Fortunately, it's not a Best of One...
Those inhabitants of the Laker Nation with a natural inclination for worry will not sleep well after the Lakers hit the famous parquet floor in Boston with a thud, dropping Game 1 of the NBA Finals to the Celtics, 98-88. It was a night with few highlights for the purple and gold. They ran out to a very early four-point lead, and used a 16-6 run at the end of the second quarter to take a five-point lead into the half. Unfortunately, the rest of the night clearly belonged to the home team, which otherwise tended to dictate the flow of the game. Boston was able to erase L.A.'s lead only 45 seconds into the third quarter, engaged the Lakers in a dog fight, then slowly took control of the game. The iconic moment of the night? Paul Pierce put the Celtics ahead for good with two huge three-pointers after a dramatic return to the court less than two minutes after being rolled off the floor in a wheelchair because of a knee injury. Call it a Willis Reed moment for the Gen X folk.
On the other hand, optimists will look at Thursday's loss and believe that the Lakers probably won't get another 9-26 shooting night from Kobe, only six boards from Lamar Odom, or 15 points combined between Vlad Radmanovic, Sasha Vujacic and Jordan Farmar. The Lakers didn't look all that good in Game 1, but still were in the game until the final four minutes or so. A little more execution down the stretch, and they might have stolen a game they didn't deserve.
Click below for the breakdown.
- Derek Fisher: He was as close to a consistent influence as the Lakers had over the course of the game. Nearly 41 minutes of run, 4-9 from the floor for 15 points, plus six assists. He was particularly effective in the second quarter, when he scored 11 points and helped keep the Lakers close, then pull ahead before the half. He had some issues with Sam Cassell in that quarter, but while Sam-I-Am couldn't keep me out of the paint at this point in his career, he can still get hot offensively and drill some turnaround J's on just about anyone. Overall, Fish was one of the few Lakers who managed to find his way to the basket and stay aggressive.
The Bad: Wow. Lots to choose from.
- Sasha Vujacic: Overall, he had a tough night. 2-7 from the floor, four personals and some undisciplined play offensively. On the other end, he had a tough time keeping up with Allen, who ran him pretty ragged over the course of the game. If you had asked me before the game what player might be a little too amped up for his first Finals game, I would have thought long and hard about Sasha.
- Offensive Discipline: Too often the Lakers became content to be a jumpshooting team, and spent long stretches of time outside the paint. The patience and ball movement characteristic of the team weren't there for nearly enough of the game, and practically disappeared in the second half. "We had 14 assists in the first half and seven in the second. That was the difference. We did a lot of things off the dribble we didn't do in the first half," Phil Jackson said. Still, PJ didn't seem to think they, whether Kobe or the rest of the gang, were taking a lot of bad shots. "Our guys had good looks. A lot of in-and-out shots for us tonight," Jackson said of the team. Similar reaction to Kobe. "I think he thought he was shooting the ball pretty well, they just didn't stay in. A lot of them rattled out. I said to him, check it out, he had some guys open in other parts of the offense, but he said he had some good looks. You live on that. That's going to happen." To some extent I think he's protecting his guys. The shot selection wasn't all that good, and the patience wasn't there. Some of that can be chalked up to the Celtics, who are a very strong defensive team, but some of it goes to the Lakers as well.
- Rebounding: Rebounding, rebounding, rebounding. So bad it should be mentioned at least that many times. The final margin was 46-33 Boston, including 10 offensive boards for the Celtics that helped explain their 98 points despite 42% shooting. The extra chances often put the Celtics on the line, where they were 28-35, and led to an eight-point advantage in second-chance points that seemed a lot bigger. A lack of attention led to what was likely the dagger score for Boston, a ferocious dunk put back off a James Posey three with 92 seconds to go. Gasol, in the same ZIP code but a decidedly different neighborhood, never put a body on him. A six-point deficit became eight, and that was the end of that.
The Occasionally Good, but Not Nearly Good Enough:
- Defense: In the halfcourt, it wasn't bad. As I mentioned, L.A. held Boston to 42% shooting, and limited them to under 25 points in three of four quarters. But because the rebounding (did I mention the rebounding) was so awful, it's hard to give them high marks. Moreover, the Lakers struggled to defend without fouling, part of the reason the Celtics were able to make some hay at the stripe. Too many ticky-tack fouls, or ill-timed shooting fouls (a Vlad hack on Pierce for a three+1 and an awkward Allen jumper late in the shot clock where Sasha bailed him out with a pop to the arm come to mind). The groundwork is there, but if the Lakers are going to come back strong on Sunday, they'll need to shore up those weak spots.
- L.A.'s Big Three: It wasn't an MVP performance from Kobe by any stretch. He forced jumpers, forced passes and forced plays (explaining the four TOs). It's not that he was awful - Kobe also made some excellent decisions with the ball, was able to set up his teammates, and hit some big shots - but he clearly wasn't sharp, and wasn't able to find any sort of flow in the game save the last six minutes of the second quarter, when the whole team was on fire, going from five down to five up into halftime. There are nights where he is able to exert influence on a game in all sorts of ways, controlling the flow. Tonight, he couldn't do it, and seemed to get stuck trying to figure out how. Lamar Odom had some nice moments and was 6-11 from the floor, but like Kobe, they were quiet points, and his 2-5 showing from the line took some of the fun away from the numbers, too. LO wasn't dominant on the boards, didn't distribute, and overall couldn't make an impression on the game in the way we've seen over the second half of the season. So inconsistent was his play that PJ had him on the bench for critical minutes in the fourth.
Pau Gasol was also 6-11 and had four assists, generally coming from his work at the top of the post, but was also limited in his effect on the glass, and had a ton of trouble with KG on the other end (in fairness, Garnett can play a little). His performance tonight reminded me of some of his lesser efforts against San Antonio.
If you want to pit Big Three vs. Big Three, Boston's was the clear winner. 65 points to 53 for L.A.'s trio. Rebounds- 25 vs. 17. Big moments? Too many vs. way too few.
Audio to come ASAP.