Photo by Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE/Getty Images
The game called for aggression, mental tenacity and a true home-court advantage, areas in which the Lakers have been lacking all week. This time, the Lakers weren't left flailing and falling down. They pushed back, pushed harder and thus they prevailed.
At times it felt like a hockey game, when the puck stays at one end of the ice for a while for two, three shots at the goal, and the defense just has to hang in there and withstand it. There would be two, three cracks at it, and it didn't always yield results. That's what happens when every shot is contested, not conceded.
|LAKERS VERSUS CELTICS|
Boston 3, L.A. Lakers 2
Game 6: Tuesday at BOS
Coverage begins 8:30 p.m. ET (on ABC)
The Lakers defeated the Celtics 103-98 -- the most points L.A. has scored in the Finals -- but this wasn't thought of as an offensive outbreak. All people could talk about was the gritty stuff.
"We didn't play our best game, but we played our hearts out," Gasol said. "We played really hard, and I'm proud of our team tonight."
"We were aggressive," Phil Jackson said. "We played hard. Not smart all the time, but we played hard."
No, it wasn't wise to let a 19-point lead evaporate with the memories of that historic 24-point collapse still rattling around the psyches in Lakerland. And Jackson's decision to go with a lineup that included forgotten Chris Mihm at the start of the second quarter doesn't fit into the intelligent category, either. It was almost as inexplicable as the league's sending out Dick Bavetta to officiate the game after two former officials said they were asked about him by feds investigating the fraud claims of Tim Donaghy. Why remind people of the week's other huge NBA story, or leave yourself open to more conspiracy claims that the officiating assignments are designed to produce the longest, most lucrative series? It's a tight call as to whether it was more ignorant or arrogant on the league's part.
Back to basketball. Back to the 19 points, 13 rebounds and 6 assists from Gasol, and 20 points, 11 rebounds and 2 assists from Odom. Two big numbers that meant more than the team-high 25 points from Kobe Bryant. Since the Celtics already have determined that Bryant won't beat them single-handedly, the production has to come from elsewhere.
So the Lakers had five scorers in double figures. Notably, Odom and Gasol were among them. Neither reached double digits in Game 3, which the Lakers managed to win anyway, and each had single-digit rebound games, as well -- unacceptable in a category that's so crucial to this series. This is tough for the Lakers because it's not in the team's nature to be physical.
In the third quarter, Gasol scored on a layup and got fouled, and as he stepped to the line, he tried pumping his arms to get his teammates going. But he looked like an orchestra conductor trying to get more oomph from his string section.
Odom always has trouble playing well night in and night out. Just when you're ready to believe in him, he disappears; just when you're ready to write him off, he comes through the way he did in Game 5.
"Lamar's very resilient," Jackson said. "He showed that tonight."
"I tried to stay focused throughout the game," Odom said. "I thought last game that I played, I thought I didn't make enough plays down in the fourth quarter. I just wanted to stay focused, make plays throughout the game."
He scored nine points in the second quarter and kept the game from completely escaping the Lakers' grasp when Paul Pierce was going to the hoop at every Laker who stepped to him and what was a 19-point lead dwindled to three. Gasol came through with eight points in the third. The Lakers needed someone to make up for a stretch of 30-plus minutes when Bryant had only five points.
"You know you're not going to shoot the ball too well against this team because they're going to throw everybody at you," said Bryant, who shot 8-for-21. "But the important thing for me is to push the buttons at the right time."
He kept going to Gasol. The Celtics were missing injured Kendrick Perkins, and Kevin Garnett was saddled with foul trouble. Give some of that credit to Jackson's insistence. One time, Bryant looked to Jackson for an inbounds play, didn't seem to like what he saw, but dutifully went to Gasol anyway.
Whether Gasol, Odom and the likes of Jordan Farmar can maintain this in Boston is still up for debate. But they gave themselves a chance to prove it.
The Lakers showed that they had put the Game 4 gagging behind them by scoring 39 points in the first quarter. You wonder whether the Celtics were already trying on their rings in their minds, with Garnett saying he could "taste" the championship and Inglewood native Pierce making statements such as "just to win it in your hometown is something that people will always remember years and years and years down the road. If we were playing someone else in the Finals, people may forget. But being that it's at home makes it more special because it's something we're going to talk about for as long as I'm alive."
Cedric Maxwell, the former Celtics player turned radio broadcaster, was cackling before the game, saying, "I hear the fat lady singing."
He should have taken into account where he was. You'd be hard-pressed to find a fat woman in Staples Center. For a change, you could find -- and hear -- real fans. The Lakers crowd had taken criticism from far and near (including the Los Angeles Times) for its lack of passion, but that wasn't the case in Game 5.
During a timeout in the third quarter, with the Lakers' lead teetering at 65-64, a group of fans in Section 215 stood up and started cheering, and the noise spread throughout the arena like a sonic wave. After the Lakers pushed the lead to seven points and forced a Boston timeout, the fans stood and chanted "Let's go, Lakers" instead of passively staring at the scoreboard race as they usually do.
They stood throughout the fourth quarter. And when Garnett went for a pair of free throws with 2:31 remaining, none other than Denzel Washington got up and waved his arms to elicit more noise from the crowd, and he looked satisfied when Garnett missed both.
As an added bonus, the fans get free tacos because of a fast-food restaurant promotion when the Lakers win and hold the opponent to less than 100 points. I've never understood why fans paying an average of $90 a ticket are so desperate to get hooked up with a 99-cent taco for free. But they pay for the seats. Sunday, they earned their food. Let them eat tacos. They'll need some food while they're watching Game 6.
