By Anthony McClean, Editor In Chief Emeritus NEW HAVEN (BASN) —...
Lakers Couldn’t Hold Back The Truth
The Celtic defense held Lakers center Pau Gasol to 0 rebounds in the first half; held Kobe to 1-for-6 from the field in the fourth quarter and 9-for-26 for the game; And after Sasha Vujacic hit a 22-footer with 6:53 remaining in the fourth quarter (88-82), the Lakers were held to one field goal for the rest of the game.
Bryant, who has been averaging 32 points and 55% from the field throughout the playoffs, missed a number of shots that he would normally make. In the two games that Kobe faced the Celtics in the regular season, Bryant has averaged 25 points but only 33% from the field, including 23% from the deep end.
The addition of Gasol did nothing for Bryant’s percentage against the Green. “I had some great looks, they just didn’t stay down,” said Bryant on Thursday. “It was just pile it in with the other bad shooting games I’ve had and flush it and come back Game 2 and hopefully I get the same looks.”
Credit Ray Allen, Paul Pierce and James Posey for Kobe’s shooting performance. Unfortunately for the Lakers, the supporting cast for the LA was not able to provide any help in the second half.
“Kobe and I have a lot of history. I played against him many years. We’ve always gone at it,” said Allen. “I think tonight I knew he was going to attack me and I wanted to try to make sure that I just tried to stay in front of him, not foul him, put him on the foul line, and just stay solid.”
Bryant seemed like he was starting to get it going in the third quarter when he scored 12 points, but his team provided no help as everyone else combined to shoot 30% in the second half (7-for-23).
“He’s going to take shots, he’s going to make shots, so we just want to keep a swarm around him and just giving him the easy buckets was something we didn’t want to do,” Allen added.
“I just wanted to make him work, and that’s what we tried to do,” said Pierce. “We threw numerous defenders at him, Posey, Ray, myself, and just wanted to give him a different look. We’re all different type of defenders. I think I’m a little bit more physical, more up in your face.”
“Posey has great length, and Ray’s defense has come a long way this year. I think you get a little bit of everything. He slides his feet well. He was able to get the charge, so we wanted to give him different looks just to keep him uncomfortable. That’s about it.”
Expect the Garden to roar when the Celtics captain is introduced Sunday. After going down in the third quarter with a knee strain with 6:52 remaining in the frame, Pierce made a Willis Reed-like return a little more than a minute later, an entrance that energized both the 18,624 live witnesses and his teammates.
“Honestly I thought the worst. When they carried Paul off,” admitted Celtics coach Doc Rivers after Game 1. The Truth fed off of that energy by nailing back-to-back shots from beyond the arc from the same spot, the latter of the two was drilled with 1:04 remaining in the third quarter (75-71).
“Well, obviously it was great to see him come back, and obviously we were concerned when he went down. A guy grabs his knee, you know, there’s no good thoughts.”
“I was really proud, honestly, of our team during the stretch when he was in the locker room. I thought that was the biggest part of the game. We could have easily felt sorry for ourselves. We actually made a little run there. But then when he came out he was big for us.”
“Obviously him coming back lifted us up. But I thought the stretch where he was out, we didn’t show any panic, was really good for our team.”
“When I first fell to the ground I heard a pop in my knee, and all I felt was pain when I grabbed it,” told the Truth. “And at that point I thought it was just – I thought I tore something. That’s the way I felt at the time.”
“Usually when I go down, I’m getting right back up, but it was an instance where I turned my knee and it popped, heard it pop, and I was just in pain where I just couldn’t move.”
“Once I got to the back, I felt on it, then I stood on my two feet and just tried to see where the pain was at. It was on the inside of my knee. I tried to put weight on it, wasn’t bad. I tried to lateral, a little soreness.”
“Once I felt I could put weight on it, I was like, I had to get back out there to help my ballclub. That was all that was going through my mind, just being a part of it. I just wanted to get back out there.”
Pierce not only scored 15 points in the third quarter, but after shooting 1-for-4 and scoring three points in the first half, he didn’t miss any of his field goal attempts in the second half, converting all six of his attempts, including all three shots from three-point territory.
