June 11, 2010
Faced with the burden of taking to a 3-1 series deficit, the Boston Celtics found energy from their bench and a winning edge from their defense on the way to a 96-89 win in Game 4. Boston rode the hot hand of Paul Pierce(notes) early in the contest, and the boisterous play of reserves Glen Davis(notes) and Nate Robinson(notes) in the second half as it tied the NBA Finals at 2-2.
Kobe Bryant(notes) scored 33 points for the Lakers, but 12 of those points had to come in a desperate fourth-quarter flurry, and with the game more or less at hand. Bryant also turned the ball over a team-leading seven times; Los Angeles turned it over 15 times overall, and the Lakers never seemed to recover from Andrew Bynum's(notes) absence in the second half.
Questionable to play in the days leading up to Game 4, Bynum gutted it out for the first half before being pulled to start the third quarter. He made a cameo in the third, but saw his injured right knee go out on him, and had to leave after 1:50 of play. "He tried for a couple of minutes," Lakers coach Phil Jackson said after the game, "but it just wasn't there for him."
The Celtics took advantage, picking up nine offensive rebounds in the second half alone, while consistently getting to the rim on drives. "The difference in the game was chances," Jackson said. "They had more chances than us."
Pierce didn't have the best game of his career - he hit just two more shots in this win than in Tuesday's loss, and turned it over six times - but he set the tone early with 10 first-quarter points, four rebounds and two assists.
"I thought he was aggressive," Boston coach Doc Rivers said after his team's win, "and we did a better job of going to him."
And when Pierce faded, as the game went along, the Celtic bench went to work. Rivers went with Davis, Robinson, Tony Allen(notes), Ray Allen(notes), and Rasheed Wallace(notes) for most of the fourth quarter. Happy with his team's defense with the reserves out there, Rivers promised himself that he wouldn't bring his benched starters in until he had ridden out the wave.
"I told my coaches, I said 'At the six-minute mark, six points is the number.' If they get it to a two-possession game, we've got to [return] one scorer at a time."
"I want to give Doc a hug," Glen Davis said following the win. "I was really looking at the clock, like, when is he going to come get me?"
Were Rivers' veteran starters upset at their bench demotion?
"They were fine. I don't think guys really care. Hell, [Rajon] Rondo and all of them, they were begging me to keep guys in. 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."
The Lakers missed out on that wave.
"The fact that we didn't get good bench production," Jackson said after the loss, "really tired out the starters." Jackson thought Bryant was dragging as the game went along, in spite of his 12 fourth-quarter points.
"He was tired. Physically, I thought he had to work too hard in the course of the game, and he couldn't finish it out the way he wanted to finish it out."
Jackson did credit Tony Allen's defense on Bryant, telling the media that Allen "steps on his right hand very well, makes him go left and keeps on the floor instead of going up on the pump fakes."
Bryant got his 33, though. It was Los Angeles' inability to stem the tide in that 36-point fourth quarter that pushed this game over the edge. Just as it was in the Finals two years ago with Bynum out and Leon Powe(notes) having his way with energetic plays, the Lakers just could not meet what Phil Jackson called Boston's "desperate" play.
"You can still play with that cool head," Jackson said, "but you have to meet their physical activity."
A step slow all night, the Lakers just had to shake their heads as the Celtics made this a best of three.