Kobe Bryant's one-act show gave the Lakers the best chance to win in an otherwise disappointing 92-86 Game 5 loss to Boston
The odds seemed out of the Lakers' favor as they faced a six-point deficit with 1:30 remaining, but Kobe Bryant appeared determined his skillset alone could overcome the challenge. After receiving a dump pass from Lakers forward Pau Gasol at the nearside perimeter, Bryant pump faked and drew contact on Boston guard Ray Allen. The play gave Bryant three free throws and a chance to give the Lakers' one last push to win a game they had no business stealing.
He nailed the first two in easy fashion, but like everything else the Boston defense had thrown at Bryant in Game 5 of the NBA Finals, he'd see that even free throws would seem contested. A fan threw an unidentified object on the court; Lakers forward Lamar Odom later said it appeared a glass bottle of vodka nearly hit him but off-season boxing classes gave him the reflexes to avoid the hit.
"That's too bad because somebody could get hurt," Odom said afterwards. "But I've seen it before. There's no place for that."
Bryant released the free throw just as the apparent bottle hit the court, causing him to scream in frustration at officials. There were many more theatrical shots Bryant made and many more sequences that displayed Bryant's frustration. But his free throws showed how Bryant's valiant effort happened because he had to work for all his shots, while his teammates provided nothing on offense and the team broke down on defense. The result? The Lakers' 92-86 Game 5 loss to the NBA Finals Sunday to the Boston Celtics at T.D. Garden made Bryant's 38-point performance a pointless affair.
"We didn't get any stops," said Bryant, who finished with at least 30 points for the 14th playoff game this season. "They got layup after layup after layup. You can't survive against a team that shoots 56%. We're normally a great defensive team."
The Lakers, however, in Game 5 weren't, meaning they must win out the series beginning with Game 6 on Tuesday. The team maintained a level-headed attitude afterwards, insisting part of their confidence points to their home-court advantage. But that's a scenario hard to predict given how this series has shifted back-and-forth. Likewise, the statistics provide contradictory proclamations on who will win the series. Lakers Coach Phil Jackson is 47-1 after winning Game 1, but the Lakers are 2-4 all-time when losing Game 5 after a series is tied at 2-2. The Lakers are 7-4 in NBA Finals history when they hold home-court advantage, but they have a 22-4 mark after winning Game 5 of the Finals.
Breaking down the odds for now proves to be a pointless exercise because the Lakers don't have a chance to win the series if they replicate their Game 5 performance. That starts with limiting Boston, who shot 56.3% from the field, outrebounded the Lakers, 35-24, scored 46 points in the paint, converted on 14 fast-break points and featured four players in double figures, including Paul Pierce (27 points on 12 of 21 shooting), Kevin Garnett (18 points and 10 boards on a six of 11 clip), Rajon Rondo (18 points on nine of 12 shooting along with eight assists and five rebounds) and Ray Allen (12 points on five of 10 shooting).
"I don't think it was lack of effort as much as being prepared," Jackson said, "for what they could do."
Whatever the reasons, the Lakers' performance looked far from pretty. And the following sequences after Bryant's missed free throws didn't exemplify the Lakers' poor offense and defense as much as it did during their third-quarter effort. Nonetheless, it showed how an improved offense and a few breakdowns couldn't overcome a poor performance. After Bryant nearly stole the ball from Garnett, he passed it to Allen, who missed an open three-pointer. Kendrick Perkins grabbed the offensive rebound and received a new 24-second shot clock after officials ruled that the shot hit the rim. Rasheed Wallace missed a three-pointer off the timeout, and Derek Fisher drew himself into a jump ball with Garnett with 46.6 seconds remaining. Fisher then tipped the ball to Artest, who drove the lane and drew a foul on Pierce. But with the Lakers' trailing 87-82, Artest missed both foul shots.
"I felt comfortable taking those," said Artest, who scored seven points on only two of nine shooting. "I'll knock those down next time."
He surely didn't make up for it on the following play after the Celtics' 20-second timeout. Garnett inbounded the ball to Pierce on the near-side perimeter, with Fisher nearly stealing the pass. Pierce then passed the ball to Rondo who cut through the lane ahead of Artest. Odom didn't react quickly enough to help, allowing Rondo to convert on a reverse layup, giving the Celtics an 89-82 lead with 35.2 seconds remaining. After Odom made a putback on Bryant's missed three-pointer, the Lakers didn't foul Allen until Boston shed 10 seconds off the clock.
"We just didnt get enough stops as a team," said Odom, who acknowledged he had flu-like symptoms on a night he scored eight points on four of six shooting but became a defensive liability. "This is a team that we're playing against that even though they go through lulls offensively, everybody is involved in the game because they move the basketball so well. It just allowed them to get a couple more steps than we were able to get."
