Friday, June 13, 2008
About Last Night
There's a small arsenal of high-minded cliches making the rounds in description of last night's epic comeback: that this is the face of championship basketball; that series and seasons turn on nights like the last; that the Celtics just seem to want this thing a whole lot more than their favored counterpart. All of these observations have elements of truth, but they all obscure the real reason the Celtics won last night, which is the simple fact that they spent the last two quarters playing exactly the same way as they've played for the vast majority of this season: specifically, they played like far and away the best team in basketball. Knowing what we know now it's hard to make sense of the rationale that had many "experts" picking the Lakers to win this series in five or six games, a suggestion that's now utterly outside the realms of possibility. I'm not trying to play some sort of "nobody respected the Celtics" card here, because clearly most people did, but it should be obvious to anyone that the C's aren't up 3-1 simply because the Lakers are collapsing; they're up 3-1 because they've played like the (much) better team. The Celtics have now played the Lakers six times this season and won five--I mean, how sanguine can Phil Jax & Co. possibly feel about suddenly turning around and winning three straight, including two in Boston? Some see this as a stunning turn of events, but again we ask: is it really?
Make no mistake, last night is the clear frontrunner for "game everyone will remember" from these playoffs so far. Much like the 2004 ALCS in baseball, expect this one to be referenced by every hack announcer any time a team falls behind by a considerable margin early for at least the next 10-15 years. There's also some obligatory Finals MVP speculation going on, which is only natural since the C's are now only one win away. I don't really see how anyone besides Paul Pierce is really in the conversation, unless Ray Allen goes for 40 in the clincher or something like that. Pierce has just been tremendous, and the tale of him asking Doc to put him on Kobe last night has taken less than 12 hours to reach legendary proportions.
And what about Kobe? He's gonna get a boatload of shit if the Lakers lose this series, which is partly fair because he all but asked for this responsibility, and partly unfair because his teammates have played like callow, frightened children when the chips are down. Check out the Vujacic video below; hell, I'd yell at him too.
The Lakers' defense was terrible down the stretch, and it was clear in the fourth quarter that, despite all the spin, forced grins and fluff pieces, Kobe still doesn't trust his teammates with the ball, no matter who they are, and at this point probably never will. It's a problem, but when you watch games like last night's you wonder if it's nearly as much their problem as it is his. Through four games the Lakers don't look like a championship team and the Celtics do, and I'm not sure how anyone in LA can confidently argue that this will reverse itself over the next three games. But hey, that's why they play the games, right? God I'm pleased right now.