Merry Christmas To Me…And the Rest of the Laker Nation
Posted by hiphopmama on December 25, 2008
Boston 83, LA Lakers 92
I don’t want to be one of those fans who gets too low when we lose and too high when we win but…oh fuck it, I’m just gonna enjoy this one while it lasts.
We did it! We won! We took those green bastards down a notch! We beat them at their own game, playing stifling half-court defense and getting in their heads to the point that they started making poor decisions and turning the ball over. We weren’t afraid to get physical and knock bodies around the pinball machine in the paint, slowing down Rondo’s quick start and ending the early string of open lay-ups for the Celtics. We jumped out in front and stayed there for most of the game, daring the Celtics to catch up with those, and they could only do so for brief moments before we kicked it in even further and slammed the door in their faces. The final two minutes were beyond sweet as we stamped out any possibility of a comeback with well executed defense and offense, particularly from Gasol, who had been quiet for most of the game. Kobe carried us the whole way, but Pau dragged us across the finish line. His increasing feistiness as the game wore on was a great indicator of how serious he took the game and how much he was willing to give to get the win even on an off night.
The whole team gave every last ounce today, from Kobe’s nerves of steel, to Sasha’s pesky defense, to Bynum’s lane lockdown, to Luke’s beautiful passing, to Odom’s clutch shooting, to Ariza’s tremendous hustle play. And so on and so on. It was truly a sight to behold. Our boys ran their asses off as if they had finally found something to play for, and they took their game to another level. Remember all those requests I made of Santa last night? Check marks on all of ’em.
- Effective screen-roll defense? Check. Sasha was particularly impressive fighting over the top of screens and staying with his man, and when the bigs showed on the pick, everyone found their defensive assignments accordingly. At one point, after watching an attempted screen-roll go nowhere, Rondo stood on the wing looking around for the open man he expected to find, but our defense was in place on every man. Of course, Garnett burned us a number of times, but that’s just what he does. He is one of those rare talents, kinda like our own number 24, and you have to accept that sometimes he’s just gonna hit those shots. Other than that, we were solid here today.
- Better defense against the three? Check. The Celtics shot 5-for-22 from beyond the arc and never really got going from distance. A lot of that comes down to missed opportunities on the Celtics’ part, but you have to give the nod to the Lakers D as well. We closed out with regularity and at least ran at most every shot, making them think about it even on an open look. A lot of those threes were taken as a last resort after they had been forced to use up most of the shot clock and had few options remaining. That resulted in fewer rhythm shots being taken and a lower shooting percentage overall.
- Fewer turnovers? Check. We finished the game with 11 TOs again, but we didn’t go through streaks of poor play where we handed the ball over on possession after possession. I guess you could call them well distributed turnovers, and they weren’t particularly costly, as the Celtics only scored 11 points off of them. Can you guess why? See #5.
- A more disciplined approach? Check. Aside from one or two occasions on which we pushed the ball needlessly, we were very efficient in our play today and made the most of offensive and defensive possessions. I spotted a little too much scrambling in the first quarter, but once we settled in that mostly stopped and we went Van Damme on them. There were very few ill-advised shots taken – and most of those that we did take were typical Kobe prayers – and we didn’t settle for perimeter shots. A number of times players like Ariza and Vujacic found themselves open behind the arc but wisely chose to either take a couple steps forward before pulling up or drive the lane for an easier look or the dish-off. It was playoff style basketball and we executed it with precision.
