Friday, June 13, 2008

Boston a win away from 17th NBA title

In Basketball, it’s not how you start the game, its how you end it. The Boston Celtics believed in that as they beat the Los Angeles Lakers 97-91 at the Staples Centre after coming back from a 24 point deficit. It was the first home defeat for the Lakers who came out huffing and puffing and was poised to blow out the Celtics but unfortunately failed to finish the job. The Celtics are now poised to capture their 17th title as they have three chances to win it since they are now up 3-1.

In Game 3, the Lakers defense came out, now it's their offense. Like the previous three games the Lakers started strongly but more importantly added good defense to that. The Celtics never knew what hit them as Lamar Odom who has been criticized for playing soft in the past three games came to life. Odom scored 13 first quarter points as he energized the Lakers crowd with an array of jumpers, floaters and dunk shots. Odom was 6 for 6 in the first quarter as he also led the Lakers onslaught with two of the Lakers 10 first quarter assists as the Celtics only had one. The Lakers outrebounded the Celtics 14-6 and more importantly had a 15-1 edge in free throws attempted. The result was a 35-14 first quarter lead. The Lakers played with unequaled intensity and tenacity on both ends of the floor.

The Lakers sustained their offense in the second quarter as the Mob Squad featuring Sasha Vujacic, Luke Walton and Trevor Ariza spread the Lakers offense that gave the Lakers their biggest lead 45-21 with 6: 45 left. Then the Celtics came alive as they scored 12 straight points to cut the lead to 45-33 on Paul Pierce’s jumper with 2:58 left. The Lakers were forced to six missed shots and three turnovers until Derek Fisher sliced the lane for a three point play to douse water on the Celtics rally. The Celtics challenged Lakers offense by improving their defense but the Lakers countered with several pick and rolls and a buzzer beating three point jumper by Jordan Farmar to give the Lakers a 58-40 first half lead. In an interview, Lamar Odom was asked what was different with his previous games and this one and he said: “I wanted to have more focus and no foul trouble. They have been leaving me open the past few games but I did not make them pay.”

The Lakers energy was still at a high at the start of the third quarter as Derek Fisher scored on a jumpshot to give the Lakers another 20 point lead 68-48. After that, it was the Celtics turn to turn the game around and comeback. The Celtics unleashed a 23-5 run courtesy of Paul Pierce, Ray Allen and Eddie House to come back and come to within 71-73. In that run, the tables were turned around as it was the Celtics who defended well, moved the ball around and was patient to find the open man. Eddie House and James Posey provided the bench spark of the Celtics who were outplayed in game 3. The Lakers scored 35 first quarter points but only 38 in the next two as their offense suddenly grew stagnant in the face of the Celtics defense.

The fourth quarter showed the high quality of basketball that the two teams have. The Celtics finally equalized on Leon Powe’s basket with 10 minutes to go 73-all but the Lakers refused to buckle as Kobe Bryant carried the brunt of the Lakers offense as he gave the Lakers enough breathing room with an 81-77 lead time down to 5 minutes. James Posey who was nursing five fouls, was again the surprise package as he hit a key three pointer to cut the lead 81-80. After Pau Gasol scored on a botched play Kevin Garnett hit two Free throws and then the Celtics swarmed Lamar Odom who missed a shot that set up Eddie House for a jumper for their first taste of the lead 84-83. From thereon it was a boxing match as the Celtics went to the Big 3 to take the lead while the Lakers went exclusively to Kobe Bryant who cut the Boston lead to two 89-87. The Celtics closed the Lakers out with another triple by Posey and free throws to ice the win. Paul Pierce came alive in the second half and helped in the Celtics rally as he topped all scorers with 20 points. Ray Allen who spread his offense from the 1st quarter to fourth scored 19 points and had 9 rebounds. James Posey and Eddie House came from the bench to score 18 and 11 points respectively. KG had 16 points and 11 rebounds.

The Lakers first five all scored in double figures with Odom leading the pack with 19 pts. Kobe Bryant who scored 17 points and dished out 10 assists was a woeful 6 of 19 while Lamar Odom who was 7-7 in the first half but disappeared in the second as he was only 1-4 since then.

Pau Gasol chipped in 17 pts and 10 rebounds, while Derek Fisher had 13 pts and Vladimir Radmanovic had 10. Fisher was somewhat forgotten as Jordan Farmar played most of the fourth quarter and it wasn't till the last 2:10 was he reinserted back to the game. He nailed an important jumper a minute later.

Here is a nice side snide. In this game, the Lakers built the largest lead at the end of a first quarter in NBA Finals history (35-14). The Celtics 14 first quarter points were one more than the post-clock all-time Finals low of 13 established by Fort Wayne in 1955. No team had ever come back from more than 15-down at the end of a first period in the Finals to win. The Lakers extended their lead to 24 points in the second quarter and were up 18 points at the half. Additionally, the Celtics 24-point overall comeback surpassed the previous mark of 20 points which the Rockets overcame to defeat the Orlando Magic in 1995 and is the biggest comeback in Finals history since the stat began being tracked in 1971.

There has never been an NBA team that came back from a 1-3 defic
it to win the NBA Title. But as Paul Pierce would say, “We do not believe in that statistics because they might still come back. What we are focused on now is to get it on Fathers day!” So will there be a crowning or an extension come game 5. Lets wait and see.

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