Lakers' 103-94 Game 2 loss to the Boston Celtics points to inconsistent execution
The Lakers walked into the locker room Sunday night following their 103-94 loss to the Boston Celtics in Game 2 of the NBA Finals with very little to say. That's because what happened on the court said it all, and in this case, it didn't play out the way the Lakers wanted.
They knew their Game 1 victory only served as the beginning of the series and paid no attention to the 47-0 mark that Coach Phil Jackson has when his teams win the first game. But they thought they could do what Jackson's other playoff teams have done in maintaining control of the series. They knew the Celtics would make adjustments after suffering in effort and execution in their Game 1 loss, but the Lakers thought they could anticipate the changes. They knew their 12th NBA Finals matchup with Boston would be competitive, but that doesn't erase the sting of the Celtics stealing home-court advantage.
"Everybody was pissed off, quiet," Lakers center Andrew Bynum said of the postgame atmosphere, which accurately reflected the vibe once the media entered the locker room.
That wasn't the case, however, when Jackson and his coaching staff approached the team, with the Zen Master relaying a simple message.
"This might be the last time you'll play here," Jackson said, pointing to the fact that the Celtics would secure the 2010 championship with three consecutive home victories at TD Garden, beginning Tuesday. "That woke everybody up," Bynum admitted.
Surely, Jackson's message served its motivational purposes. And he confirmed that when he acknowledged to reporters, "We anticipated this might happen, and we're just going to have to go pick it up." Those conflicting messages actually strike the measured approach the Lakers took after their Game 1 victory, insisting their dominant win meant very little beyond needing only three more to secure a championship. Likewise, the Lakers' Game 2 loss means very little beyond except that they have to get at least one road win. As Lakers guard Derek Fisher said, "The reason why we remember the great Lakers-Celtics games in the 80s is because there wasn't anybody getting swept."
"It's a series," Lakers guard Kobe Bryant accurately stated. "You're trying to stay even keel. You don't get too high, don't get too low after a win or loss. You just go into the next one and take care of business."
And unfortunately for the Lakers, many of the poor lapses overshadowed any areas they excelled.
Fourth quarter lapse
Despite playing inconsistently for most of the game, the Lakers managed to lead 90-87 with 5:21 remaining in the fourth quarter. That marked the last time the Lakers would hold the advantage.
"We fought pretty hard to get back in the game," said Bryant, who scored 21 points on eight-of-20 shooting along with six assists and five rebounds. "And then we let the game slip away."
Celtics guard Rajon Rondo immediately drove the lane for a layup, Bryant missed a 13-foot turnaround, Artest collected two consecutive fouls and Rondo recovered a deflection and scored after Gasol's blocked shot on Celtics center Kendrick Perkins. His layup gave the Celtics a 91-90 edge with 3:20 left, and Boston would never relinquish the lead from there.
Artest made a bad pass, Garnett made a turnaround jumper, Fisher missed a key three-pointer and the Celtics collected three consecutive offensive rebounds before Rondo hit a 20-footer to give Boston a 95-90 lead. That sequence served as a microcosm for the Lakers, who finished with 15 turnovers, allowed Boston to get 13 offensive rebounds and shot only 40.8% from the field in the game and 22.7% from three-point range.
"That was tough, deflating," Gasol said.
And unfortunately for the Lakers, the woes continued, marking a 4 minute and 9 second stretch where the Lakers went scoreless. They scored only four points in the final 5:21 and shot one of nine from the field.
"We didn't do our job," Jackson said. "They did."
Ray Allen's hot shooting
Boston guard Ray Allen acknowledged that "I don't think I ever got in the flow" because of his five fouls in the Lakers' 102-89 Game 1 victory. Which led to a listless 12-point performance in only 27 minutes. He proved in Game 2 how that rhythm can make a difference. He scored a team-high 32 points on 11-of-20 shooting, including eight of 11 from three-point range. It's a mark that set an NBA Finals record for three-pointers made in a game, a feat Allen previously tied in the 2008 Finals along with former Chicago Bulls forward Scottie Pippen (1997) and Houston Rockets guard Kenny Smith (1995)."I didn't think it was easy," Allen said. "There's so much going on out there from great screens being set to misdirection plays. . . . I thought they did everything they could to keep me from shooting threes and they worked tirelessly."
But a combination of defenders ranging from Fisher, Shannon Brown and Bryant did very little to stop Allen from scoring 27 first-half points with a seven-of-eight effort from three-point range. Even if Jackson and Bynum suggested Boston benefited from moving screens, the reasons for Allen's hot shooting appeared as varied as the shots he made.
"It's tough, especially when he's making them," Brown said. "You have to be really alert to him."
Allen's timely, efficient and quick off-ball movement remained a beauty to watch, with sharp cutting and graceful penetrating making it look so easy. The Lakers had trouble chasing Allen as well as adjusting to Boston's off-ball screens, making the various defensive assignments of Fisher, Brown and Bryant all but ineffective. And the Lakers' poor shot selection in the first half largely only exacerbated that effort.
Allen made his first seven attempts from downtown, and then broke the record with 4:40 left in the third quarter after Boston forward Glen Davis kicked the ball out to him after an offensive rebound. Limiting Allen's 27 first-half points on nine-of-14 shooting would have made the game much different considering no other Celtics player scored more than five first-half points. Still, Allen scored only five points in the second half, meaning the Lakers had other problems that contributed to their loss.
"It makes it tough because you're in a 4-on-4 situation, but if there are screens involved, it becomes a 4 on 3," Fisher said. "That makes it difficult. As great as he shot the ball, that's something we can withstand."