- A renewed level of intensity befitting of a title contender? Check and mate. Everyone got up for this game, and I mean everyone. Even Phil “I-call-timeouts-when-I-want-and-not-when-you-make-me” Jackson jumped up off the bench and signaled for time when the defense wasn’t up to snuff or we were getting sloppy. He didn’t do it much, but he resorted to it earlier in the game than you usually see and was demonstrative about getting on his guys when they looked to be letting up. Kobe clearly came out with revenge on his mind, and with no Posey there to shadow him, he got going right away and stayed hot the whole game. Mark Jackson, in his infinite wisdom, had lots of praise for Ray Allen for “staying in front of” Kobe and being the Celtics’ best offensive weapon, but the stats tell a different story. Kobe scored 27 on 13-of-23 shooting, while Allen finished with 14 points on 5-of-14 shooting, including going 3-for-11 from three point range. I’d say that’s a pretty one-sided battle. Granted, the Celtics had more offensive weapons around Allen, but to suggest he held Kobe in check at all is absurd. Sasha has completely resurrected himself from his early season doldrums, and he did everything asked of him both offensively and defensively, making shots and creating havoc on defense. I wouldn’t have thought it possible, but Ariza played with even more energy than he normally does, tracking down loose balls left and right and making smart decisions on offense as well. I said that Pau had an off night, but he still shot 50% and had 20 points, 5 assists, and 3 blocks. The blocked shots were perhaps the biggest indicator of our effort and a sign of how different last year’s finals might have been had we had our twin towers up front. At game’s end, we had piled up 11 blocked shots – 3 from Gasol, 2 from Bynum, 2 from Walton, 2 from Odom – to the Celtics’ 3, and we really made them pay for throwing Big Baby in there at center. Our superior depth surely played a role, but we still out-hustled them out there and certainly improved upon our previous performance against them. I could not have asked for more.
Two of the biggest factors in the win were depth and length. Strictly in terms of the starting five, you have to give Boston the edge with their Big Three leading the way. I love Gasol and Fish, but neither can be expected to show up to THAT extent night in and night out, so Kobe is out there as our Big One and a Half most of the time. Once you start resting guys, however, we have a clear advantage, as became obvious when the bench starting getting minutes for the Celtics. While our level of play stayed consistent (or in some cases even increased), the Celtics experienced a considerable drop-off. Because, let’s face it, Eddie House, Leon Powe, and Glen Davis don’t hold up quite as well against Vujacic, Ariza, and Odom. Plus we had another seven-footer that never made his way into the game in Chris Mihm. Which points up another key advantage we possess in interior size. With Gasol and Bynum we have two seven-footers starting in addition to Mihm on the bench, and Odom’s wingspan helps him play almost as big. Aside from Patrick O’Bryant, currently averaging a negligible 1.8 minutes a game, Garnett is the tallest player on the Celtics at 6-11 with Perkins at 6-10 and Davis at just 6-9. And they can list Powe as a power forward all they want, but dude is 6-8, 240 lbs – he’s a three. Garnett can be an intimidating presence inside, but aside from him they have little with which to challenge guys up front. (Apart from their incredible team defense, of course.) When Garnett takes a breather, it’s open season on the lane, and we took full advantage. The Celtics obviously have plenty of other advantages over us – like a more distributed scoring load and three guys who can step up and be the man on any given night – but at least this time we proved we had our own set of assets that could make life difficult for them. Praise the lord that we didn’t let them go to waste.
For all those reasons and more, it was an incredible game, but we can’t lose sight of reality. It was one win, and we are still the same team now that we were before this game. While we made it look easy to flip the switch and play at a higher level at will, it’s not always so straightforward and we will need more of these performances to gear us up for a championship run. Furthermore, I’m not sure this is the best the Celtics have to offer. Props to us for limiting the effectiveness of their offensive attack, and Rondo in particular, but we can’t expect guys like Ray Allen and Paul Pierce to miss open shots like they did today. Just a few points here and there and this could have been a very different story. For as satisfying as this win was, it was just that: one win. Ending the streak was nice, but it’s fitting to remember that they did rack up 19 in a row before we pulled up our socks and took it to them. The real test is whether or not we can recapture this kind of game from here on out, even given the inevitability of hicc-ups along the way.
Easily the best Christmas day action in a long while, including the other games (yes, there were others). Ours was the best, of course, but good hoops action all around. Here’s the game recap:
And the play of the game, Gasol’s late block on Ray Allen and the reverse dunk by Ariza. Priceless.
And I’m spent. It started a little shaky for me, but in the end it was a great Christmas with a great game to boot. That we won makes it that much sweeter. Merry Christmas to all and to all a good night.