It wasn't quite to the point of people asking, "Kobe who?" But the Lakers had won four in a row without Bryant, all by double digits. They were playing more like a team and their ball movement was actually looking better without Kobe. But leave it to the Celtics to show just how valuable Kobe is. The Lakers trailed 87-86 and had the ball with 2.2 seconds left. Who on this team can hit that shot? Derek Fisher might be able to hit that off of a Bryant double-team that leaves him wide open but not when he's blanketed by Ray Allen. Fisher missed the desperation attempt and the Lakers fall for the first time in nearly two weeks.
Ray Allen thanked the Celtics for not trading him by having one of his best games of the season. Allen made 10 of his first 11 shots and finished with a game-high 24 points on 10 of 15 shooting. The problem for the Lakers is Derek Fisher is too small to guard Allen. That wouldn't be a problem except he's also too slow to guard Rajon Rondo. Allen was able to easily shoot over Fisher and that's a big reason for his success last night.
I knew it was an odd night when Ron Artest dunked. I've mentioned how I wasn't sure if he could even do it in a game any more recently but he proved me wrong - twice. Once when he stole the ball from Paul Pierce and had a wide open dunk and the other was actually on Rasheed Wallace. The steal and dunk gave the Lakers a 33-32 edge early in the second quarter. They wouldn't lead again until 7:46 in the fourth quarter when they took an 82-80 lead. It was part of a 13-0 run that saw take a 84-80 lead with 7:13 in the fourth.
That's when the Celtics began to play defense and the Lakers began to fall apart. The Lakers scored just two points over the final 7:13. TWO POINTS! No way this ever happens with Bryant in the game. Sometimes he takes too many shots. Sometimes he makes others stagnant on offense. But at least you know you have SOMEONE who can score.The Lakers don't play again until Tuesday. At that point it will have been 18 days since Bryant last played. It's still unclear whether the tendon in his ankle will be healthy enough for him to play but it's pretty clear the Lakers need him back out there - especially in close games.