Jun 13, 2008

Game Over

Well, who can really say they saw that coming? By the end of the first half, I was sending taunting text messages to my Bostonian friends, and congratulatory ones to my friends who either live in LALA Land, or bleed the purple and gold. 24 minutes later, I was being called an idiot by one camp and a jinx by the other. Game 4 unfolded in a way that anyone watching this series would not believe. Not only was Lamar Odom asserting himself, not only did the Celtics look flat and lifeless, not only did Kobe seem to be channeling the toughest part of MJ’s game, not only did Doc Rivers seem ready to finally melt down, not only…sorry, I just got dizzy trying to remember the first half, it feels like it was so long ago.

One of the prevailing subplots of the first three games of this series was the fact that Lamar Odom appeared to be having a panic attack every time he took the floor. There are times where a player can get caught up in a big moment, and there are times when a player enters a full on coma upon realizing the size of the moment. Lamar Odom was a snapshot of the latter situation. It got so bad that Phil Jackson called him in the Game 2 press conference (one of the Zen Master’s favorite tactics) and Lamar responded with a big egg in Game 3. Pretty much anyone commentating on the series agreed that they would have to depend on someone else stepping up to be the third player for the Lakers, but that first half, the first 12 minutes in particular, seemed to quiet the doubters…

Anyone watching the Celtics all playoffs can easily agree that they have not looked their best at all times. Letting Atlanta push them to seven, letting Cleveland push them to seven, some poorly executed games against the Pistons, there have been some readily apparent chinks in the armor of the 66 win Celtics. But, throughout all the stumbles (some would say growing pains), and line up juggling by their ‘coach’ (more on him later), this was a team that appeared to be trying their best, and had everyone engaged and ready to play. This was not the case in the fist half of Game 4…the Celtics didn’t just look unengaged, they looked bored…

Too many comparisons had been made between the Mamba and His Airness. All throughout his career, Kobe’s ability has garnered comparisons, fair or unfair, to the G.O.A.T., but his on the court ability and dedication seemed to allow them. This season (after attempting to hold the franchise hostage) and these playoffs showed that Kobe was on his way to mastering Jordan’s method of getting his teammates comfortable by letting them contribute early, that way, everyone is scoring, everyone is more invested in the game, and feels more responsible for the win. Then, late in the game, or whenever it was needed, Jordan would take over, but be flanked by a truly inspired and motivated supporting cast. It really looked like Kobe had mastered the last, hardest part of MJ23’s game…

It had to happen. The other shoe just had to drop. After a more than adequate performance in the regular season, it appeared that the stage had finally gotten to Doc. All playoffs, he had made questionable decisions from altering his rotation (alienating bench players who had been so pivitol too the 66 wins ) to straight up bad personnel decisions (lack of Leon Powe in Game 3/Sam Cassell???). It looked like the pressure of the first three rounds, and roughly 115 games thus far finally got to him in the first half of Game 4,as he picked up an early tech (correctly) arguing a non-call on Mamba. Sure, he had looked okay against Mike Woodson, Mike James, and Flip Saunders (not exactly a coaching ‘Murderers Row’), but going head to head with the Zen Master seemed to finally have gotten to him…

Then the second half happened.

Lamar vanished, the Celtics woke up, Kobe erased any MJ comparisons EVER, and Doc stepped up higher than I even thought possible.

Odom poured in a measly four points after the break, and found himself back on the bench – and presumably, Phil’s doghouse – while the Celts were making their historical run in the third and fourth quarters. Maybe someone reminded him this was the finals, and he was supposed to be acting like a stroke patient, who knows.

The Celtics came alive. They were running all over the place, grabbing rebounds, blocking shots, beating people off the dribble. Jesus Shuttlesworth (who is easily the series MVP thus far) and Paul Pierce took the lead as far as their intensity, and the rest of the squad followed in kind. Even little-used reserve Tony Allen kept the energy level high when he got the call up off of the bench.

Kobe blew it. Like I’ve said before, the only players in professional team sports who pick up Ws and Ls are pitchers and hockey goalies, but Kobe should be handed a big, scarlet L after that performance. Not only did he blow the game by not recognizing how much his team needed him, and by taking over accordingly, he blew any shots he had at being the true heir to the throne. It goes without seeing that Michael Jordan never blew a 24 point lead in the Finals (mostly because Game 4 was the first time this has ever happened), but he would never have allowed it to start to happen. I thought, honestly, if the Lake Show can hold home court, then you get bloodthirsty Kobe in Boston, and he’d close them out the first chance he got, like he did to the Spurs. Whoops.

I cannot believe I’m writing this. Doc Rivers outcoached Phil Jackson. It looks wrong, just sitting there staring back at me. But, it’s true. Doc Rivers went small, surrounding KG with shooters, forcing the Lakers to rotate quickly to even keep up with the ball movement. And they couldn’t do it. Did Phil go to his bench, find a better combination to slow or stop Boston’s shooters? No. He entered Zen mode, and watched a truly historic collapse happen IN Staples.

Now, the series can end Sunday in LALA Land…and it makes no sense at all.

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