Shock of ages
History wrapped its arms around the Lakers, though not nearly the type they ever hoped to embrace.
The Lakers lost a 24-point lead in historic fashion, a stagger turning into a numbing collapse against the Boston Celtics, who took Game 4 of the NBA Finals, 97-91, Thursday at Staples Center.
It was shocking, stunning, and a whole string of whatever anti-superlatives could be dug up and heaped on the Lakers, who allowed the biggest comeback in Finals history since Elias Sports Bureau became the official stat-keeper of the NBA for the 1970-1971 season.
The Celtics now lead the best-of-seven series, 3-1, bringing up another list of near-impossibilities for the Lakers.
An NBA team has never come back to win the Finals after facing a 3-1 deficit. Eight teams have done it in NBA playoff history, most recently Phoenix against the Lakers two years ago in the first round.
Even if the Lakers, now 9-1 at home in the playoffs, win Game 5 Sunday at Staples Center, an NBA team has never won Games 6 and 7 on the road since the 2-3-2 format began in 1985.
Other than that, the Lakers are in fine shape.
“A lot of wine, a lot of beer, a couple shots, maybe like 20 of them, digest it, get back to work [today],” Kobe Bryant said when asked how the Lakers could possibly bounce back.
“Nothing you can do.”
The first half couldn’t have been better scripted for a team trying to forge a tie in the series, the Lakers cruising to a 58-40 lead.
Then came the second half, and the apparent beginning of the end of the Lakers’ season after they were outscored, 57-33, in the last 24 minutes.
Hope slowly turned to misery as the Celtics turned up their defense and the Lakers turned away, leaving a trail of disheveled statistics.
The Lakers made only 13 of 39 shots (33.3%) in the second half, missing all eight of their three-point attempts.
Bryant had 17 points on the night, making only six of 19 shots. Sasha Vujacic, the hero off the bench in Game 3, had three points on one-for-nine shooting.
Vujacic’s three-pointer gave the Lakers a 45-21 lead with 6:45 left in the second quarter, and the slow, steady slide began from there.
“Some turnaround in that ballgame,” Lakers Coach Phil Jackson said in an understatement. “The air went out of that building.”
And the players, too, after a second half that was one of the most forgettable in franchise history.
“They’re very depressed about that,” Jackson said. “With the kind of momentum they carried into the locker room at halftime and having a 20-point lead in the [third] quarter, it’s very difficult right now.”
As comebacks in the Finals go, the Lakers took the top historical spot from Orlando, which saw Houston come back from a 20-point deficit in Game 1 of the 1995 Finals. The league could go as far back only as the 1971 Finals because written play-by-play of Finals games was not recorded before that time.
And to think the Celtics made their second-half surge primarily without two starters.
Point guard Rajon Rondo was limited by a sprained left ankle and played less than five minutes in the second half. Center Kendrick Perkins left the game after sustaining a strained left shoulder with 9:35 to play in the third quarter.
Still, the Celtics whittled an 18-point halftime deficit down to two going into the fourth quarter, Paul Pierce scoring nine points in the third quarter on the way to 20 in the game.
The worst was yet to come for the Lakers.
Eddie House’s 18-footer from the left side gave the Celtics their first lead, 84-83, with 4:07 to play.
The Lakers never led again, the final blow coming on Ray Allen’s driving layup after surging past Vujacic with 16.4 seconds left in an isolation play that started well above the three-point line.
That gave the Celtics a 96-91 advantage.
“There’s nothing to describe,” Vujacic said when asked about the play. “The whole game, the minute I came in, they called a foul on me. I was trying to find a way to guard him for 48 minutes and everything I did was a foul, so he got me. He went to the basket. Good basket.
“I don’t know what to say.”
In the end, Jackson tried to sound upbeat -- as much as he could, anyway -- on the night that dented a season, perhaps permanently.
“These guys are resilient,” he said. “They have disappointments, they come back. We have to make sure that we have a good collective energy again, come out and play the first half like we did before.”
PLAYER OF THE GAME
Boston’s James Posey scored 18 points off the bench, making four of eight three-point shots.
STAT OF THE GAME
35-14. That was the score at the end of the first quarter. And the Lakers still lost.