Coming into the 4th quarter of game 2, the Lakers and the Celtics were all knotted up at 72 and it would be the team that executed best in that final frame that would win the game. As we all know, that team wasn’t the Lakers. But rather than going through all the plays of those determining 12 minutes, I’ve decided to only focus on the final 5 minutes and change where the Lakers were still very much in the game and actually leading after Kobe Bryant made a baseline jumper from about 17 feet. And that’s where we pick up the action. At this point in the game, the Lakers are leading 90-87 and there is 5:21 left in the contest. (Please note that the Lakers score will always appear first.)
5:21; 90-87 – Rondo walks the ball up and deliberately sets up the Celtics offense. He calls out the play which is a P&R between he and KG. At this point, Kobe plays off Rondo in his customary style and is set up about 5 feet off Rondo right around the FT line. As KG comes to set the screen, Kobe goes under the screen, but as Rondo dribbles to his right he changes directions to his left hand, KG changes his angle and resets the screen on a buried Kobe, and Rondo gets all the way to the basket for an easy lay up. This is one of the real dangers of playing off Rondo. Kobe is determined to go under the screen, but the pick is set right around the FT line. At this point, if Pau can’t hedge (which at this point is difficult due to Rondo’s change of direction and KG’s movement) Rondo has free path to the rim from only 12 feet out. That’s too easy as one dribble gets him right to the rim.
4:45; 90-89 – The Lakers push the ball up court in an attempt to set up their offense quickly. The seem intent on getting the ball into the post with Bynum setting up on the left block and Fisher looking to make the entry pass. However, the Lakers waste a lot of time swinging the ball around the perimeter with little purpose or intent. Finally the ball gets back to Bynum’s side with another look to ‘Drew on the block. After the ball finally gets into the post (with only 7 seconds left on the shot clock) the weak side exchange between Fisher (cutting to clear the side) and Ron brings Artest back to the top of the key. Bynum, looking to not force a shot, passes to Ron who’s now circling to his left towards ‘Drew. And in an attempt to free Ron up, Bynum sets an illegal pick on the defender trying to contest the shot after the pass is delvered. Turnvover #1 in the last 5 minutes of the game.
4:17; 90-89 – Boston initiates their sets looking to get Ray Allen a good look coming off a screen (sound familiar?). Ray circles the court, runs Fisher off multiple screens, and finally makes a catch off a pin down has he curls towards the top of the key on the extended right wing. After making the catch, Bynum leaves Perkins (the screener), steps out to contest Allen’s jumper and forces the (airball) miss. This is probably the best recognition and show out by a Lakers big all game on an Allen jumper. Good defense by all.
3:54; 90-89 – The Lakers bring the ball up, pass the ball around the perimeter, and then set up Kobe at the top of the key looking to allow him to create a shot for himself or a teammate. After Bynum comes to set a screen, Kobe waves him off, and then proceeds to work in isolation against Ray Allen. Kobe drives to his left hand, spins into the lane, and fires up a flick jumper from 12 feet that misses. This is a play that Kobe’s made a thousand times in his career to mixed results. It’s neither a good nor bad look, but it’s ultimately an ineffective miss. This is the exact type of play that has fans cursing when it’s a miss and out of their chair when it’s make. These are the shots we live with when it’s Kobe on our team as his ability to make theses shots is what makes him special. But when they miss, the possession often seems wasted.
3:41; still 90-89 – The Celtics push the ball up and set up a play for Paul Pierce in isolation against the defense of Artest. After getting a rub screen at the FT line extended, Pierce makes his move to the middle of the floor and draws a non shooting foul on Artest – side out of bounds. On the subsequent possesion, the Celtics go back to Pierce in isolation against Ron, this time on the right wing. After forcing Pierce to back dribble to the top of the key, Pierce makes his move with the dribble to his right, spins, and falls down – foul called on Artest (which is questionable, at best). That’s fouls #4 and #5 against Artest on a single trip down the floor. On the subsequent inbounds, the C’s go back to Pierce again, who dishes to KG on the left wing, who then hits a cutting Perkins for a point blank attempt at the basket that Gasol blocks. However, after blocking the shot, Pau tips the ball towards the wing where Rondo scoops up the ball, makes a move to the basket, and finishes at the rim. I think this was just a miscommunication between Pau and Kobe. It looked like Pau thought Kobe (who was right next to him when the shot was blocked) was going to grab that ball after the tip. Instead, Kobe was flat footed and Rondo grabbed the ball and got the deuce. If you’re counting at home, on that single possession the C’s drew two fouls, got an offensive rebound, and then scored a bucket to take the lead. It would be a lead they wouldn’t relinquish the rest of the game.
