Lakers' success could rest with bench

LOS ANGELES – The Los Angeles Lakers have returned home, and while that normally should soothe their bruised egos and road-weary legs, Paul Pierce also followed them here and he apparently didn't bring his wheelchair.

In addition to corralling Pierce, the Lakers have a few other concerns as they try to dig themselves out of their 0-2 hole in these NBA Finals. They haven't seen the best of Kevin Garnett yet and they also haven't seen Steve Javie. Before the Lakers start planning their parade to the free-throw line over these next two or three games, they'd be wise to remember that Javie likely will be officiating one of the nights and, unlike some of his peers, he famously doesn't cater to the howling home crowd.

Then there's Lamar Odom. If he happens to turn up somewhere between Boston and here, the Lakers kindly request you direct him to Staples Center.

As for Phil Jackson, he's now had enough time to learn how to pronounce Leon Powe's name. (It's Powe as in Show, not Pow as in Wow, which might explain why the Lakers seemed more intent on limiting Pau's scoring than Powe's in Sunday's second half.) And with the way this series has gone, Jackson also might want to familiarize himself with the rest of the Boston Celtics' roster. For a team that began the season with the Big Three and Little Else, Boston's bench has delivered its own sizeable contributions in the Finals.

"They've heard how bad they were," Celtics coach Doc Rivers said. "So they have pride, too."

So far, the Celtics' reserves have outperformed their more celebrated counterparts. At the start of the Finals, the Lakers' bench was often described as the better of the two. Anchored by Sasha Vujacic, Jordan Farmar, Luke Walton and Ronny Turiaf, none of who are older than 28, the Lakers are younger and more energetic. They even have the cute nickname: Bench Mob.

The Celtics? Try the Scrapheap Seven. The only two reserves who entered the Finals with consistent roles were James Posey and P.J. Brown, and the latter had spent the first half of the season enjoying retirement in Slidell, La. Prior to Sunday, Powe hadn't even played as many as 10 minutes in a game since early in the Celtics' second-round series against Cleveland. He logged 14 on Sunday and managed to pack 21 points into them, most of which he jammed through the rim over the Lakers' scalps.

"I was just happy to get in the game and happy to be a part of this whole experience," Powe said, "because it's been a long journey for me."

Few, if any players, have a more compelling story than Powe, who overcame a homeless childhood, the death of his mother and a severe knee injury to reach the NBA. Among the Celtics' reserves, however, he is a perfect fit. Together, they are a collection of overlooked prospects, past-their-primers and waiver-wire pickups, most of them hungry and desperate.

After trading for Garnett and Ray Allen, Celtics GM Danny Ainge had to build the rest of his roster on the cheap. Powe was a second-round holdover from last season. Posey was a late-summer signing after he didn't attract much interest on the open market. Knowing Eddie House was more shooter than backup point guard, Garnett recruited Sam Cassell after he reached a buyout agreement with the Los Angeles Clippers in the middle of the season. Pierce and Ray Allen then persuaded Brown, another 38-year-old, to sign after a chance meeting at the All-Star Game in New Orleans.

"Three, four months ago I was about as close to being out of this league and shutting the door for good," Brown said, "and now I'm in the NBA Finals, a dream that I've had since I was a kid."

Brown, unlike some of the Lakers, has made the most of his opportunity. Through the two games he's helped spell starting center Kendrick Perkins, who is playing on a sore ankle, by hitting the timely jump shot and providing sturdy post defense. Rivers has rotated through his stable of backup big men for much of the season's second half depending on matchups and who's playing well at the time, and his bench policy is straightforward and simple: If you're in uniform, you better be ready to play.

With Rivers looking for some inside scoring, Powe answered the call in Game 2. Though the Lakers seemed surprised by Powe's aggressiveness, the Celtics weren't.

"I see him do it every day in practice," Perkins said. "He score on KG. He score on myself. He just leashed up right now. When he be unleashed, he be a'ight.

"Leon got game. Leon really got game."

The Lakers, meanwhile, are still searching for theirs. In fact, Jackson's problem might be that he hasn't utilized his bench enough, particularly if Odom remains, as his coach said after Game 2, "confused." Throwing Trevor Ariza into the mix in Sunday's first half didn't do much, but Jackson seemed to find an effective small-ball combination in the fourth quarter during the Lakers' comeback. Moving Bryant to small forward with Vujacic or Farmar on the floor, if not both, allows the Lakers to speed up the game, better space the court and put more defensive pressure on the Celtics. It also exposes Bryant to foul trouble because he'll likely have to guard Pierce for longer stretches.

Still, that could be a gamble the Lakers might need to take. Young legs and cute nicknames aren't going to get it done alone.

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