This series has been all over the place. Each game has been completely unique with few trends continuing from one game to another. Last night finally gave fans a couple things they had expected from this series; 1. Kobe Bryant catching fire and hitting the most ridiculous of shots and 2. The Celtics Big Four putting together a complete game. It finally all came together for Boston as they shot 56% from the field with the Big Four shooting just under 60%. The Celtics were able to weather Kobe Bryant's unreal third quarter storm and take Game 5, 92-86.
Lakers Played Poor Defense
When a team shoots 56% that's usually the case. The Lakers defense broke down a lot and it created layups for the Celtics. Many of the layups came from the Celtics pushing the pace. They outran the Lakers down the floor to the tune of 14 fast break points (and there were many more buckets created from pushing the tempo).
Ron Artest No Longer Wreaking Havoc on Defense
The Celtics have limited Ron Artest's defensive contributions by utilizing the pick and roll. They're giving Paul Pierce the opportunity to get some separation from Artest and he's taking advantage of the mismatches it has created against Gasol and Odom.
It was only a matter of time before Pierce got going. He had struggled so far this series but the former Finals MVP was bound to have a game like he had last night. He hit that step back jumper all game long and was able to get to the rim a few times as well. He finished hitting 12 of 21 for a team-high 27 points.
All of this begs the question: If Artest is ineffective on the defensive end and we all know how useless he is on the offensive end - what exactly is he contributing? Because currently all he's contributing are some very confusing offensive possessions.
What Happened to Gasol?
Gasol has been the Lakers' most consistent player all season long but he disappeared last night. He got 12 shots but half of them were off of offensive rebounds. It seemed as if the Lakers forgot about him. Of course, the Celtics deserve a lot of credit for their defense. They forced him to catch the ball much further away than he'd like and he wasn't able to knock down the midrange jumpers he usually makes. And when he did get to the rim he was met by help defenders. At least twice he was blocked by someone other than the guy guarding him. But no matter how hot Bryant is, the Lakers need a second scoring option and that has to be Gasol. They must get him involved or they have no chance to win this series.
Anyone Other Than Kobe?
Just as everyone knew Pierce would break out in one of these games, everyone knew Bryant would have one of those games where he gets in the zone and takes over. He reached that zone in the third quarter. He hit 7 of 9 shots scoring the first 19 points in the quarter for LA. He had scored 23 straight points for the Lakers before Gasol made a layup with 2:15 remaining in the quarter. But what's remarkable is that despite that performance, the Lakers were outscored 28-26 in the third. Even with Bryant at his absolute hottest, they couldn't make up ground. The Lakers couldn't stop the Celtics and thus couldn't take advantage of Bryant's superb effort.
Not until 2:25 left in the fourth quarter did the Lakers have someone other than Bryant in double figures in scoring. Gasol was their second-leading scorer with 12 points. No other Laker finished in double figures. They shot under 40% as a team and without Bryant that number drops to 35%. Derek Fisher and Ron Artest combined to shoot 4 for 18 and the Lakers got little from their bench.
The Celtics Outhustled the Lakers
This was a common theme in Boston. The Celtics came up with huge plays by shear hustle. There was Tony Allen's block on Gasol, Ray Allen saving a ball to Rondo for a layup, and Rondo's offensive tip-in with under four minutes left. On the other end, Derek Fisher was screened at the top of the key then watched the basketball instead of following Ray Allen. Nate Robinson zipped a pass to Allen who put in the uncontested layup. The Celtics made the hustle plays and the Lakers did not.
It looks like it's 2008 all over again. But now the Lakers get to go home where they almost have to play better. They couldn't have played much worse than they did last night and they still hung around at the end. If it weren't for some missed free throws and issues with boxing out, they could've stolen this game. But the Lakers are in an unusual position. This is the first time this postseason they've trailed in a series. Will the pressure get to them as they return home needing two victories to repeat? Who knows with this series.