June 13, 2008


Lakers have a collapse for the ages: They lead by as many as 24 points, but Celtics rally to take a 3-1 lead in the Finals. (Mike Bresnahan, 6/13/08, Los Angeles Times)

It was shocking, stunning, and a whole string of whatever anti-superlatives could be dug up and heaped on the Lakers, who allowed the biggest comeback in Finals history since Elias Sports Bureau became the official stat-keeper of the NBA for the 1970-1971 season. [...]

The first half couldn't have been better scripted for a team trying to forge a tie in the series, the Lakers cruising to a 58-40 lead.

Then came the second half, and the apparent beginning of the end of the Lakers' season after they were outscored, 57-33, in the last 24 minutes.

Hope slowly turned to misery as the Celtics turned up their defense and the Lakers turned away, leaving a trail of disheveled statistics.

The Lakers made only 13 of 39 shots (33.3%) in the second half, missing all eight of their three-point attempts.

Bryant had 17 points on the night, making only six of 19 shots. Sasha Vujacic, the hero off the bench in Game 3, had three points on one-for-nine shooting.

Vujacic's three-pointer gave the Lakers a 45-21 lead with 6:45 left in the second quarter, and the slow, steady slide began from there.

"Some turnaround in that ballgame," Lakers Coach Phil Jackson said in an understatement. "The air went out of that building."

As the series becomes a perfect reflection of the team's respective stars. One of the curious criticisms of Kevin Garnett is that he isn't truly great because he accepts that he shouldn't be your first option for the last shot of a game because of his own offensive limitations. Note that this is quite different than Scottie Pippen, who should have been such an option based on his scoring ability, but couldn't be because he was scared. On the other hand, Garnett may be the first player since Michael Jordan (although Patrick Ewing and Akeem Olajuwon may fit the profile too) of whom it could be said that he would love to have the game's outcome depend on you trying to score against him. This is what he has brought to the Celtics since the first game of the season, a commitment to and intensity on defense that is extremely rare in a league where what passes for "defense" is instead an eagerness to commit hard fouls (see the old Detroit Pistons).

Kobe Bryant, on the other hand, has drawn grotesque comparisons to Michael Jordan apparently solely on the basis of his being the highest scoring player in Hollywood. And, whether because of the hype or because of his personality, he seems to believe that any play where he doesn't score is a waste and that the players on his team ought to acknowledge that.

Now it is probably true that Kobe is a more gifted offensive player, and shooter in particular, than Michael was, but that fact only obscures Michael's greatness. Because what was true of Michael Jordan was that in nearly every game there was a stretch--typically middle the 3rd quarter to middle of the 4th--where he would so thoroughly dominate that it established the imprint of his will on the opponent. Quite often, this was sufficient to win. But, when it wasn't, when the game remained close, the other team had to account for him on the final possession and he would kick the ball out to some shooting guard -- John Paxson or Steve Kerr or whoever -- who would necessarily be uncovered and would, typically, make the winning shot. There is no evidence that Kobe has even Kevin Garnett's capacity to dictate the style of play, never mind Michael's ability to determine its outcome.

Posted by Orrin Judd at June 13, 2008 7:54 AM

Kobe's body/facial language during the timeouts in the last couple minutes of that game amply demonstrate the cancer that he is to a team. I suspect that his teammates would do as Barry Bonds' college team did and vote him off the team if given the chance. The Celtics just need to play a solid first half of the next game, and Kobe will check out.

In every aspect of the game that you praise Garnett, he falls light years short of the best player of the last decade, Tim Duncan.

Posted by: b at June 13, 2008 10:38 AM

Wait! You mean the NBA is still in business?

Posted by: Mike Morley at June 13, 2008 11:00 AM

"Now it is probably true that Kobe is a more gifted offensive player" Kobe is skilled, but more gifted than Michael?

The Celtics are expressing the same new millenium credo the the other championship Boston teams have grasped over the last 4-8 years....team over individual, putting the right pieces in the right places (moneyball credo), and sacrificing individual stats for team victories.

Curt said what we all thought, suspected, or knew.

Why the Lakers were favored, and so heavily was a mystery to me. Because they broke the back of the Spurs while the Celtics had long series against lesser teams?

It'll be fun to see how Ainge evolves this team over the next few years..

Posted by: neil at June 13, 2008 11:20 AM

Kobe is NOT a better offensive player than Jordan. Jordan has a much better career FG% and was much better at getting to the basket and his 3pt percentage is only .013 lower and is actually better than Kobe's in the playoffs. Kobe isn't as explosive and is more easily forced into a jump shot. Jordan also averaged more assists, steals, blocks and rebounds than Kobe. This would be like claiming Phil Mickelson is a better golfer than was Jack Nicklaus.

Posted by: Patrick H at June 13, 2008 12:32 PM

That was just horrible. The Lakers are soft, that's all you can say.

Oh yeah, and Ray Allen can play a little basketball.

Posted by: Benny at June 13, 2008 2:40 PM

I'm not sure where I read it (perhaps here) but I read Curt Schilling's musings on watching Game 1 of the Lakers-Celtics game in Boston. Schilling said that he couldn't get over how much Kobe bitched to his teammates.

See item #5 here:


Posted by: pchuck at June 13, 2008 4:39 PM

Defense wins championships, as the Patriots found out, too.

The real question is why most of the experts picked a flashy team that won't play defense to win the series.

Posted by: Ibid at June 13, 2008 5:01 PM

The Lakers have no interior defense, and are incapable of penetrating the Celtics' interior defense more than fitfully.

They're equal to or better than the Celtics in other areas. That makes the games interesting. But it's a real tough way to win a championship.

Posted by: Bob Hawkins at June 13, 2008 10:08 PM