As long as you remember that formula, you should be good to go in life.
The best finals shooting performance ever? That would belong to Ray Allen, who made his first 7 three-point attempts before missing one to end the half. 7 threes, which — just in case you were abducted from earth 2 days ago and hadn’t seen this — tied an NBA record for an entire game. Ray, ever the humble minimalist, needed only 1 three-pointer in the second half to break the record and got just that.
Yes, Ray bounced back perfectly from his foul-plagued Game 1, single-handedly keeping the Boston Celtics in the game in the first half. It might be weird to read the words “kept in the game,” given how Boston had a 6-point lead at half time, but make no mistake – without Ray’s ridiculous first half, Boston isn’t close. The Cs had no first-half offense other than good ole Jesus Shuttlesworth, who weighed in at exactly half of their points (27 of 54 after two quarters). None. Zilch. Zero. Nada.
And they paid for it. All game long. They paid for it in the first half, when Ray going nova was just enough for that 6-point advantage, and nothing more; and they paid for it in the second half, when the Lakers suffocated Ray, limiting him to just 5 points, with no other Celtic in enough of a previously established rhythm to count on.
And so it became that, with a bit over five minutes to go in the game, with the greatest three-point shooting performance in NBA Finals history on their side, Boston found itself looking up at a 3-point deficit, on the road, against the defending champs — the same guys who haven’t lost on their home court this postseason. Only this time, Ray was all dried out, and those Los Angeles Lakers came knocking on the Celtics’ door, saying “we’re going to take this game now.”
The only thing LA wasn’t expecting was for Rajon Rondo to answer the door, and say this:
I mean, he probably didn’t call them Dutch, and the crazy part was most likely directed exclusively at Ron Artest, but you get my gist.
Yes, Rajon Rondo took this game over in every which way and drove it home. It wasn’t just the 10 points in the final six minutes (though they surely helped) or the gaudy numbers (19, 12 and 10 – his fifth career postseason triple double). It was the game-long control of the tempo (somebody had to find Ray Allen on those semi-transition three point shots). It was the willingness to have the ball in his hands late in the game, poor free-throw shooting be damned. It was blocking Derek Fisher’s potentially game-tying shot. It was knocking the ball out of Kobe Bryant’s hands to seal the deal with 39 seconds left.
And most of all, it was the ridiculous — yet undeniably true — notion that in a game pitting a team full of savvy, experienced veterans who know how to win against another team full of savvy, experienced veterans who know how to win, the most savvy player, the one who knew best how to win, was the young point guard with arms as long as the Mississippi.
Ironically, the Ray and Rondo show had help from everybody except Boston’s other two stars. Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett were terrible yet again, with Pierce being a nonfactor on offense (2 of 11) and Garnett once again seeing limited action due to foul trouble (24 minutes in which he accumulated 5 fouls to 4 rebounds). In fact, KG’s only meaningful contribution came in a form we haven’t seen from him in a while: absolutely gorgeous passing. Garnett had 6 assists – 3 in the fourth quarter – and repeatedly found his teammates in the lane, taking full advantage of the space created by Allen’s early barrage. Even this comes with a hint of sadness, though, when one remembers that KG used to average 6 assists a game during his peak. Oh well.
The rest of the Celtics, though, were there all night. Nate Robinson had 7 straight points to set up Rondo’s final stretch. Sheed was arguably the best Boston big man on the court before fouls got the best of him. Glen Davis hustled like mad, occasionally getting him a basket. Kendrick Perkins recovered from trying to do too much in the first half, instead settling into a more fitting role of getting the ball near the rim and dunking it/laying it in. Tony Allen managed to play 12 minutes without turning the ball over even once. A fine all-around effort from the green supporting cast.
The Lakers missed that equivalent supporting effort very much. The “other” Lakers were atrocious, ranging from doing nothing (Lamar Odom had 5 fouls in 15 minutes) to taking simply awful shots (Derek Fisher: 2 of 8, JordanShannon BrownFarmar: 3 of 9, Ron Artest: Ron Artest.). Worse than those terrible numbers, they wasted a phenomenal performance by the ever-so-x-factorish Andrew Bynum. Bynum did everything one could ask from him. He scored 21 points without needing the ball in his hands, instead doing his damage off last-second lobs, loose balls and offensive boards. He blocked 7 shots and altered many more. And most importantly, he stayed on the court for an amazing 39 minutes. The Lakers cannot afford to waste games like that from Bynum. With the current state of his knee, you have to fully utilize anything he can possibly give.
Another Laker player who didn’t give his share was Kobe Bryant. Kobe was as out as he’s ever been recently, scoring only 21 points on 20 shots and adding 5 turnovers to boot. And while Laker fans will point to his bogus 3rd and 4th fouls — which clearly weren’t fouls by any stretch of the imagination — the truth is that he just wasn’t there. He didn’t make the shots that he usually makes and didn’t play the smart type of basketball that was there for the entire Phoenix series.
What smart type of basketball? That would be passing the ball to Pau Gasol — and fast.
Pau continued to dominate, scoring 25 points on 10 — TEN!!! — shots, throwing in 8 boards and 6 blocks for good measure. If you’re looking for an explanation as to why the best power forward in the game continues to watch his teammates run their offense without him, there is none. Nothing more to say on this subject.
All in all, you get a series that is much, much closer than it was two days ago — and not just because of the scoreboard. The Lakers have yet again demonstrated a self-sabotaging tendency to waltz away from their optimal game, while 50 percent of Boston’s core stepped up its effort dramatically. This leaves us in a situation where we don’t really know what to expect anymore. The tight officiating, the inconsistent superstars and the wild bench fluctuations mean that this series could go absolutely anywhere.
Last time around, I said that the Celtics need to kick the door open if they don’t want it to close on them. Well, they didn’t kick it, but they applied enough pressure for the Lakers to open it for them. And tough as the 2-3-2 system is for the team hosting those middle 3, the Celts now have homecourt advantage. It’s on the Lakers to play to their strengths and take it back.
If not, they could be left in the dust, wondering why they didn’t give their shaggy Spaniard the damn ball.