All three of Pierce’s threes were in dramatic fashion. Including the back-to-back threes, Pierce also made a rarely-seen four-point play when he got fouled by Radmanovic after nailing a three-point shot. His converted free throw broke a tie score at 51 with 11:15 left in the game.
If KG comes out with the same energy that he did in Game 1, the Lakers will head back home down 2-0. If you ask KG, he didn’t have a good fourth quarter at all, as he shot 1-for-6 in the final frame and finished the game shooting 9-for-23 from the field. But the Big Ticket still tied Kobe with a game-high 24 points and grabbed a game-high 13 rebounds, including four from the offensive end.
KG may have been more assertive in Game 1 than any other first half of the playoffs as he shot 6-for-9 in the first half and scored 16 points. KG also established the tone on the boards for the Celtics as he grabbed two offensive rebounds very early in the game and finished the opening frame with four caroms collected.
“My fourth quarter was plain out terrible, I’ll be honest,” said the Big Ticket. “I thought I got my hands on loose balls, a lot of shots I knew I could make, rhythm shots and I just missed them. I thought I was active, I was talkative, but I could be better and I will be.”
Garnett’s lone fourth quarter field goal put an exclamation point on Game 1 when he slammed home his 22nd point while collecting his 12th rebound following up James Posey’s three-point miss to give Boston a 94-86 lead with 1:32 remaining.
The two-handed follow-up dunk made a poster child of Pau Gasol, who proved to be no match for Garnett in Game 1. Expect Phil Jackson to double-team the Big Ticket more as soon as he gets the ball within his range, and keep two bodies on him when the ball is up in the air.
The X-factor of the series may be at the guard spot for the Celtics. Sam Cassell had some productive minutes in the first half scoring six points on 3-for-5 shooting in just under seven minutes of action. Sam I Am also nailed a big shot to give Boston a five-point cushion with 9:44 remaining in the game after KG saved a backcourt violation.
The loose ball was tracked down by PJ Brown, who quickly fed Cassell at the top of the key. Cassell may see more playing time tonight as he was able to have his way with veteran guard Derek Fisher (15 points, six assists, four rebounds, three steals).
“You almost live and die with (Sam Cassell’s) jump shots,” said Rivers. “I thought he played terrific in the first half and obviously made a big shot in the second half.”
Rajon Rondo also had a good game against Fisher. Rondo, who was only 3 Â½ months old the last time the Celtics faced the Lakers in the NBA Finals in 1987, was not hesitant in taking his shots and finished Game 1 with 15 points, seven assists, five rebounds, and only two turnovers in 35 minutes.
And Ray Allen’s confidence is back.
He Got Game added 19 points in Game 1, but also contributed a well-rounded game with eight rebounds, five assists, and perhaps the best defensive performance on Kobe Bryant.
Kendrick Perkins went out in the third quarter with an ankle injury and did not return to the game.
While Pierce was in the locker room nursing the injury, Doc told his team that adversity should not get them down or stop them, and that they should overcome anything that is handed to them.
If the Celtics continue to pound the finesse Lakers and handle anything that Lakers coach Phil Jackson throws at them, banner 17 may be within reach. But we’ll just focus on Sunday’s game for now. One thing is for sure: “Beat L.A.” chants will continue to be heard throughout the Garden in Game 2.
“We’ll spread them out by getting in transition and moving the ball and see if we can get some cuts going to the hoop,” said Bryant. “They’re going to be determined and not let me get to the paint, particularly in the half court.”
Those little midâ€‘range jumpers that I get, I’ve got to knock those in. We’ve got to get some steals, get out of transition, rebound the ball, push it, and try and limit their opportunities.”
“But for us it’s just about pushing the basketball and getting into our offense early.”
“These are the biggest games we’ve been a part of, and this is not the time to be holding anything back, and we don’t plan on doing that,” said KG. “For the most part it’s go hard.”
“That’s the focus in our locker room. Go hard.”