Some may read those comments and conclude the Lakers' uneven offense contributed to their loss. The tenor from part of the press corps suggested Bryant's 38-point effort, including 29 third-quarter points, hurt the team more than it helped it. But that assessment couldn't be further from the truth. He may have gone two of six from the fourth quarter, but he also went five of five from the free-throw line, two of his missed shots resulted in putbacks and one of his failed attempts came in the final seconds with the outcome already determined.
Bryant's third-quarter performance brought the Lakers back in a game that should've actually been a blowout.
"When Kobe gets hot like that, then he's hot like that," Odom said. "You can't deny it. We just needed to get stops as a team. We weren't able to do that."
Keep in mind that Bryant played facilitator mode in the first half, and the effort did very little to spark the offense, with the team shooting 33.3% from the field. Aside from Andrew Bynum's six early points and Fisher hitting a few shots to give him nine early points, nothing clicked for the Lakers. Artest shot two of seven from the field, Gasol only went one of four and Bryant's four of 12 clip partly happened because Jackson said his sore ankle prevented him from getting some lift.
But after retaping his ankle, Bryant looked like the player some reporters and fans wanted to see in this series. He pulled up for an elbow jumper over Perkins. He shot a contested three-pointer at the top of the key over Allen. Fisher threw a lob to Bryant, who converted on a layup one-handed. He bailed out an ineffective Artest, who drove the baseline and almost committed a turnover in traffic, but found Bryant open at the top of the key. It looked like Bryant's heroics could bail the Lakers out with scoring the team's first 19 third-quarter points.
Except there was one problem. The Lakers allowed the Celtics to score on 12 of their first 13 possessions.
"They got hot and got too many points in the paint," said Gasol, who had his worst playoff effort in Game 5 with 12 points on five of 12 shooting and 12 rebounds and constantly allowed the missed calls to distract his focus. "We allowed a couple penetrations there that shouldn't happen. They got going. We battled back as much as possible. Kobe was hitting some very tough shots and kept us in the ballgame. But we have to cut down on the points in the paint."
Some of those breakdowns included these plays. Garnett drove the lane, spun around and pulled up for an offbalance jumper over Gasol. Later, Pierce drove, spun past Jordan Farmar and stopped at the right block for a pull-up J. Soon after, Garnett jab stepped and drove past Odom for the pull up J. After Bryant drove the lane on one play in the fourth quarter, Allen stripped the ball and no one got back on D to stop Rondo from converting on the fast-break layup. Moments later, Pierce missed a three pointer after performing a pump fake over Artest, but Rondo tipped the ball in over Odom.
Those type of efforts were also on display in the first half. Pierce caught Odom off balance and drained a 15-footer in the first quarter. Odom got rejected in the lane by Wallace in the second quarter, and Glen Davis fired an outlet pass to Tony Allen for an easy bucket. Moments later, Rondo weaved past Bynum and Odom in the lane for a reverse layup. Garnett converted on an offensive putback over Gasol, who failed to box out his man.
And offensively things didn't look much better in the second half. Gasol tried driving the lane, but was blocked by Perkins. On the other end, Rondo ran the break, threw a bounce pass cross court to Pierce , who timed the ball to Allen up top. With Bryant helping in the lane, Bynum rushed out to contest Pierce's open far-corner three pointer but the shot dropped into the basket.
Interestingly, on a night Bryant proved his worth, the Lakers finished with their lowest scoring effort this postseason. On a night Bryant worked for every point he scored, the Lakers defense made it too easy for Boston, who finished with their highest shooting perfomance this postseason. So don't blame it on Bryant, who did everything he could to give the Lakers a victory. Blame it on the rest of the team's offensive and defensive effort for not giving Bryant much of a choice.
"They got all the hustle points in terms of loose balls and offensive rebounds down the stretch, Bryant said of Boston. "We didn't convert."
--Mark Medina, in Boston
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Photo: Lakers guard Kobe Bryant had to make a lot of diffficult shots to collect his game-high 38 points against Boston during Game 5 on Sunday. Credit: Robert Gauthier/Los Angeles Times.
Photo: Lakers guard Kobe Bryant tries to collect a loose ball in front of Boston forward Paul Pierce and L.A. center Andrew Bynum in Game 5 on Sunday. Credit: Wally Skalij/Los Angeles Times.
Photo: Lakers guard Kobe Bryant, who beat Boston power forward Kevin Garnett to a rebound, has the ball stolen by Celtics forward Paul Pierce after a missed free throw by Ron Artest in the final minute of Game 5 on Sunday. Credit: Robert Gauthier/Los Angeles Times.