Commentary

Whistle disparity in Game 2 leaves Lakers feeling foul

Originally Published: June 9, 2008
By J.A. Adande | ESPN.com

Phil JacksonKevin C. Cox/Getty ImagesPhil Jackson wasn't happy that his entire team shot three fewer free throws than Leon Powe's 13.

BOSTON -- There are two game stories I hate to write: the almost-comeback and anything to do with the officiating. Game 2 of the NBA Finals was both.

It's hard not to mention the refs when one team shoots 38 free throws and the other shoots 10, which is what happened with the Celtics and Lakers. Lakers coach Phil Jackson was itching to talk about it, but knew it could lead only to trouble. So he came out to address the media and said he had no opening statement. Then he used the first question as an excuse to make a statement.

When asked what he was most struck by, the Lakers' fourth-quarter rally that cut a 24-point deficit down to two, or their inability to do anything in the first three quarters, he replied, "I'm more struck at the fact that Leon Powe gets more foul shots than our whole team does in 14 minutes of play. That's ridiculous."

He added: "I've never seen a game like that in all these years I've coached in the Finals. Unbelievable."

So that's a story line. So is the Lakers' 41-point fourth quarter.

The stories should be the Celtics asserting themselves and taking control of this series, the lack of production from the Lakers' bench and the way the Celtics' defense has prevented Kobe Bryant from turning the Finals into the victory lap for his MVP season.

But you'll notice a certain theme developing when you hear Lakers guard Sasha Vujacic say, "You can't do anything, because if you do anything they're going to go to the line. You have to adjust to the calls."

And Luke Walton saying, "It was a foul every single time down. We never were able to get into that flow, at that pace that we like to play at."

And even Bryant managed to sneak in a complaint.

"We've got to get timely rebounds and we have to stop them in transition knocking down those 3s and we'll be fine," he said. "A free throw or two wouldn't hurt."

Bryant was hampered by early foul trouble, getting his first when he tangled with Ray Allen as Allen was coming off a screen away from the ball. Bryant was called for his second foul when he elbowed Allen while posting him up, causing an exasperated Allen to look at official Bob Delaney, who finally blew his whistle.

Every little reach and touch by the Lakers seemed to draw a call. Whatever happened to letting 'em play in the playoffs?

It doesn't necessarily need to be as rough-and-tumble as the Kevin McHale clothesline in '84. That went unpunished beyond an ordinary foul call. If it occurred in this version of the NBA, "I think there might have been some games lost," NBA commissioner David Stern said Sunday night.

But it's always better when the officials recede to the background, as was the case in Game 1.

Not even the extended makeup calls throughout the second half evened the balance in the Lakers' minds. There was an unnecessary foul on Allen, a questionable offensive foul on Rajon Rondo and Lamar Odom rode P.J. Brown out of bounds on a rebound attempt with no call.

Most blatant of all, Vladimir Radmanovic took so many steps, he looked like he was training for the Boston Marathon when he went in for the breakaway dunk that cut the Celtics' lead to four.

The Lakers had their breaks, too, and couldn't capitalize.

And when they needed a defensive stop that could give them one possession with a chance to tie or win at the end, they couldn't deliver. Paul Pierce got into the lane -- just as he had all night -- and drew a foul on Fisher with 22.8 seconds remaining and nine seconds left on the shot clock. Let the record show that Fisher felt this call was legit.

"I fouled him," Fisher said. "Once he turned the corner and went to the left, I thought he had an open lane, so I wanted to provide some sort of resistance to him."

He didn't see Pau Gasol coming over to provide help. If Fisher had seen his teammate, he would have let Pierce try his luck against Gasol.

"But I tried to get my hand in there real quick [to] try to poke [the ball] out and got caught with my hand in the cookie jar," Fisher said.

Pierce made both free throws and it was a four-point Boston lead in what could have become one of the most memorable games in the history of this rivalry. Instead, it's just another game, one that didn't thrill either side.

"Of course we're not happy with how it ended," Boston's James Posey said. "But we'll take the win."

That's the sentiment you always hear in this type of game. It wasn't the wire-to-wire dominance that would have us all genuflecting to the Celtics' greatness. There wasn't a complete collapse that would have us wondering if these Celtics are fatally flawed in the fourth quarter.

Just a victory.

The Lakers felt they didn't do enough things right, and the Celtics outplayed them.

"They deserved to win tonight," Vujacic said.

The Lakers got a better effort from Gasol, who went aggressively to the basket from the get-go and scored six first-quarter points that probably made the 27 Spanish reporters glad they made the trip. Gasol finished with 17 points and 10 rebounds.

And the Lakers did have that 41-point fourth, which enabled Bryant to get to a that's-more-like-it total of 30 points.

"We did some things better in terms of executing and spacing down the stretch," Fisher said. "And I think it freed up Kobe to get some open looks, and we also had some other guys get a chance to get some open looks."

Still, Jackson said it's impossible to bring that fourth-quarter momentum back to Game 3 in Los Angeles.

"It's 2,500 miles away," Jackson said. "It's too far to carry it."

That's how it is with almost-comebacks. They won't be talking about this one on Tuesday, let alone 20 years from now.

J.A. Adande is an ESPN.com senior writer and the author of "The Best Los Angeles Sports Arguments." Click here to e-mail J.A.