June 06, 2008
Celtics 98, Los Angeles Lakers 88
So, I've been at this post for a while, and I've found that there are two ways to take this.
One is to throw out your usual "they're feeling each other out"-isms, call Game 1 a case of mistaken identity for winners and losers alike, and move on as if the series starts on Sunday.
Or I can get far, far too deep into 48 minutes of hoop that saw a lot of the typical and a lot of what we've come to expect from the Celtics and the Lakers, while wondering if the typical should or shouldn't be what we should eventually come to expect.
Lean toward the latter, I guess, without getting far, far too deep. Sure, the Lakers and Celtics certainly weren't used to playing one another on Thursday night - the Celtics seemed to let out an audible sigh of relief each time it drove and found that it wouldn't be met with 14 bumps, the Lakers seemed just as relieved at not having to dive at the strong hand of the opposing point guard in order to prevent sure disaster - but the typical Game 1 feeling-out process seemed to evaporate pretty quickly.
What was left felt pretty typical, even if the results weren't wholly expected. Starting with the losers, come on, well over half of Kobe Bryant's 17 misses (yikes) from the floor were good looks that should have gone down. While, all Machine jokes aside, Sasha Vujacic won't miss that many open looks over the rest of the series.
The atypical? Derek Fisher dominated the ball too much in the second half, even though he dominated the ball just as much in the first half (make sense?), and P.J. Brown was a monster in the fourth quarter of Game 1 for the Celtics. Also, we could see the court during the first quarter. Somebody must be hiding the fireworks in David Stern's presence.
But the, if not "expected," some "able to be explained away" parts were all over.
Pau Gasol had a nice game, but not the sort of game the Lakers need to win. Meanwhile, not only were the Celtics slacking off of Lamar Odom's jumper (his lone perimeter make came out of a timeout, when you knew Phil Jackson told him to step into one and knock it down), plus his rebounding effort (six caroms in nearly 40 minutes) was pretty pathetic. By Odom's standards.
On the Celtics side, yeah, lots of "expected."
Rajon Rondo was very good and very bad in some small parts but eventually just fine, fine, fine - 15 points, five rebounds, seven assists, just two turnovers. James Posey took six shots to score three points, turned it over twice, but also contested shooters and stole the ball twice.
Sam Cassell started his time off the bench with a 2004-era flurry of made jumpers, everyone and the person on their left assumed that he would use that as an excuse to shoot the Celtics into a hole at some point, and Sam ended by needing nine shots to score eight points.
Kevin Garnett played brilliant D, dominated the glass (not so much hauling in boards, though he pulled in 13, but holding off two lanky Lakers at once while someone else got the rebound), scored 24 points, and took too many jumpers in the fourth quarter. Meanwhile, Paul Pierce was exactly what the Celtics needed - 22 points on just ten shots, with perimeter bombs (making three of four) in the face of a Laker team that doesn't want to chase.
And most expected? The assembled media turning Pierce's roll to the locker room and dash to the court into some sort of he-is-risen act that turned the tide of the game. Phil Jackson almost strangled the mic and asked SI's Ian Thomsen if he was about to get into the greeting card business postgame when the subject of Pierce's return was brought up. Can it, people. Write and talk about the game. Not what drives the punters crazy. They clap at the donut vs. bagel vs. croissant races on the Jumbotron.
What did kill the Lakers was the 62-58 advantage that turned into a 65-62 disadvantage with Pierce off the court. What killed the Lakers was missing 11 of 14 three-pointers, seven free throws, while getting trounced 46-33 on the boards. Los Angeles was actually even with the Celtics during Pierce's post-injury stretch in the third quarter, in spite of the two three-pointers Pierce nailed in succession. Of course, nobody will bring that up today, or Saturday, or Sunday morning, or before Game 2 on the 8th.
Because it's all about ma-gic!
Forget the magic. Here's what killed the Lakers - Boston worked its ass off. They dove into the middle defensively and did away with Kobe flashing to the ball around the paint, the same style of kill that took down the Spurs late in Game 5. The glass was theirs, the ball was moving (20 assists on 32 made shots), and they did well in turning the Lakers into an isolation-heavy, driving team in the second half. 14 first half assists for Los Angeles, just seven in the second half.
That's to be expected, from Boston, and that likely won't let up.
And, guess what? Adjustments from Phil Jackson are to be expected. A half-dozen rimmed-out 18-footers for Kobe Bryant are not to be expected, again, unless you're the type that thinks the coin is going to land on heads six more times in a row. Odom might shrivel and Gasol might fade, but the Lakers were right in this, and had their chances to win. And one win on Sunday turns this into their series.
And even with those chances, and those things about to get better for Los Angeles, this might not matter from here on out. Because Boston plays killer, killer defense. About 97 points per 100 possessions in Game 1 for the Lakers, who were the NBA's best offensive team (about 112 per 100) in the second half of the season, and that's an astounding number. Boston was all over, and that's something that I don't see letting up any time soon.
Neither of these teams likely has it in them to get swept or lose four of five, but anything that happens from here on out should be, sorry, expected. Both these Finalists are good enough to do whatever they want.
And we have a series. Damn right, we have a series. This is going to be fun.