L.A. needs Big Dig
The season drifted a little further from the Lakers amid a frenzy of green and white, a solitary sign held up by a fan -- “Green for 17" -- acting as a strong reminder that the Boston Celtics were two victories from a 17th NBA championship.
Paul Pierce packed a punch, the Lakers couldn’t come close to matching it until a too-late rally, and the Celtics took Game 2, 108-102, Sunday at TD Banknorth Garden.
Only three teams in league history have come back from 2-0 deficits to win the NBA Finals -- the Celtics in 1969 (against the Lakers), Portland in 1977 and Miami in 2006.
The series now shifts to Staples Center for Games 3, 4 and, if necessary, 5.
The Lakers couldn’t be happier to be heading home.
They were surprisingly disheveled in Game 2, falling behind by as many as 24 points with 7 minutes 55 seconds left in the fourth quarter. Kobe Bryant had 30 points and eight assists, but that might have been it for the Lakers highlights, other than 17 points and 10 rebounds from Pau Gasol.
Lamar Odom looked “confused,” according to Lakers Coach Phil Jackson, and Derek Fisher had almost as many fouls (five) as points (nine). Along those lines, the Lakers’ reserves were systematically outplayed, yet again.
Pierce had 28 points three days after suffering a sprained right knee, and reserve forward Leon Powe had 21 points for the Celtics, making nine of 13 free throws in less than 15 minutes of playing time.
Despite history leaning heavily against the Lakers, Bryant was neither annoyed nor angry afterward.
“We’ve come too far to really sweat being down, 2-0,” he said. “We’re going to go home and handle our business.”
The Lakers are 8-0 at home in the playoffs, but they might want to work on a few issues between now and Tuesday.
Their offense splintered amid a lack of cohesion, their 20 assists in 41 field goals failing to stand up to the Celtics’ 31 assists in 36 baskets. (Rajon Rondo had 16 assists for the Celtics.)
Odom was bothered by foul trouble and again sat out a notable portion of the game, this time the entire fourth quarter. He finished with 10 points, eight rebounds, five fouls and a rebuke from his coach.
“Lamar got confused out there,” Jackson said. “Situations that got him into foul trouble and little offensive sequences that, rather than just taking a shot or making the right play, [he] looked like he was a confused player out there at times. We’ll try and get that straightened out.”
Jackson also tried to straighten out the refereeing crew of Dan Crawford, Bob Delaney and Ken Mauer.
The Lakers coach was miffed that the Celtics had 28 more free throws, making 27 of 38 while the Lakers made all 10 of their attempts from the line.
Jackson, with an obvious eye toward Game 3, dived into the refereeing when asked what struck him more strongly, the Lakers’ struggles in the first three quarters or their fourth-quarter rally.
“I’m more struck at the fact that Leon Powe gets more foul shots than our whole team does in 14 minutes of play,” Jackson said. “That’s ridiculous. I’ve never seen a game like that in all these years I’ve coached in the Finals. Unbelievable.”
Jackson went on to say the Celtics’ aggressiveness “swayed the effective calls.”
“I have no question about the fact my players got fouled but didn’t get to the line,” he said. “The referees referee an illusion. Our guys look like maybe the ball was partially stripped when they were getting raked or whatever was happening, but it was in a crowd, so the referees let that type of thing go.”
Nothing went well for the Lakers in the first half.
The Celtics appeared to be the aggressors, making 14 of 19 free throws while the Lakers made only two of two free from the line. Pierce looked plenty healthy, scoring 16 points in the half as the Celtics took a 54-42 lead.
The third quarter wasn’t any better for the Lakers.
Powe had dunks on consecutive possessions to give the Celtics an 83-61 lead going into the fourth.
Not even a 41-point fourth quarter could save the Lakers, who made five three-point shots in a late push and pulled within 104-102 on two free throws by Bryant with 38.4 seconds to play. But Pierce answered with two free throws and then blocked Sasha Vujacic’s three-point attempt with 14.8 seconds left to preserve the Celtics’ victory.
Jackson downplayed the rally when asked if its momentum could be carried back to Los Angeles for Game 3.
“It’s 2,500 miles away,” he said. “It’s too far to carry it.”
The Lakers can only hope Boston’s momentum stays behind as well.
Vlad Rad forces the steal, then goes the other way for the dunk. It looked initially like he traveled, but on the replay it was that Euro off-step takeoff.
-- Brian Kamenetzky