This was an important game for both the Lakers and the Celtics. The Lakers were looking for a quality win after losing to the Cavaliers to begin this road trip. Many of the Lakers had talked about how the Cavs and Celtics games were the important ones on this swing. Could they compete against the physical teams in the East?
The Celtics just need any win they can get. Prior to Sunday, they had gone 6-10 since Christmas Day and fallen to fourth place in the Eastern Conference.
It was looking good for the Celtics as they led by double-digits into the fourth quarter but the Lakers came back and Kobe Bryant hit another game-winner to give them the 90-89 win.
I'm glad I waited awhile to write this post. I've read article after article now lamenting the doom of the Celtics. I've read that their defense is awful and they won't be able to overcome their old age. The Celtics have some problems but they showed signs that they can play into June and with a few minor adjustments they can be just fine.
Broderick Turner of the Los Angeles Times wrote, "These Celtics can't get defensive stops as they have in the past, this time watching Kobe Bryant nail a 16-foot jumper over Allen with 7.3 seconds left." They might not have stopped Bryant on his very last attempt but he was held to 19 points on eight of 20 shooting and had missed five of his last six shots in the fourth on very good defense by Ray Allen. In fact, Allen played that last shot perfectly - Bryant just hit it. When Bryant has more shot attempts than points - you've done a good job defensively. To add to that, they held the Lakers to just 90 points - 14 points below their average. I'm not saying their defense was perfect. They did allow 18 points in the paint in the fourth quarter, but they also held them to 36 points in the second and third quarter. If you take the game as a whole, the Celtics played very good defense.
Next he wrote, "These Celtics can't execute on offense, a late charging foul against Pierce that was a big turnover with Boston ahead by one point and a last-second missed shot by Allen that could have won the game a testament to that." Again, my problem is his limited scope. Of course, if you take a look at the fourth quarter they struggled, but how about those middle quarters? How many times did Rajon Rondo get to the rim at will and set his teammates up for wide open shots? The Celtics trailed by 13 points late in the first quarter but went on a 35-12 run over the next 11 minutes to take a 10-point lead. Clearly, their offense could execute then.
The one thing everyone has written about in lieu of the Celtics struggles recently is their age. Yes, they're an aging team and that is probably hurting them now and will continue to hurt them. But it's difficult to separate old from injured. Kevin Garnett has been back just five games since a hyper-extended knee kept him out over two weeks and Paul Pierce has been dealing with knee issues as well. They're not going to return to their prime but they will certainly have better games than they did last night.
Here's another fallacy from Ian Thomsen of Sports Illustrated, "For those who think 23-year-old Rondo can offset the difficulties of the Big Three, take a look at the stats: The Celtics are asking too much of Rondo. He is averaging almost as many shots as Allen and Pierce, and he is shooting more often per game than Garnett. Which means that the Celtics have turned into -- and surely played Sunday as if they are -- a perimeter team." Thomsen chose this game in which the Celtics scored 42 of their 89 points in the paint to call them a perimeter team? Just because Rondo is taking more shots doesn't make them perimeter-oriented. He gets the majority of his points in the paint by slashing to the bucket and that also opens up easy lay-ups for the bigs. The Celtics aren't quite the pound-it-in-the-post team they've been in the past but keep in mind that Garnett has missed 10 games and he's a big part of their post game.
The bottom line is the Celtics played a very poor fourth quarter. This is a recent trend that they surely must correct. Maybe it's a sign of age, maybe it's a lack of focus. But despite all of their perceived problems against the Lakers, they were just one Ray Allen made three-pointer away from losing the game. Allen missed all six of his shots from deep - how often do you expect that to happen?
Enough of dissecting the negativity. Both teams did some great things that need to be pointed out.
Both teams played great defense. The Lakers had 15 turnovers and the Celtics had 18. You can call it bad offense but from watching the game I'd attribute much of it to great defense.
Ron Artest limited Paul Pierce. It began even before the opening tip when Artest jostled with Pierce for position and an official had to separate them. It lasted all the way to the end where Artest drew an offensive foul on Pierce with under 30 seconds to go. He held Pierce to just 15 points and nine of those were on three-pointers where either a fast break or a screen freed him up.
Rajon Rondo absolutely killed the Lakers. He finished with 21 points on 16 shots and had 12 assists. He was the sole reason the Celtics made that furious run at the end of the first and into the second quarter. He is definitely the Celtics MVP so far this season.
Andrew Bynum makes a huge difference. The Celtics post players are strong but they're not that big. Bynum used his length to finish over his defenders. At one point in the third he caught a high pass (like 11 fee high), didn't bring the ball down and finished with a dunk on Perkins. No team can defend against a move like that.The Lakers now have to travel to Memphis to take on the Grizzlies tonight. A win would push their record on this road trip to a very successful 6-2. If the Lakers take the Grizzlies lightly they will lose this game. The Grizzlies can run and will look to take advantage of the Lakers quick turnaround following last night's tough, physical game.