The Better Team Beats The Best Player
The most amazing part of the Game 5 telecast of the NBA Finals came late in the fourth quarter when one of the announcers said: “Outside of Kobe, the rest of the Lakers aren’t functioning very well.”
Uh, no kidding. How in the world did it take them so long to figure that out?
This was a simple case of the better team beating the best player. Kobe Bryant was spectacular, scoring 38 points and single-handedly keeping L.A. in it. But the rest of Phil Jackson’s guys stunk out the joint, while Paul Pierce and the Celtics were shooting better, defending better and, in the final minutes of that 92-86 convincer, even preening better.
In case you haven’t noticed, the home team has won every key game in this series thus far. So coming back to Staples Center for Game 6 and, if necessary, Game 7 should bode well for the Lakers.
Or, then again, it might not matter. Not the way the defending camps are playing. Here is just a quick list of things that currently are going wrong:
1. Pau Gasol looks beaten down and worn out. He’s not the same player who smoked Boston inside in the first two games. They’ve been pounding on him in the paint and now he’s starting to look like a boxer who’s taken too many punches. He went for 12 points and 12 rebounds in Game 5, but he was never really a factor. When Kobe was desperately looking for someone else to get involved offensively, Gasol was nowhere to be found. And defensively, he’s been unable to stop Kevin Garnett, who suddenly looks like the fresher player.
2. Ron Artest has been awful. Isn’t this the guy the Lakers acquired to stop the Paul Pierces of the world? Well, guess what? Pierce lit him up for 27 in Game 5. To make matters worse, Artest managed only two measly rebounds and every time he stops to take a 3-pointer or a free throw, you have to cover your eyes.
3. Yoo hoo, Lamar? Anybody seen Lamar Odom? Can we say it officially now? This guy has the skills of an All-Pro and a heart the size of a peanut. He just doesn’t have the competitive fire you need in a player on a championship team. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again. He’s the biggest tease in the NBA.
4. Maybe the most important thing: The Celtics are playing great defense, the Lakers are playing hardly any defense. The difference in field goal percentage says it all. Boston shot 56.3 per cent, the Lakers went for 39.7. It was a struggle each time down the floor for Kobe and Co., while the Celtics had open shots every time you looked up. And how many clear drives did Rajon Rondo, Ray Allen and even little Nate Robinson collect? When they couldn’t hit outside, they always found an open highway to the hoop. This looked like the same passive Lakers we watched lose to Boston in the Finals two years ago.
Outside of all that, things are going swimmingly for Jerry Buss’s team. Now down 3 games to 2, you would expect the Lakers to get up off the floor and find some way to win Game 6 at home.
But Game 7 will be a whole different matter. It will be the most pressurized game of the season and will be won by the tougher, grittier team. I wrote it before the series started, and I haven’t changed my mind.
I still think that will be the Celtics.
— Steve Bisheff