In what was a wildly entertaining and hard fought game, the Lakers came up short. On this night, another that Kobe did not suit up, the Lakers were cursed by poor guard play and shoddy execution down the stretch and just didn’t have enough of a finishing kick to pull out a game that was there for the taking. Ultimately, this was a game that was both fulfilling because of the effort displayed by the our guys while also being extremely frustrating because of a closing 7 minute stretch where the Lakers executed poorly and missed a golden opportunity to sweep their bitter rivals from the east.
The game started out with Boston taking an early and healthy lead due to unbelievably accurate shooting and some sloppy Lakers offense. Boston just couldn’t miss. Fadeaway jumpers by KG with Bynum all over him? Ray Allen making some vintage leaning to the left jumpers after curling off screens? Rondo taking a twenty footer when the defender goes under the screen? No problem for the Celtics in the first 12 minutes. Just a tremendous offensive output for a team that has struggled all season to generate high level offense. But, the C’s would stay true to form and go on a drought that would let the Lakers back in to the game. They started to turn the ball over, the Lakers started to go inside on both the dribble and on post ups, and the tide started to turn. And once again, without our superstar guard, it was the Lakers front line that led the way.
If there is credit to be doled out on offense for the Lakers, it needs to go to our fowards and centers. Ron, Andrew, Lamar, and Pau combined to shoot a very efficient 25-50 from the field and 12-15 from the foul line for a total of 64 of the Lakers 86 points while adding 38 rebounds, 7 assists, and 6 blocks. Just a beautiful night for our four bigs. All night, they worked hard and fought for every inch against a physical Celtics team. Bynum went to work on the block. Gasol was good in the post and even better from the mid range. Lamar played his trademarked open court game. Artest was just a beast. It seemed like the Lakers front court was just taking turns making plays and it kept the team in the game. Bynum would get an offensive rebound and an “and one” finish. Then Odom would create in the open court and drive to the hoop and either score (that dribble right, left hand dunk was power and grace personified) or create an easy offensive rebound for a crashing teammate. Two plays later, Pau would show his patented patience on the block, turn and face, then sink a 16 footer over an outstretched arm. On seemed like the next trip down, Artest would get a steal and a dunk. But, it wouldn’t be enough.
Because all the while, the Lakers’ guards couldn’t buy a shot. The worst of the bunch was Derek Fisher, but Farmar and Shannon shared in Fish’s misery from the field. Those three combined to shoot 5 for 25 and effectively halted momentum on several different occasions where the Lakers seemed primed to either cut into the Celtic’s arm-lengthed lead or bring the game to within a single possession. Shannon would pound the ball and then miss a long jumper. Fish would push the ball upcourt, see a sliver of an opening, and then force a drive that end up missing or getting blocked. Farmar seemed content at not playing his typical aggressive game and floated around the perimeter before taking a three pointer. And on it went all night. The saving grace for the guards was Sasha, who provided his typical blend of hustle and scrappy effort while adding a level of decision and shot making that was on par with his activity on the court. Early in the 4th quarter, when the Lakers were looking for a spark, it was Sasha grabbing some key rebounds and making a couple of shots that helped the Lakers take a 4 point lead. But, that too, would not be enough.
Down the stretch, the Lakers made a bunch of little mistakes that added up to too many missed opportunities. Early in the 4th quarter and after the Lakers made their run to finally get a lead, Bynum came back into the game and the team tried to hold it together but just couldn’t. The ball stalled in the post, then guards decided that it’d be better to force their own shots rather than going to the players that had proven most effective the entire evening. By the time that Pau returned to the game and the offense found it’s fulcrum, the damage was done and the Lakers could no longer put together a solid possession. A post entry and kick out turned into a forced jumper rather than a re-post. A pass to Pau at the high post was followed by a mistimed cut that ruined spacing and allowed help to flow to a posting Artest, leading to a blocked shot. A series of passes around the perimeter leads to a post up, only to see the ball get knocked out of bounds with then only precious seconds to get another long jumper as the shot clock wound down. Another post up leads to a questionable pass to a three-quarter-effort backdoor cutter that ends up a steal for the opposition.
But, despite this haphazard play down the stretch, the Lakers still had a chance to pull out the victory. Down by one with 30 seconds left, the Lakers would get the one stop they would need to earn the last possession. When Artest hounded Pierce and contested a jumper, Lamar secured the rebound and raced the other way as the clock ticked down. However, in mid stride and closing in on the basket from the right wing, a whistle blew. Time out, Lakers. In what would be a fitting moment of more poor execution down the stretch, Phil had signaled Pau to call a timeout so he could diagram a final play rather than letting the play develop as he has so many times in the past. I won’t criticize the coaches in this instance, but it was obvious that the players did not know that a timeout was desired had the team gotten a stop and secured the rebound. After the play was diagrammed in the huddle, the Lakers ended up inbounding the ball to Fisher with 2.2 seconds left where he promptly missed another jumper that sealed our fate. On a night where three of our four guards were completely ineffective, this seemed fitting. Ballgame.
In the end, I am proud of the effort our guys displayed while being disappointed a loss that just as easily could have been a win. Without Kobe this team has fought hard and played well beyond what most people thought possible. But it’s games like this – close battles where that singular and spectacular player can make a difference with the game on the line – that we missed #24. I am frustrated by the loss but fulfilled by the fight that our guys showed. It’s never a good feeling when the Lakers lose, but our guys can hold their heads high – they battled ’til the end. They just didn’t have enough to pull it through on this night.