Rondo turns it around
As soon as Rondo returned to his hotel room following the Celtics' Game 1 loss, he replayed the performance with the volume down. He didn't want to hear the commentators assessment, but he wanted to know how the Lakers limited him in Game 1.
"Getting the loose balls, I think that was key for me personally," Rondo said, "trying to track down all the long rebounds."
That's exactly what he did in Game 2, finishing with 19 points on eight-of-18 shooting along with 12 rebounds and 10 assists, good enough for a triple-double, a feat he downplayed because he expressed more concern about the team winning. It makes sense considering that much of Rondo's limitation in Game 1 had to do with the fact that the Celtics weren't getting run-outs and transition opportunities.
But with the Lakers struggling with their shot selection, getting outrebounded 44-39 and struggling to adjust on defensive rotations, Rondo's performance peaked. It essentially became the Celtics' backcourt running the show, with Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett combining for a four-of-16 clip from the field.
Bynum ranked Rondo in the top three among point guards in the NBA. Jackson called Rondo "the difference-maker in the second half." And the performance, Gasol argued, exacerbated the Lakers' struggles in playing transition defense.
Foul trouble affects rhythm
This issue left many of the Lakers dancing around the question. "It's going to be that way from game to game," Jackson said. "You've got to play," Bryant offered. "They were in foul trouble too," Lakers forward Ron Artest argued.
Artest is correct, with both teams collecting 29 fouls. But all of the Lakers acknowledged those calls affected the team's rhythm, confidence and matchups. Lakers forward Lamar Odom scored only three points on one-of-three shooting in 14 minutes and 38 seconds after picking up three fouls in the first quarter, marking the second consecutive game he's been limited because of foul trouble. The situation caused Gasol to switch to the post instead of the wing, the Lakers without a versatile option and Odom to laugh to himself when a reporter suggested the officials made plenty of "phantom calls."
Odom said: "It's important our key players are able to play."
Bryant collected his fourth foul with 6:19 left in the third quarter and sat out the rest of the period. He was given his fifth foul at the 11:15 mark of the fourth period, leading Bryant to acknowledge Boston tried to bait him into getting fouls. Artest's two consecutive fouls late in the game rattled him enough to turn the ball over on the next play. And Bynum picked up three of his five fouls in the final period.
"You've just got to be careful," Bryant said. "I don't expect to be picking up five fouls in the next game. You've got to play. You've got to play your game and let the whistles sort themselves out."
Bynum continuing to impress
In the week leading up to the 2010 NBA Finals, Bynum pondered the question on whether the Lakers would've won two years ago had his injured left kneecap not kept him on the sideline. He wasn't sure if the outcome would've changed, but he couldn't help but wonder what would have happened had he been healthy enough to play.
That's a question that will never be answered. But the Celtics are finding out the hard way what his presence has meant for the Lakers' success in the 2010 Finals. He tied his playoff career-high with 21 points on six-of-10 shooting and six rebounds in 35 minutes. His effort, combined with Gasol (25 points on seven-of-10 shooting and 13 rebounds), served as the team's lone bright spot and a sign the Lakers didn't get the ball inside enough. Still, Gasol argued there's "not really much of a point talking about my individual performance because it's a disappointing loss for our ballclub."
But in Bynum's case, it is a comforting sign given the torn cartilage in his right knee made the Lakers and their fans uncertain how effective he'd be against Boston.
"I was just pleased that he could play 35 minutes plus," Jackson said of Bynum. "That was a big part of that effort that he gave us tonight."And it was another stepping stone after contributing a modest but effective 10 points on four-of-six shooting in Game 1. His performance in Game 2 largely pointed to the confidence that Bynum has to have to remain effective as well as the confidence his teammates need to have in working with him on the floor.
When Gasol launched an alley-oop pass in the first quarter to Bryant, he performed a touch pass over Perkins into the hands of Bynum for the easy score. When Bryant passed the ball to Gasol at the free-throw line in the third quarter, Gasol lobbed the ball to Bynum, whose long wingspan enabled him to grab the ball easily over Perkins for the two-handed slam. And Bynum's seven blocked shots contributed to the Lakers' 14 blocked shots, a playoff record.
Though it appeared Bynum would be in for a challenge this series against a talented front line, he actually feels he can excel the most against the Celtics because the Lakers have the ability to control the tempo and play a half-court game.
"It's definitely a better matchup," Bynum said, comparing the transition teams the Lakers met in the Western Conference playoffs, including Oklahoma City and Phoenix. "I'm doing as much as I can with the knee and making sure it doesn't get any worse."
Still, Bryant wasn't about to shed light on Bynum's performance, considering how everything else mostly went wrong.
"It has nothing to do with scoring," Bryant said. "Nothing. It's all defensively. We gave them too many easy baskets and blew too many defensive assignments. That's it."--Mark Medina
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Photo: Lakers guard Kobe Bryant tries to get around Celtics guard Tony Allen on a drive by ducking under his arm in the fourth quarter of Game 2 on Sunday. Credit: Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times
Photo: Lakers forward Ron Artest tries to split the defense of Boston forward Paul Pierce (34) and point guard Rajon Rondo in the second half of Game 2 on Sunday. Credit: Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times.
Photo: Lakers guard Kobe Bryant makes it difficult for Boston guard Ray Allen to get a good look at the basket on a drive in Game 2 on Sunday. Credit: Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times.
Photo: Point guard Rajon Rondo scores over Lakers power forward Pau Gasol during the Celtics' 11-0 run late in the fourth quarter that helped seal the Game 2 victory for Boston on Sunday. Credit: Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times.
Photo: Lakers center Andrew Bynum draws a foul from Celtics power forward Kevin Garnett in the second half of Game 2 on Sunday. Credit: Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times.