LOS ANGELES -- The NBA employee carrying the championship trophy tried to avoid eye contact with everyone as he scooted down the hallway beneath the stands just after the final buzzer, passing a work crew folding up and stacking the platforms that would have been used for the stage where the title trophy and the Finals MVP award would have been presented.
The trophy was wrapped in a white cover, and the ceiling-mounted camera in the visiting locker room was sheathed in a similar plastic covering.
But all the rest of the plastic sheeting that had covered the Boston Celtics' lockers had been pulled down quickly, and the assistant coaches and end-of-the-bench players picked at an unappetizing, aluminum-foil tray full of hamburgers that served as Boston's only postgame sustenance.
The champagne was nowhere in sight.
"They made the plays down the stretch, so credit to them," P.J. Brown said. "But we have to step it up early in games. You can't keep putting yourself in 18- to 20-point holes on the road."
But the shame of this 103-98 loss for the Celtics in Game 5 of the NBA Finals wasn't the way they opened the night. After the early 19-point deficit, they came back to take the lead, then climbed out of a 10-point hole in the fourth quarter.
Which means the letdown came from the way they finished or, more precisely, the way they failed to finish over the final 2 minutes, 31 seconds.
To read the full column, click here.
LOS ANGELES -- You knew the Lakers were going to throw a new wrinkle after Boston's small-ball lineup knocked them sideways in Game 4, and in Game 5 Phil Jackson came up with an answer: Jordan Farmar.
Farmar played 22 minutes and scored 11 points by attacking Boston's Eddie House and Sam Cassell off the dribble. By doing so, he made the Celtics pay for playing a slower defender at the point instead of regular starter Rajon Rondo.
"We thought Jordan could attack," Jackson said. "His speed and quickness got him to the basket, and he was able to break their defense down a little bit. That was important to us."
Farmar supplied the only two Lakers buckets in the disastrous first seven minutes of the second quarter, making a driving layup and assisting a Sasha Vujacic jumper, and came back with a steal and a 3-pointer at the end of the quarter.
The latter shot was significant for another reason -- Kobe Bryant came right back to him for the shots after he'd air-balled one seconds earlier.
"I just rushed it," Farmar said of the miss. "It's just a matter of being comfortable and being able to read a situation later on in the game."
And though Farmar took home an ugly plus-minus for the quarter (minus-7), the carnage would have been much worse without his contribution.
To read the full column, click here.
Pau Gasol and Lamar Odom, Lakers: The two big men have been criticized throughout the Finals for being soft, but Sunday, they were the biggest reason the Lakers are heading to Boston. They combined for 39 points, 24 rebounds, 8 assists and 6 blocks.
Leon Powe, Celtics forward: Good news: He replaced injured center Kendrick Perkins, who didn't dress because of his shoulder injury, in the starting lineup. Bad news: Other than two rebounds and a foul, the rest of his stats across the board were the same as Perkins' for the night -- all zeroes.
QUOTE OF THE NIGHT
"A lot of things can happen. We're young enough and dumb enough to be able to do this."
-- Lakers coach Phil Jackson on his team's believing it can still win the series after falling down 3-1
LOS ANGELES -- After an NBA Finals game, a superstar like Ray Allen typically will hear from his coach, shower, get dressed and run a gantlet of postgame interviews. It could be an hour or two from the end of the game until top players head home.
But Monday night, just a few minutes after the game, Celtics guard Allen was dressed tidily in a suit and on the move quickly through the crowds under the arena, toward the exit.
Just not something you often see.
I asked PR people for the NBA and the Celtics what was going on, and they held an impromptu meeting, after which no one would say anything beyond that he was dealing with a personal family matter.
Celtics coach Doc Rivers later issued a statement: "Ray Allen was forced to leave Staples Center tonight right at the conclusion of tonight's game due to a health issue with one of his children. We ask that you please respect Ray's privacy at this time, and we'll keep you up to date as best we can moving forward."
Best thoughts to Allen and his family.
The Celtics are scheduled to fly to Boston on Tuesday morning. Is there any reason to worry that this could keep Allen from being ready for Game 6 on Tuesday?
A source with knowledge of the situation said he doubted it.
The Lakers scored 39 points in the first quarter but only 16 in the second quarter in Game 5 against the Celtics. The Lakers' 23-point drop was the second-largest from one quarter to the next in an NBA Finals game. The only bigger drop-off was in Game 6 in 1960, when the Celtics scored 36 points in the second quarter against the St. Louis Hawks but only 12 in the third quarter. Boston lost that game 105-102, but won the NBA title in Game 7.
LOS ANGELES -- After the Lakers' devastating loss in Game 4, coach Phil Jackson got his team ready for Game 5 in his usual calm, unruffled manner.
When I asked him how he would put his team back together, he said he'd do it through team meetings and video sessions and by encouraging the players who didn't play well.
He said he just needed to correct some things, and apparently Jackson got his job done with the players.
Bryant said the Lakers had to get the Celtics down and keep going at them. Fisher said the Lakers had to play with more intensity.
There was no doubt in my mind that Bryant and Fisher would come up with big games.
In Game 5, Odom played 41 minutes and had 20 points, 11 rebounds, 2 assists and 4 blocks.
Gasol had 19 points, 13 rebounds and 6 assists. Plus, he got Kevin Garnett in foul trouble from the opening minutes.
Off the bench, Jordan Farmar provided a lot of energy and scored 11 points.
Phil Jackson, the Zen Master, made some magic over the weekend and kept his Lakers alive in the NBA Finals.
Legendary coach and Hall of Famer Dr. Jack Ramsay serves as lead game analyst for the NBA on ESPN Radio.
Here are some of the most memorable NBA Finals performances on Father's Day.
-- ESPN Research