Don’t look at the Lakers’ offense as the reason they couldn’t get out of Boston with a win Sunday night.
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Look no farther than their wretched defense.
The Lakers squandered the best game of the Finals from Kobe Bryant because they couldn’t get stops.
Bryant scored 19 points in the third quarter — and 23 straight at one point — but the way the Lakers allowed the Celtics to do whatever they wanted at the offensive end in the third quarter, he probably needed to score another 19 in the fourth quarter in order to carry the Lakers to a win and 3-2 series lead.
Bryant shouldn’t come under fire for not spreading the wealth around. His teammates were inept at the offensive end, with only Pau Gasol reaching double figures with 12 points and not resembling the same player who dominated Kevin Garnett in Game 1. While Bryant was scoring almost every time down the floor, so were the Celtics, who scored on 12 of their first 13 possessions after halftime.
“Defensively, we weren’t very good at all,’’ he said after scoring 38, his top scoring game of these Finals. “Last game it was the fourth quarter. This game it was the third quarter. We didn’t get any stops. They got layup after layup after layup. And you can’t survive a team that shoots 56 percent. Normally, we’re a great defensive team.’’
So now the Lakers need to win Tuesday to get to a Game 7 Thursday.
“I’m not very confident, at all,’’ Bryant said, sarcastically, and smiling.
Of course he is, because he thinks he’s going to win. Just don’t expect him to go Knute Rockne to his teammates over the next two days.
“Just man up and play,’’ he said. “What the hell is the big deal? If I have to say something to them, then we don’t deserve to be champions. We’re down 3-2. Go home, win one game, go into the next one. Simple as that.’’
It’s simple, except that the Celtics know something about winning, too.
Pierce back in 2008 form
Paul Pierce is starting to look like a Finals MVP again.
How’d that happen? Earlier in the Finals, it didn’t seem like he could shake Ron Artest’s physical defense. But Pierce had his best scoring night of the series Sunday night, with 27, as the Celtics took a 3-2 lead.
Artest had trouble keeping up with Pierce, whether it was on pick-and-roll plays or isolations. Pierce got to his favorite areas of the court, and Sunday night made 12 of his first 18 shots.
Pierce credited Doc Rivers for calling his number more, and calling more pick-and-rolls.
“He saw I made a few shots, so they went to me a little bit more,’’ said Pierce. “When a guy gets going, you earn touches, and it’s been like that. So I was able to get going a little more than normal in the first quarter and they just kept going to me. And it carried over.’’
Most importantly, it carried over into the third quarter, when Kobe Bryant scored 19, but only eight more than Pierce.
Boston starters carry their weight
After Big Baby, Little Baby and Crybaby — Glen Davis, Nate Robinson and Rasheed Wallace, respectively — lifted them to a Game 4 victory, the Celtics didn’t have to lean on their reserves to get the victory in Game 5.
The starters were back, in a big way.
Besides Paul Pierce, the Celtics got huge nights from Rajon Rondo, who had three clutch baskets in the fourth quarter and 18 points; and Kevin Garnett, who had his best all-around game with 18 points, 10 rebounds and five steals in severely outplaying Pau Gasol. The way the series started, it looked like Garnett was going to be outclassed by the Laker power forward.
“I think a couple of guys maybe thought KG lost a step or something when he struggled in the first few games,’’ Rondo said. “But he’s caught his rhythm., he’s scoring and rebounding, assisting, blocking shots and changing the game. That’s what he’s been doing for us all year.’’
Bynum a nonfactor for Lakers
So much for Andrew Bynum giving the Lakers a much-needed defensive presence in the paint.
Limited to 12 minutes in Game 4 when the injury to his right knee flared up, Bynum did close to nothing in 31-plus minutes Sunday night. After having his knee drained on Friday, he grabbed no defensive rebounds and did not block a shot and finished with six points and one offensive board.
As the Celtics were scoring almost at will in the third quarter — they went inside for 16 of their 28 points — Bynum went scoreless and rebound-less in 9:25. All he had to show for that much time on the court was one personal foul.
Initially, it looked like he might put in some big minutes. He had two baskets in the first quarter. Whether it was the painkillers that wore off or something else, he didn’t make the impact that everyone expected.
"More than anything else, Andrew was out of rhythm in the game,” Phil Jackson said. "He’s really only played limited minutes since Tuesday night, so we anticipate he’ll have some opportunity to get himself out there, shoot the ball a little bit and give us more than just a big body in Game 6.”
The Lakers will need an effective Bynum to win Game 6 and get to a Game 7.