3:12, 90-91 – After bringing the ball up the court, the Lakers look to post up Gasol on the right wing. While jockeying for position, KG fouls Pau (his 5th foul)- side out of bounds. After the inbounds, the Lakers again look to post up Pau – this time on the left block. However, KG does a good job of forcing Pau off the block so he’s actually near the FT on the extended wing (a place that Kobe often posts up, but not a great place for Pau to make a catch). Artest tries a bounce pass into the post but skips it out of bounds. This is a classic case of not having good spacing nor a good angle to make a post entry. Ron was above the FT line and Pau was digging in only a few feet away for a catch. If Ron drops down to create a better angle and then looks for Pau to fight KG to do the same, he’s likely successful with his pass. Instead, it’s turnover #2 in the last 5 minutes of the game.
2:47, 90-91 – The C’s initiate their offense by running a double screen action for Rondo. First Pierce sets a screen on Kobe forcing the switch to put Artest on Rondo. Then, they run a P&R between Rondo and KG which forces another switch that puts Artest on KG in the post and Gasol on Rondo. After the post entry, KG backs down Ron to about 8 feet out and hits a turnaround jumper. This was just good offense by Boston. They forced the switches that they wanted and got KG and easy jumper in the lane over a shorter defender.
2:25, 90-93 – The Lakers set up their offense for another Kobe isolation this time from the right wing. After jab stepping, Kobe goes hard to the middle of the court, sees the help, and then passes to a wide open Artest in the corner. But instead of shooting, Ron passes to Fisher who is a good 3 feet behind the three point line. Fisher ball fakes on a closing out Rondo, hesitates and then elevates to shoot a jumper. But Rondo recovers and comes from behind to block the shot. On this play I really don’t blame Fisher, but rather look to Artest for being at fault. When Kobe hit him with the cross court pass it should have been a catch and shoot situation. Instead he hesitated and passed to a player that was in a worse position to get a shot off. What should have been a good look from the corner becomes a turnover that Boston takes the other way on a fast break. Luckily, Kobe races back to contest the shot and forces a Ray Allen miss on his lay up attempt (avoiding his 6th foul in the process). But after making the defensive play, Kobe can’t secure the rebound and knocks the ball out of bounds. Celtics ball. BTW, that was turnover #3 in the last 5 minutes of the game.
2:07, 90-93 – The Celtics inbound, run a screen for Allen who misses a jumpshot from the left elbow. On the rebound, both Pau Gasol and KG go for the rebound and the ball gets knocked out of bounds. So you know, at that moment Mike Breen said “out of bounds off the Celtics. Oh! They say it’s off the Lakers!”. At this point I have nothing to add beyond what’s already been said. I thought the ball was off of KG, the refs thought different. Play on. On the ensuing inbounds, the Lakers play good defense on the screen action that the C’s run for Ray Allen by showing out hard with Pau and having him chase Ray off the three point line. When Kobe slides over to help on the penetration, he passes to Rondo who steps into an 18 foot jumper that he just buries. Ouch. Say whatever you want about the refs call on the out of bounds, but Rondo making that jumper is what hurt the most. He’s not a shooter but was on that possession.
1:45, 90-95 – Kobe brings the ball up quickly looking to waste as little time as possible. He passes to Fisher and then cuts on an angle to the left block. Fisher passes to Ron who looks to Kobe briefly in the post, sees that he’s fronted and then passes back to Fisher. Ron proceeds to set a down screen for Kobe who pops to the extended wing, receives a pass and fires a looong three pointer that misses. In my eyes, this is a decent look and a decent shot, but one that probably wasn’t needed on that possession. At this point, down 5, I think you still have enough time to look into the post for Gasol. Remember, KG has 5 fouls and Pau has had an excellent night. Why not go into him and look for him to create a basket? Instead, Kobe takes a shot we’ve seen him make many times before, but usually when there’s less time on the clock or the score is more desperate. If that goes in, the Lakers are gravy. Instead, they’re now severely behind the 8 ball.
