It’s tough to describe the feelings that come with a game like this. It’s an angry/depressing/confusing/doubting kind of feeling. And you feel that way all while getting kicked in the face. It’s being thisclose and giving it all away. Do you remember those VW commercials, where the people are driving, making jokes, and all of the sudden…boom! they get in a car crash? The airbags deploy, they get out of the totaled car and say “Oh ****”. Well, in Game 4 of the NBA finals, Lakers fans were in that VW….only the airbags didn’t deploy. These fans, and the team they root for, were victims in a terrible crash. Everything was great, until it wasn’t.
The first half was a portrait of why (so called) experts almost unanimously picked the Lakers to win this series and the title. The Lakers finally displayed their all around offensive game while picking up their defensive intensity. Scoring inside and from behind the arc with an aggressive mentality that had been present in other games, but not with this level of execution and precision attached. The Lakers attacked the lane on offense and closed it down on defense. They had a 21 point lead at the end of the first quarter and led by 18 at halftime. It was 24 minutes of a type of basketball fulfillment that we hadn’t experienced since (maybe) the Denver series. And all of it without the league MVP playing more than a set-up role (more on this later; the good and the bad).
And Lamar Odom found his stride. He was finding angles to the basket on penetration and finishing at the rim. He was getting outlet passes and pushing the ball on the fast break. He was even making the mid-range jumper. He was trying to make up for 3 sub-par games all in one half and was doing a pretty good job of it too. He was teaming up with Gasol on great plays and working a two man game that was eating up the Celtic’s interior defense. And X’s and O’s wise it was all actually pretty simple:
When in the Screen/Roll game, Kobe was coming off the screen and just backing off and accepting the double team. Lamar would then flash to the high-post and receive the pass. Then he attacked the single defender in the lane (usually Perkins or PJ Brown) and either scored or drew that defender and touch passed to Gasol or passed to the man in the corner for the open jumper. This is classic basketball. It was exactly the same type of scenario that got Sasha the open 3 pointer at the end of Game 3, only on that play KG doubled Kobe without a screener involved in that play.
And speaking of Kobe, in this game, rather than being in full attack mode, Kobe was playing the team game that earned him the MVP. He was taking on defenders and creating for his teammates. But when he looked to score himself, his shot was not falling. He missed a couple of jumpers, he missed a runner, and just decided he would play the facilitator role. And it was easy for him to do as the Lakers offense was running on all cylinders. They didn’t need Kobe to do anything more than create shot opportunities for other guys and keep defenders occupied while other guys stepped up on offense. We were playing dominating basketball.
But it would not last….
In this series, the 3rd quarter has been the Lakers downfall. Including the 31-15 beat down that turned Game 4 around, the Celtics have outscored the Lakers 116-73. In a series where the coaching match-up was supposed to be a major advantage for the Lakers, it’s the Celtics who have come out in the 2nd half of games with the adjustments and the production to change games. And in Game 4, the 3rd quarter proved to be the difference again. An 18 point halftime lead was reduced to 2 points. The Lakers missed too many jumpers and became disjointed on offense, and it was actually an injury to a Celtic that spurred this on. At the 9:34 mark of the 3rd quarter a shoulder injury suffered by Kendrick Perkins turned this game in the Celtics favor. Enter James Posey. Posey would do 2 things to truly hurt the Lakers. First he buried jumpers. He hit jumper after jumper. From the top. From the corner. Just thinking about it makes my eyes hurt. Second, he shut down that effective 2 man game that worked so well for Lamar and Pau. Posey was doing a much better job of denying Odom the flash to the FT line area and we no longer had an easy outlet for Kobe. This disruption of the play that was fueling our offense in the first half would not have been a problem if Kobe would have been making his shots. But it was not to be. Our 3rd quarter demise had started. And while Phil would say during his interview between quarters that “The momentum will come back” to the Lakers side, an uncooperative crowd and a determined Celtics team would not let that be.
But the Lakers still had hope. They also had a not so secret weapon. In the 4th quarter, we would need Kobe. But in a strange way, we didn’t have Kobe. Gone was the killer from Game 3. That guy was replaced by a player that looked tired. After playing his heart out in Game 3 and literally carrying the Lakers to a win, our best player looked gassed in the 4th quarter of game 4. He was working his butt off on defense trying to handle Pierce (when an ineffective Rondo was pulled, there was no longer a non-shooter for Kobe to roam off of) and he didn’t seem to have any energy left to pull out the heroics that he has graced us with over his career. What made it worse was the fact that his teammates could not pick him up the way they had earlier in the game. Gone was the crisp ball movement and sharp off ball movement. Gone was the aggression that they had displayed that made his first half woes irrelevant. Rather than play the aggressive game that had given them a 24 point lead earlier, the Lakers’ players played passive. And while we had some good stops early in the period, and played a close game the rest of the way, the Celtics were able to score when they needed to and we could not. Looking at a heartbroken Sasha after Ray Allen made that layup was a microcosm of what every fan was thinking. We would lose. It was only a formality.
It’s tough to explain how it feels right now. But I can say one thing: This series is not over. Next season is not here for us yet. Boston has proven to be the better team at this point, but a parade has not happened, no titles have been won. Game 5 is Sunday and I know how every Lakers fan should feel about that. Let’s win the game…