins is a better defender and rebounder than Baby, but Doc can't afford to leave him on the floor if he wants his team to score. And defense may win championships, but teams still have to outscore their opponents to win.
The Nate Robinson and Rasheed Wallace techs: With 7:24 left in the fourth quarter and the Celtics leading 74-66, 'Sheed was called for a technical foul for wigging out about bad foul call that went against him (he whacked the ball and Kobe's hand, and as we've already discussed at length, the hand is part of the ball). Fortunately, the Basketball Gods made Bryant miss the free throw.
Then, with 5:39 left and Boston up 79-72, Krypto-Nate earned a couple freebies when he got decked by Lamar Odom. Unfortunately, Nate got all up in Odom's chest and earned a tech for taunting. But the Basketball Gods once again stepped in and Derek Fisher bricked the foul shot.
So those technical didn't hurt the C's...but they sure could have. And if the Lakers had come back to win by a couple, who do you think would be the goats today?
Said Doc: "Unfortunately, it's probably our most emotional group when you have Nate, Tony and Rasheed on the floor at the same time, so the techs happen. That's the only thing we didn't like."
Paul Pierce, The Punchmaster: When you punch a ref in the face while celebrating, chances are, you're celebrating a little bit too hard.
Big Baby, drool machine: Want to see some apeshit intensity? You sure? Then here:
And now Baby's primal scream from another angle:
Big Baby, quote machine, Part 1: "Let me tell you something, when you're in the moment, you're in the moment. If I slobber, snot, spit, please excuse me. Kids, don't do that. Have manners and things like that."
Big Baby, quote machine, Part 2: "I just felt like a beast. Really, I'm going to just be honest with you. I just felt like I couldn't be denied. If a rebound was in my vicinity or if the ball was going to be laid up, you know, I just felt like I just couldn't be denied. And it kind of started off with me missing those two [shots] -- a layup and then the jump shot. I was really upset at myself, and I said I've got to seize the moment here. There's not too many times you get a chance to be in the Finals and be a part of something so great that you can never really imagine yourself even being here. I just couldn't be denied today."
Big Baby, quote machine, Part 3: "Just will, that's all it is. This is what legends are made of, this is where you grasp the moment. ... Just play in the moment."
Nate Robinson: Regarding his relationship with Big Baby: "We're like Shrek and Donkey. You can't separate us."
Tony Allen, quote machine: "Did Doc coach with his guts or his brains? Well, first of all I think Doc is the best coach in the world, but I don't know about coaching-type stuff. That ain't left up to me. I just know about playing. So to answer your question, I would have to say he was thinking with his brain."