Lakers digging in for one last stand
LOS ANGELES -- Lakers guard Kobe Bryant isn't worried about his team's mindset as it tries to stave off elimination against the Celtics in Sunday night's Game 5 of the NBA Finals.
"I borrowed Phil [Jackson]'s peace pipe. We had a big kumbaya meeting," he joked on Saturday.
"No, everybody's fine. Everybody is in the same mood that I am. Everybody's ready to go. We're excited about the opportunity."
Leave it to Bryant to put a positive spin on an all-but-impossible situation. The truth is the Lakers are in a heap of trouble. No team in Finals history has ever come back from a 3-1 series deficit, and L.A. has given no indication it has the tools to be the first.
Boston's Big Three of Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen have simply been too good. The Celtics' team defense has kept Bryant in check. The bench has outplayed its more celebrated Lakers counterparts.
The Lakers' best long-term hope now might be that Boston's injury problems come into play. Two Celtics starters, point guard Rajon Rondo (ankle) and center Kendrick Perkins (ankle, shoulder), are ailing. Pierce, meanwhile, suffered a sprained knee in Game 1 that has not seemed to bother him much on the court so far but might require offseason surgery.
Celtics coach Doc Rivers says all three will be in the starting lineup Sunday night.
"Right now, I think everything looks good," Rivers said.
For L.A., the big question is whether it can bounce back emotionally from the devastation of Thursday's historic Game 4 meltdown. The Celtics erased a 24-point lead in that contest, making it the biggest comeback in Finals history. Just like that, the Lakers went from being tied 2-2 in the series to being down 3-1.
"It was tough, obviously," Bryant said. "I think the next day it became a matter of what are we going to do going forward, because we've got to make a series of this."
To get his players in the right frame of mind, Jackson did not have his team practice on Friday. Instead he had them watch film of only the first half of Game 4, in which they roared to a 58-40 lead. It wasn't until Saturday's practice, after they had another night to sleep on it, that the Zen Master showed them the second-half debacle.
Bryant said he personally cleared his head by spending time reading at home with his two daughters.
"Like five chapters of Harry Potter," he said. "They just wanted me to read to them and, I swear, it was awesome. He had more problems dealing with Voldemort than we have dealing with the media and the Celtics. So that was pretty awesome."
The Lakers will clearly need a better shooting night from Bryant, who made just 6-of-19 field goal attempts in Game 4. They also will need to figure out a way to deal with Boston's small lineup. James Posey and Eddie House, inserted into the game because of the injuries to Perkins and Rondo, turned the tide in Game 4 with their energy and three-point shooting.
"That turned out to be a benefit for them," Jackson said. "We weren't as adept at defending it as [we should have been]. We just didn't make the adjustment individually, staying attached to some of [their] shooters."
To a man, the Lakers vowed Saturday to do a better job defending Boston's shooters in Game 5. They also vowed to make Boston pay for going small at the other end of the court. Pau Gasol and Lamar Odom, in particular, should be able to rebound better and find more room to operate in the post -- assuming they play with the aggression they have shown, thus far, only in spurts.
Whether it is enough to lift the Lakers to victory and send the series back to Boston remains to be seen. But either way it appears as if Bryant is accepting the challenge.
"If we start the season in training camp and you come to me and say we're going to give you three cracks to win the championship, I'm going to take that," he said. "So I'm excited about this. ...
"Look at it as college basketball. It's March Madness. It's the Elite Eight. So we're ready to go."
Bryant's analogy to the NCAA Tourney is certainly apt in one regard: It's win or go home for the Lakers.