It was a no-show job
LOS ANGELES — Aw c’mon, you knew this thing was destined for seven, didn’t you?
It’s not as if this bunch of Celtics do anything easy. They’re the bounce-back kings. They’ve got short memories.
It was an ugly score that fully represents the nature of this game, one in which the Lakers assumed complete control in the first period and never allowed the Celtics to get even a remote sniff thereafter. Los Angeles led by 10 at the quarter, 20 at the half, and 25 at the three-quarter mark en route to a crowd-pleasing 89-67 victory that sets up only the fourth Game 7 of the 2-3-2 era.
The Celtics are certainly making history in this postseason. They had a record point margin defeat (124-95) against Cleveland, after which they won the next three games to close out the series. Now they have established a franchise-record playoff low for points, and, yes, that goes all the way back to 1948, and not just games in the 24-second clock era, which began in 1954.
If you haven’t figured it out by now, there is absolutely no such thing as momentum in this series, (or anywhere else, for that matter). What happens one night in this series has no bearing on what might happen when the teams take the floor again. Take, for example, the issue of the bench. Boston’s bench had been the Unsung Hero of Games 1 through 5. Last night the bench was scoreless until Nate Robinson converted a driving lefty 3-point play at the 9:56 mark of the final period. You don’t see too many NBA games in which a team only has four men score through three periods. We had one last night.
And for those of you who like hooks, be it known that for the sixth consecutive game the team winning the rebound battle won the game. And for the sixth consecutive game the team that won the first quarter won the game.
Kobe Bryant was under fire to some degree locally for scoring those 23 consecutive points in Game 5, this generally being regarded as a bad thing. Last night he was the key to the victory in that he came out strong, scoring 11 quick points on 5-for-7 shooting. But rather than use that as a pretext to scoring 40 or 50, he allowed the game to develop and his teammates to get themselves into the flow. After scoring 11 of his team’s first 21 points, at which point the Lakers were ahead by 7 (21-14), he scored only 2 of the next 26, at which point the Lakers were ahead by 20 (47-27).
So, yes, Kobe had help in this one. Ron Artest, who had been close to an offensive zero through the first five games, hit some early shots that really seemed to clear his head (remember, such a concept is relative). Even more important was the play of Pau Gasol, who did not exactly distinguish himself in the last two games in Boston. Last night he flirted with a triple-double (17 points, 13 rebounds, 9 assists) and he once again made it all look easy.
The entire Lakers team, in fact, made it look easy. They were able to get into their offense and they really tied up the Celtics on defense, creating a succession of pretty hopeless first-half Boston possessions. The Celtics had absolutely nothing going, save an early burst from Ray Allen, and if you’re looking for any good signs as the Celtics prepare for tomorrow’s game, it is that Allen appeared to have regained his shooting touch.
Otherwise, the first three quarters were a complete disaster. (The fourth quarter was a formality). The Lakers shot better, defended better, and they annihilated the Celtics on the boards (52-39, with a 15-6 edge in second-chance points). The home team won all the so-called “50-50’’ battles that are so much in vogue. The Lakers were extremely active defensively, making even the most routine entry pass a Boston adventure. And when it came to entertainment, they trotted out Shannon Brown for a dazzling second-quarter alley-oop from Gasol on which he almost certainly created a stir at the LAX control tower.
Adding to the general misery of the evening was a first quarter incident in which Kendrick Perkins sustained a game-ending knee injury that creates doubt about his availability for Game 7. He was attempting to rebound a Rajon Rondo jumper with 5:30 left in the half when he was caught in a sandwich formed by Gasol in front of him and Bryant behind. Gasol came over his back as Bryant swiped at the ball. Perkins injured his right knee as he fell and was helped to the locker room by Shelden Williams and Brian Scalabrine, never to return.
Coaches as experienced as Phil Jackson and Doc Rivers understand the dynamics of playoffs, but it’s always a jolt to the system when a team underperforms to such a degree as the Celtics did last night, especially when he has a veteran team that has been exemplary on the road all season.
“I thought we would play better, obviously,’’ Rivers acknowledged. “I thought they were ready. I just thought the Lakers played harder, better. They executed. They trusted more. I thought we played an individual game tonight, really, on both ends.’’
Allen concurred. “We did not make the extra pass,’’ he said. “Each individual was trying to make the home run play early.’’
The truth of the matter is that you’re better off losing a game like this badly than losing by 1 or 2 points or in OT. You agonize over an opportunity lost when you lose a close one.
But when a team as experienced as the Celtics loses a game like this, everyone knows exactly what went wrong — and they all do — and they know how to correct it.
Will they? Well, that’s what we’re going to find out. This is Sport, not Entertainment. There are no scripts. There are no set lists. There is only competition.
“Lakers-Celtics,’’ said Rondo. “Biggest rivalry in basketball. Seventh game.’’
No more need be said.