1:42, 90-95 – On the ensuing rebound to Kobe’s miss, the Celtics take their time getting the ball upcourt and Doc Rivers calls a brilliant time out to set up an inbounds play to get the ball past half court to avoid an 8 second violation. On that inbounds, the Celtics run a great play, get the ball inbounds, break the Lakers pressure (as two players rotate to Allen trying to get a steal), and the end up with a KG to Perkins pass that nets a lay up. Needless to say, this was a huge sequence. On one end, Kobe takes what can be considered an ill advised shot, the C’s then avoid a turnover from an 8 second violation, and on the ensuing play they get a lay up to go up by 7. This game is now nearly entirely slipped away.
1:35, 90-97 – On the next play, Kobe tries to get a quick basket by racing up the floor and driving into traffic for an interior shot. He’s halfway looking to get the basket and halfway looking for the foul and gets neither. On the ensuing rebound, Pau fouls Perkins. Perkins makes 1 of his 2 foul shots to put the C’s up by 8. And that, ladies and gentlemen is essentially your ball game. The Lakers may have the ball, but there’s no coming back from this deficit without a miracle.
1:12, 90-98 – Now for the tragic comedy portion of our show. With the Lakers down 8 the ball gets inbounded to Artest who brings the ball up the right sideline. Obviously looking to get Kobe the ball, Ron dribbles, dribbles, and dribbles some more all while looking at Kobe (who is semi open for a good 4 seconds after breaking free from Ray Allen’s denial). When Ron finally decides that Kobe isn’t open enough to pass to (which, to any observer isn’t true as Kobe is open enough), Ron calls for a Bynum pick, dribbles off of it into the lane to his left hand, doesn’t shoot and instead goes all the way back out to the 3 point line while keeping his dribble alive. Then Ron picks up his dribble, shot fakes, and does an up and under jumpshot from 21 feet that misses badly. Without over exaggerating, this is one of the strangest plays I’ve ever seen in my life. I’m essentially stunned with this play even when watching it on replay a day later. The Lakers do grab the miss though, and ultimately hit Kobe with the pass ( the one he should have gotten 3o seconds earlier) and he promptly buries a three pointer.
:52, 93-98 – On the ensuing inbounds the Lakers scramble defensively, force a bad pass to a streaking Ray Allen up the court who then tries to save the ball with a cross court pass to Rondo and Ron Artest gets whistled for a call that no one seems to be able to see (aside from the ref that made the call). Ron fouls out on the play. This play, while a desperation one and could have been the miracle play that the Lakers were looking for just didn’t go their way. I wish I had more to say on this, but even on replay it’s difficult to see what actually happened as the camera was trailing the action. All I can really say is that the Lakers really could have used that steal but didn’t get it as the whistle blew right before Fisher was closing on the ball free-safety style. After the foul, Rondo makes 1 of 2 FT’s to put the C’s back up by 6.
:39, 93-99 – On this inbound, the Lakers again race the ball up court looking to make a quick shot that will cut into their deficit. Kobe dribbles to his left hand and Rondo (a bit beat on the play) reaches around Kobe’s back and tips the ball away. Turnover #3 4 in the last 5 minutes of the game. Upon review, this looks like a clean play and one where Rondo uses his great hand speed and length to tip a ball away. It’s plays like these that placed Rondo on the All Defensive 1st Team. On the ensuing C’s possession, Rondo gets fouled and again makes 1 of 2 from the FT line. Time out, Lakers.
In the final 30 seconds of this game, the Lakers try two more desperation three pointers (one from Kobe, one from Pau) the Celtics secure defensive rebounds, get fouled, and make some FT’s to ice the game. The end.
In conclusion, the Lakers suffered from some questionable calls BUT did themselves no favors with their clock management, shot selection, and most of all their sloppy play that resulted in turnovers. All in all, after making that baseline jumper with 5:21 left in the game, Kobe took 5 shots and made 1 (the three pointer after the offensive rebound on Ron’s circus possession). The Lakers had 3 4 turnovers including two when they tried to go into the post (offensive foul on Bynum with his illegal screen and the bad pass from Artest to Pau where the spacing and angle was bad). Gasol took 1 shot (the desperation 3) and Bynum didn’t have a single FGA. If you just read this paragraph you understand fully why the Lakers lost this game. They played poorly in the closing minutes and the Celtics took advantage of every mistake made to either get a basket or draw a foul. We’ve discussed this some already today, but in game 3 the Lakers must get back to basics and execute their sets with discipline and precision. On defense, they must find a way to combat the screen actions the C’s use to free Allen while also limiting the baskets the C’s get in transition and early offense. We’ll see tomorrow if they’re up to the task.