Five lessons from Lakers-Celtics
Kobe Bryant was struggling and hurting, but he still wanted to take the last shot
Andrew Bynum resembled Hall-of-Famer Kevin McHale as the Lakers started fast
Injured Kevin Garnett is not the same player he was during their title season
BOSTON -- These are the moments he lives for, Kobe Bryant. The moments his coach, Phil Jackson, says he relishes. Time winding down, game hanging in the balance, the leather in his hands.
Bryant wasn't feeling in rhythm when the ball came to him, 27 seconds left and the Lakers trailing by one. His ankle was bothering him ("he didn't have good lift all game," said Jackson) and the fractured right index finger is perpetually sore. He had missed five of his six shot attempts in the fourth quarter, with the Celtics defense bombarding him with a variety of different looks.
This spot on the floor, a hair above the foul line, had not been particularly kind to Bryant, either. Three possessions earlier, Bryant had back-rimmed a 13-footer. On the next possession, he bounced one off the iron from a few feet away.
Doubt, however, never crept in. It never does with Bryant. Clutch players want the ball whether they have made one shot or 100. They rejoice when a teammate makes a game winning play but they privately lament that they did not have the same opportunity. And Bryant is the very definition of clutch. In the Lakers final huddle, Bryant told Jackson that if he got the same look again, he would make it.
"I didn't say give me one more chance. I said give me the damn ball," Bryant said. "I never really give him much of a choice."
So when Ray Allen's swarming D forced Bryant to give the ball up to Andrew Bynum, he instantly called for it back. And, with Allen draped on his shoulder, Bryant pushed the ball to the middle of the floor and willed a 16-footer toward the rim that settled softly into the bottom of the net.
"It was a great shot," said Jackson.
Great shots are what Kobe has become known for in his 14-year career. Not much learned there. But there were a few things to be gleaned from the Lakers stunning victory in Boston:
1. Andrew Bynum is a lot for Boston to handle.
Here's an SAT flashback: Bynum is to Jackson what Greg Ostertag was to Jerry Sloan. In L.A. when things go wrong Bynum, the Lakers 22-year old center, is often targeted as the culprit. But, with the Celtics defense keying on Bryant and Pau Gasol, Bynum took advantage. He had 12 points (on 4-of-7 shooting), four rebounds and one block in the first quarter. In the third quarter, he looked Kevin McHale-esque when he caught a bullet pass from Bryant, held the ball high and slammed home a one-handed dunk. He finished with 19 points, 11 rebounds and two blocks. Kendrick Perkins is one of the best post defenders in the NBA but, when the long-armed Bynum is able to establish deep position, there is little Perkins can do to stop him.
2. Boston still plays physical. But it's not the same brand of physical play.
Remember how Boston bullied the Lakers in the '08 Finals? Back then, the Celtics used their superior strength to complement their skill. This time around, that muscle is being used to mask inferior talent. When Rasheed Wallace was called for a technical ('Sheed's 14th 'T' on the season) for mixing it up with Gasol (who was also T'd up), it wasn't because Wallace was being physical. It was because Gasol had established deep position and Wallace whacked him out of frustration. With Bynum and Ron Artest in the lineup, the Lakers can match the Celtics' toughness. If the game gets a little chippy, Boston no longer has an automatic advantage.
3. Both teams need help for their bench.
Paging Kirk Hinrich. Rajon Rondo (21 points, 12 assists, two steals) exposed the Lakers' need for a defensive-minded guard and Wallace's inconsistent play (three points) and staunch refusal to play inside (according to 82games.com, 87% of Wallace's shots this year have been jump shots) leaves the Celtics without a reliable second unit scorer. Enter Hinrich, who would look good in either uniform and could be available for the right price from the cost-cutting Bulls.
4. Kevin Garnett's timing is off. And it could be off for a while.
Before the game, coach Doc Rivers talked about having to settle down a fuming Garnett at halftime of the Celtics' loss to the Magic on Thursday. Garnett, Rivers said, couldn't understand why he couldn't get into a rhythm. Against the Lakers, Garnett chipped in ten points and nine rebounds but was an ugly -13 for the game. The simple fact is the Garnett of '08 may never return; the Celtics could have to milk whatever they can out of this damaged version of their franchise player.
5. Ron Artest earned his money against Boston.
Save the discussion of Artest's struggles against LeBron James for another time. Matched up with Paul Pierce, Artest held the Celtics All-Star to 15 points (on 4-of-11 shooting) and drew a key offensive foul on Boston's second-to-last possession that set up Bryant's game winning shot. Artest is clearly playing hurt -- he conducted a post-game interview with his feet in a tub of ice and two ice bags wrapped tightly around both knees -- but his strength takes post-ups away from most small forwards and he is still quick enough to stay with most wing players in the NBA.
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