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THE FINALS
Jack McCallum
June 25, 2008
THE RENEWAL OF AN EPIC RIVALRY LIVED UP TO THE HYPE AS THE CELTICS WON THE NBA CHAMPIONSHIP FOR THE FIRST TIME IN 22 YEARS
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June 25, 2008

The Finals

THE RENEWAL OF AN EPIC RIVALRY LIVED UP TO THE HYPE AS THE CELTICS WON THE NBA CHAMPIONSHIP FOR THE FIRST TIME IN 22 YEARS

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After the game Bryant was asked how he and his mates would deal with such a shocking turn of events. "A lot of wine, a lot of beer, a couple shots, maybe like 20 of them," he said. Doubtless Bryant did not make it to 20 shots, but, if he had, that would've been one more than he took during the game—he finished with only 17 points on 6-of-19 shooting.

Boston needed a couple of clutch baskets down the stretch, but the difference actually came in the third quarter when the Celtics outscored the Lakers 31-15. That continued a trend, since Boston had digitally reversed L.A. in the third quarter through the first three games, outscoring the Lakers 85-58 in that period. With his team holding an apparently safe 58-40 lead at halftime, Jackson stressed the necessity of reversing the third-quarter trend; later, he would wonder if he put too much pressure on his team by mentioning it.

The Lakers were still ahead 68-48 with 7:06 left in the third, though. That's when Rivers substituted House for the gimpy Rondo. It was the Lakers' reserves who had the hip moniker (the Bench Mob) and the apparent advantage when coaches went with a small lineup. But it was the Celtics' subs and the Celtics' little guys who whittled away the lead and ultimately won the game. While the Bench Mob had zero points in the second half, the Celtics got a collective 19 out of House, James Posey and P.J. Brown. "Everybody knows what I'm going to do when I get out there," said House, who did not play much in the Eastern finals because his ball handling is shaky against a tight man-to-man. "I'm going to get up my shots."

It was House's 18-footer with 4:07 left that gave the Celtics their first lead, 84-83, and they never trailed again. Posey contributed a huge three-pointer with 1:13 left, drifting to his left as he released it. But it was a starter, Allen, who supplied the clincher when he out-juked Vujacic, drove the right side and, with no Laker offering help defense, coasted in for a layup and a 96-91 lead with 16 seconds left. After that, the denizens of Staples began heading for the exits.

The loss left the Lakers, who had won 15 in a row at home dating to March 30, searching for answers and facing the abyss. They would be trying to do what no team has ever done, making a Celtics championship a near certainty. But Boston needed to be mindful of one thing: There are no sure things in sports.

GAME 5
June 15, Staples Center, Los Angeles
LAKERS 103, CELTICS 98

The Celtics, down by 19 points early in the second quarter, obviously had the Lakers just where they wanted 'em. Time for another comeback, not as monumental as the one in Game 4 but even more important: This would be the comeback that won a championship.

Who would be the unlikely hero this time around? Rivers reached deep into his closet—no, go deeper, Doc—and came up with guard Tony Allen, who had seen scant action in the first four games. Allen entered the game near the end of the first quarter to spell Ray Allen, and Rivers stayed with him. It turned out to be an excellent decision. T. Allen, known for his always-chattering, upbeat nature on the bench—in that regard, he's a younger (26) version of the 38-year-old Cassell—made three of his four shots, and, just as important, stuck like wallpaper paste to Bryant. After the Kobester got the Lakers going with 15 first-quarter points, he missed all four of his shots in the second, partly because Allen was relentlessly chasing him around the court. "It's tough playing Kobe," he said later, "but at least you know what you gotta do. You gotta stay on him every minute." By halftime the Celtics had cut that 19-point deficit to three, 55-52.

But there were signs of trouble for the Celtics. Perkins wasn't in uniform because of the bad shoulder, which was a contributing factor in two other developments—foul trouble for Garnett, who had to cover even more territory; and more space around the rim for Odom and Gasol, who both finished the first half with seven rebounds.

Rondo played only 14 minutes—Rivers was concerned with both his ankle and his ineffectiveness running the offense—but it was his jump shot that gave the Celtics a 62-60 lead with 8:26 left in the third quarter. On this night, however, L.A. didn't wither, even though Pierce was practically unstoppable.

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