It’s the Lakers who need assistance now

BOSTON -- Put that in your wheelchair.

So much for the Lakers’ lighthearted approach that extended to the minutes before Game 2, when Coach Phil Jackson was still joking about Paul Pierce’s wheelchair.

Pierce proceeded to score 28 points Sunday night as the Celtics won, 108-102, taking a 2-0 lead in the NBA Finals in which the Lakers were once favored but are no longer.

Not that this trip was a total waste for the Lakers, who, at least, learned they can’t spot this team 24 points in the middle of the fourth quarter.


Trailing, 95-71, with the Celtics putting on a dunk show, the Lakers staged an improbable rally, cutting it to 104-102, but getting no closer.

“I kept telling the team, we played as poorly as we could possibly play for 2 1/2 quarters in the middle of the third quarter,” said Jackson afterward. “We just can’t play any worse than this.”

Unfortunately, his players may have taken that as a challenge since they played even worse than that into the middle of the fourth quarter.

Worse for the Lakers, before they went off in what the home team thought was garbage time, the Celtics maintained their control of the once-dreaded Lakers offense.

It took a 41-point fourth quarter for the Lakers to score 100 points for the first time in four games against Boston this season.

In the last five quarters before that, they had scored 22-15-22-20-19.

For the first three quarters Sunday night, the Lakers couldn’t get Kobe Bryant good shots out of their offense.

Then when Bryant started looking for his own shots, they stopped running any offense.

Also, they were in foul trouble from the time they hit town and their bench was overwhelmed by the little-known young players and senior citizens on the Celtics’ bench whom Coach Doc Rivers had been juggling all postseason.

Aside from that, it was an OK trip.

The Lakers arrived last Wednesday, feeling every bit the favorites they were considered to be and were hardly consumed by fear after losing Game 1.

Showing the confidence that has prompted comparisons to the “What, me worry?” philosophy of Mad magazine’s Alfred E. Neuman, Jackson promised between games that things would be fine.

Was Kevin Garnett sagging off Lamar Odom, roaming around and jamming up their offense?

“He’s been a real good defender for them all season,” Jackson said. “This is not unusual. We just have to figure out a way how to use that to our advantage, and we will.”

Did they have to work on getting the ball inside to Odom and Pau Gasol?

“You know, we haven’t focused on that,” Jackson said. “We think that that’s all part of what we do, and so guys available will do that. That hasn’t been like a major focus of what we’re going to do. But we will, there’s no doubt about it.”

Before Sunday’s game, Jackson was asked if he and his staff had discussed the injured Celtics, Pierce and Kendrick Perkins.

“We discussed the wheelchair a little bit, but that’s the only thing I think that was discussed,” said Jackson, breaking up the interview room.

What had they said about the wheelchair?

“First time I think we’ve ever seen it,” Jackson said. “I think that was a comment that was made.”

By the middle of the fourth quarter, the Lakers may have been thinking about borrowing that wheelchair.

Aside from their struggle to score, the Lakers were stunned to see Karl Malone come off the Celtics’ bench to score 21 points in 14 minutes.

Oh, that was Leon Powe?

The muscular Powe, whose playoff high was 12, tore the Lakers up inside, one more reminder this team won’t be beating anyone with its defense.

Asked if Powe surprised them, Bryant acknowledged, grinning, “Just a little.”

Bryant was asked what the Lakers were saying to themselves during this one.

“Get our beep in gear,” Bryant said. “Play beep harder. Beep, beep, beep, beep, beep. ‘Eddie Murphy Raw’ times 10.”

On the positive side for the Lakers, they now have a better idea of what it will take to beat the Celtics.

Now to see if they have it in them.