THIS STORY HAS BEEN FORMATTED FOR EASY PRINTING
Bob Ryan

Star’s masterpiece can’t produce a victory

By Bob Ryan
Globe Columnist / June 14, 2010

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Doc Rivers knew there was a Kobe Bryant bomb planted somewhere in this series.

At least, he hopes there was only one.

“I hope so,’’ he said after watching the maestro score 23 consecutive Lakers points in this one, beginning with the last 4 of the second quarter and the first 19 of the second half. “It’s amazing what that does to your team. We’re up 12, and I’ve got to call a timeout to settle down our guys.’’

It was a great show, all right. But it’s just a footnote in Lakers history. Despite those 23 straight, and despite his series-high 38, the Celtics were once again a far better T-E-A-M, and with last night’s 92-86 victory they will head back to Los Angeles one game from another NBA championship.

More and more the story of this series is the breadth and depth of the Celtics, who have not relied on any one, two, or even five players to grab this 3-2 series lead. Last night, Paul Pierce (27 points), Kevin Garnett (18 points, 10 rebounds, 5 steals) and Rajon Rondo (18 points, 8 assists and 5 rebounds, but let’s not talk about the seven turnovers) had strong games. Rasheed Wallace was big off the bench. Nate Robinson, a.k.a. the Donkey, had his moments. As for Shrek, sometimes known as Glen “Big Baby’’ Davis, he had no points and three rebounds. Maybe tomorrow.

The Celtics have played 10 playoff games against the Lakers in 2008 and 2010 and Kobe Bryant has gone off just twice. He hit them for 36 points in Game 3 back in ’08, capping the performance with some game-changing plays. The Celtics could live with everything he did in the next seven games, and they had to be feeling good after he had another big struggle in the first half last night, shooting an ugly 4 for 12 as his team entered the locker room trailing 45-39.

But you can never get cocky with this guy. He is proud and he is relentless. Oh, and he’s pretty good, too, as he reminded the Celtics by shooting 7 of 9 in the third quarter, all jumpers and three or four of them borderline outrageous. It was truly the Kobe of legend.

“Kobe struggled in the first half,’’ said Phil Jackson. “The second half, I thought he was his dynamic self again and got us back and going.’’

But all he was able to do was keep the Celtics from putting the game out of sight. He was keeping his team in the game, but he was not winning the game. When he began his astonishing run his team was down by 4 (41-37), and when he scored the last of those 23 points his team was down by 9 (67-58) on its way to being down by 13. The Celtics (that’s plural) were matching Kobe. The Celtics were busy scoring on 12 of their first 13 second-half possessions.

This did not escape Doc Rivers’s attention.

“Yeah, that’s the point I was trying to stress,’’ Rivers explained. “It would have been one thing if he had been scoring and we had not been scoring; then it would have been an issue. But we were scoring and we had great offensive rhythm and you could see that. That’s what made me tell them to just keep playing. I was very concerned when Kobe did that, that we were going to stop playing offensive because we were so concerned defensively.’’

Kobe having a big night is something opposing teams always worry about, but it often comes with a price. Do the math. He had 38 of his team’s 86. Not good, and hardly his fault. He had no help whatsoever. When Pau Gasol stepped to the free throw line for two shots with 2:25 remaining, Kobe Bryant, with 35, was the only Laker in double figures. From a Boston standpoint, that’s a dream scenario.

Still, when he goes off like that a rival coach can’t exactly feel comfortable. You know the most each basket can count is 3, but Kobe’s can feel and look like 33.

“I tried to keep telling them, ‘It’s only 2 points each time he scores,’ ’’ Rivers said. (Unless it was 3). “It’s not 10. It’s just like someone else was scoring.’’

With his team keeping pace with Kobe, Doc was actually able to enjoy the show — a little.

“He’s the best shot-maker in the game,’’ Doc declared. “There’s maybe better athletes and all that, but there’s no better shot-maker than Kobe Bryant. I mean, you know, in that stretch I kept turning to Thibs [assistant coach Tom Thibodeau] and [assistant coach] Armond [Hill] and saying, ‘Those are tough shots.’ He was making tough shots.’’

It was a virtuoso performance, but keep in mind that the Celtics have dealt with things like this before. In Round 1 they coped with All-League performer Dwyane Wade. In the next round they managed to survive a guy named LeBron. Last round they worked their way through the league’s best inside force, Dwight Howard. That’s three-fifths of the All-NBA team.

Kobe is a fourth. The only one they’re missing in this postseason is Oklahoma City’s Kevin Durant. Perhaps they can book the Thunder for an exhibition game or two next fall.

What this all means is that a team trumps a solo act in this league, no matter how great. As we all head back to LA, Rivers isn’t sure who will do what tomorrow night, only that he will get help from multiple sources. The Lakers could still win this series, but they will need help from someone other than Kobe.

Thirty-eight out of 86. The Celtics will take that every night.

Bob Ryan is a Globe columnist and host of Globe 10.0 on Boston.com. He can be reached at ryan@globe.com.

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