The talk this week was all about clutch. And in the closing minutes, the Celtics were a clutch beast of unstoppable force, coming together for the most cohesive showing in a big game setting they’ve shown this season, right when they needed it most, at the same time as the Lakers came unraveled, possession by possession.
Kobe Bryant’s brilliant fourth quarter in a phenomenal game led him to cutting the Celtics’ lead to four with 5:20 remaining in the game. He had absolutely daggered the Celtics down the stretch with one tough jumper after another. But after the 5:20 mark, here were the subsequent Lakers possessions.
- 4:41 Kobe Bryant misses 19-foot jumper
- 4:09 Kobe Byrant misses 8-foot shot
- 3:47 Kobe Bryant makes 15-foot jumper
- 3:19 Kobe Bryant misses 21-foot jumper
- 2:55 Kobe Bryant offensive foul-charge
- 2:25 Kobe Bryant makes 12-foot jumper
- 1:46 Kobe Bryant misses 4-foot shot
- 1:44 Pau Gasol misses tip-shot
- 1:16 Steve Blake turnover (bad pass)
In that span of time, the Celtics scored on six of their eight possessions. Game. Four-point lead to fourteen-point lead just like that. So your options for deducing the reasons why the Celtics won the game boil down to three solutions. This is like the choose your own adventure game only at the end of it Kevin Garnett makes an Osama Bin Laden joke. Here are your choices:
- Kobe Bryant’s obsessive domineering of the offense completely took the rest of the Lakers out of the offensive flow, eliminating any possibility of getting quality shots and he was unable to deliver on all those shots. Doom.
- Bryant’s teammates utterly failed him in presenting themselves throughout the course of the day, leaving Bryant no option but to try and execute the offense on his own, leading to poor shots, misses, and a ballooning deficit.
- The Lakers didn’t play a lick of defense down the stretch and if you don’t play defense and the other team scores on 75% of their possessions, you’re probably screwed.
1. Kobe Bryant’s obsessive domineering of the offense completely took the rest of the Lakers out of the offensive flow, eliminating any possibility of getting quality shots and he was unable to deliver on all those shots. Doom.
Well, the rest of the Lakers’ starters shot 10-35 from the field. Lamar Odom was 6-8, but, well, it’s Lamar Odom. You never know when he’ll disappear. Bryant was in a pickle, trying to will his team to victory while the rest of the offense kind of sat around and moped like Charlie Brown. Bryant scored 41 points on 29 shots, and for most of the day was brilliant. He had the entire range of offense going, from the mid-range to the perimeter to the layup. He was slicing and dicing and for most of the game, so to focus on his 2-for-6, 1-turnover close is to ignore the fact that the rest of the offense left him with no choice. Bryant did everything he could to try and keep the Lakers in it and at some point, someone else on the Lakers needs to make a play. To fault him is to ignore how terrible the rest of the Lakers were and is typical of the kind of criticism Bryant receives. But don’t take my word for it. Here’s what Phil said post-game:
“I didn’t think anybody else wanted the ball. We did run a couple other plays to get guys into position, but I thought those times he had the best opportunities when other people were moving to the ball. But, a lot of times it didn’t look like we were running anything out there offensively,” Phil Jackson said. Of the offense down the stretch, Jackson wasn’t much more complimentary of the supporting crew. “I think they backed off. I think they wanted to let Kobe- he seemed to be the guy that had the hot hand. They wanted to just give him a lot of space instead of just our offense flowing into what we do.”
2. Bryant’s teammates utterly failed him in presenting themselves throughout the course of the day, leaving Bryant no option but to try and execute the offense on his own, leading to poor shots, misses, and a ballooning deficit.
Well, it’s certainly true that the Lakers’ starters didn’t play well or shoot well on offense today, but how many opportunities did they really have? According to Synergy Sports, Bryant went into an ISO set 19 times today. By comparison, the Celtics went into ISO 5 times. Nineteen possessions ended in a Kobe Bryant ISO set. In the fourth quarter, the Lakers had 24 possessions. Ten of them were Kobe Bryant ISO sets. 42% of the time in the fourth quarter, it was Kobe Bryant one-on-one. No wonder he ran out of gas. At some point, Bryant has to take responsibility for getting the entire offense in gear. Even if it’s just creating ball movement to create space for himself, there’s got to be more than just ISO situation after ISO situation, particularly if the dribble-drive jumper stops falling. But there was none of that. But was that the real problem?
3. The Lakers didn’t play a lick of defense down the stretch and if you don’t play defense and the other team scores on 75% of their possessions, you’re probably screwed.
That’s more like it. The Celtics absolutely drilled the Lakers with efficient passing late. You can ponder the merits of an overworked Kobe or an ineffective supporting cast till you’re blue in the face but what can’t be denied is that run of possessions that closed the game for Boston. Your offense doesn’t have to be clicking at a high level to win that game down four with five minutes left, but you can’t be a defensive sieve for the rest of it. Rajon Rondo (who out-assisted the entire Lakers team 16-10) got out in transition constantly, forced the issue, and in the end, found open looks time after time, including an alley-oop to KG with Gasol and Bynum trailing. Kevin Garnett out-ran every defender to the bucket. That, right there is why the Lakers lost.
For the Celtics, it was a big win that brought them that much closer to homecourt advantage. Ball movement, intensity, defense, rebounding, the works. A hostile environment and they walked away with the win. It won’t take away the sting of the Game 7 loss, but it’s a step in the right direction. The Celtics have now beaten the Lakers, Orlando, and Miami this season. And the hits just keep on coming.