Can You Smell that Cigar Smoke from Up Above? Celtics Storm to Win in Game Four
Wow. Let me write that again, just for the sheer pleasure of it, because of what it represents. Wow. A historic (and frankly embarrassing from an LA perspective) comeback. Sweet. Where to begin? The score, I suppose. Boston 97, Lakers 91.
After submitting one of the most hideous first quarters ever witnessed in the NBA Finals, the Boston Celtics stormed back over the final three quarters until the Lakers finally relented. Seriously, there is no way to overstate exactly how bad the Celtics played in the first quarter. Even Lamar Odom looked spectacular, to the point where he was preening and sticking his tongue out in reaction to his own good fortune, as short-lived as it would prove to be. Specifically, Odom finished the first half with a surreal 15 points on 7-7 shooting. His second half: 4 points on 1-4 shooting, which provided strong evidence that order had indeed been restored in the universe.
Los Angeles had led by as many as 24 points earlier in the game and by 20 halfway through the third quarter before Boston stormed back furiously. In the final 18 minutes, the Celtics outscored the Lakers to the tune of 47-21. It was the suffocating defense that fed the offense and it was the small ball players for Boston who led the way in the scoring comeback.
It must be noted that while the chips were down, it was James Posey and Ray Allen that represented the poise needed to sustain the comeback effort. For the game, Posey contributed an enormous 18 points on 5-of-10 shooting (including 4-8 from beyond the arc) and 4-4 from the line. Beyond his offense, however, James Posey provided so much of the requisite backbone. When he was on the floor, you could see teammates gain strength from his presence. It’s not hyperbole. His impact was that visible. He’s like the second coming of Eric Williams, only with a much better stroke.
And Ray Allen? Let’s just say that Cleveland series is all but forgotten. Allen scored 19 in addition to 9 rebounds and 3 steals. He also did another commendable defensive job on Kobe Bryant, playing a big part in holding Mr. Universe to 3 points in the first half before giving way to Paul Pierce on the defensive assignment. But the biggest contribution by Allen was his drive past Sasha Vujacic, who had poked and scratched at Allen on prior possessions like an alley cat in heat, only to collapse at the most crucial moment in the game. After his teammates cleared the entire lane with an area wide enough to land a 747, Allen gave a few obligatory jukes and fakes to Vujacic at the top of the key and then flew by his hair-netted opponent and converted with such ease that the officials almost felt obliged to call an offensive foul on him. The play put Boston up by 5 with 16.4 seconds remaining. Doom. Worthy of note: Ray Allen played all 48 minutes.
In another storyline, Rondo played much of the first half (17 minutes total) but eventually gave way to Eddie House, who scored 11 points and provided some high energy. As mentioned by Jeff Van Gundy roughly 8,000 times during the broadcast, House’s threatening J spaced the floor on offense and allowed teammates to roam more freely than when constricted by the 5-on-4 with Kobe as the defensive freelancer. Give credit to Doc Rivers for going with and sticking with both House and small-ball throughout the second half. It worked.
Alas, this is a game to savor. The headline on Yahoo at 12:53 a.m. is “Historic Collapse by Lakers”. Sublime. The fact that it happened in LA makes it all the sweeter. The fact that the game was decided on a play on Game 3 chest-thumper Sasha Vujacic’s expense seems almost to good to be true.
Can you smell it? The heavenly cigar smoke from above? Must bother the shit out of Phil Jackson, which makes me smile even wider. Get those Duck Boats fired up, boys. One victory to go.
[top image: http://www.flickr.com/photos/yoavshapira/]