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Lakers on the Freeway to Success

Ray Allen's jumper must have been stopped at security. He traveled from L.A. to Boston, but his shot wasn't allowed to board. Or knowing the airlines, maybe it was shipped to the Bahamas by mistake, with those suitcases which were supposed to go to Baltimore.

Is there a Bureau of Missing Baskets?

There's inconsistency, and there's Allen. Sunday night he couldn't miss, or virtually couldn't miss, setting an NBA playoff record with eight 3-pointers, seven in the first half, scoring 32 points in all.

But Tuesday night, he couldn't make. Anything. Literally. A nifty 0-for-13. Even gagged a layup. It wasn't entirely his fault, the Celtics were whipped by the Lakers, 91-84, but he had a great deal to do with it.

These NBA Finals are as good as over now. The Lakers are champions. Or will be in a few days.

It was all Boston, after Game 2. The Celtics got their split in L.A. They had three straight games at home. They had what little momentum exists in a pro-basketball playoff series.

Paul Pierce was boasting, "We ain't coming back to L.A." He very well may be right, but for the wrong reason. Two more Laker wins, and the season is over, but the suspicion is it will take at least three games, meaning, they - along with the Lakers - are going back to L.A.

When the Celts took the second game, the rhetoric began. The Lakers are soft. Lamar Odom is a bust. Ron Artest is a joke. Rajon Rondo is unstoppable. In times of stress, Boston is unbeatable.

It sounded good. The thinking was the Celtics would go up two games to one, with Rondo handling the ball and Allen handling the points. Except the Celtics are down two games to one.

Now it's L.A. on the freeway to success. When a best-of-seven playoff is tied at a game apiece, the team that takes No. 3 invariably takes the series.

The Lakers are taller and younger than Boston, which aged about 20 years in two days. The Celtics couldn't get inside against Pau Gasol or Andrew Bynum. If there was a little leprechaun sitting on the rim, as they used to say about Celtic fortunes in Boston, he didn't do his job. Nor did the Celtic offense do its job.

Because the Laker defense did its job, beautifully.

On the post-game show, Jon Barry was saying Boston was awful when it had the ball. The Celtics may have been worse than that. Indeed, they cut a Lakers 17-point first-half lead to one point in the fourth quarter, but then they didn't have a clue. Or a basket.

After Sunday evening, Lakers fans were remembering the bad times, especially 1984 when the Celtics kept overcoming leads and won the championship. But Tuesday night cleared away the cobwebs and the nightmares. Now it's the Boston folk who have to be worried.

Especially since Kobe Bryant missed 19 of his 29 field goal attempts, although he did finish with 29 points. Especially since Gasol had only 13.

It was Derek Fisher who ruined the Celtics, along with Allen, that is. Fisher is the Lakers' other guard, but in the fourth quarter Tuesday he was the Lakers' main man, hitting 5 of 7, one basket a pull-up off the glass after he had driven through an entire, if desultory, Celtic defense.

In a post-game interview, an emotional Fisher teared up, even though it was the Celtics who should have been crying about their effort, not Derek. "I just get emotional," he told ESPN's Doris Burke. "I love this game so much."

NBA playoffs, if the teams are well matched, inevitably are a series of adjustments after adjustments. Boston responded to what the Lakers did in the opener, then L.A. reacted to what the Celtics did in the second game.

But what sort of tactics can the Celtics use now? They can't rebound with L.A., which has two 7-footers and the remarkable Bryant, who may be only 6-foot-6 but has the timing and leverage to grab missed shots. They can't run with L.A. And with Ray Allen 0-for-13 and Paul Pierce 5-for-12 they can't shoot with L.A.

"It's a hell of a swing," Celtics coach Doc Rivers said of Allen's trip from 32 points to 2 points, "I'll tell you that. It's basketball."

It's losing basketball, and the Celtics who could have muscled their way ahead, find themselves doing the losing. There's no reason to believe that can be reversed.

Boston had its chance. Allen had his shots. He missed every one of them. "It happens to the best of us," said Doc Rivers. When it happens in the playoffs, it's a disaster.

As a reporter since 1960, Art Spander is a living treasure of sports history. A recipient of the Dick McCann Memorial Award -- given for his long and distinguished career covering professional football -- he has earned himself a spot in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. He was recently honored with the Lifetime Achievement Award by the PGA of America for 2009.

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