First games aren’t ordinary games. Ask any player, any coach, or any audience in a jam-packed arena, and he will explain to you how important tip off games are.
Days, even months, before the Miami Heat tackled the Boston Celtics in yesterday’s opening game for NBA 2K11, they were the most hyped up team in the league. Nobody would dare question the reason why–they had just acquired LeBron James and Chris Bosh. Now in possession of three powerhouse players in the league, the Heat seemed poised and prepared to make not just a run, but a slashing run, for the championship crown. Preseason games seemed to indicate all directions going that way. So it looked like a win on opening night was a given when they visited Boston to face the Celtics.
That never happened for Miami.
The Celtics doused Miami’s blazes with an 88-80 win on opening night at the TD Bankworth Garden, with Ray Allen leading the Gang Green with 20 points, while the other starters Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett contributed 19 and 10 respectively. Glen Davis added 13 more off the bench while Rajon Rondo directed the orchestra with 17 assists. Despite LeBron’s 31 points, the Heat was playing catch-up most of the time as the team’s other two marquee players, Wade and Bosh, were sputtering from their spots. Wade shared 13 points for the team, the only other double digit scorer, while Bosh was locked to merely 4 points.
Shaquille O’Neal scored 9 points as a Celtic that night, mostly as a recipient of Rondo’s dime drops. Marquis Daniels also proved to be another reliable player for the bench with 8 points. Boston’s bench was deeper than that of Miami’s, providing 26 points compared to the Heat’s 21.
While Boston had committed more turnovers than Miami, 15 of their 17 turnovers were committed by either James, Wade or Bosh. On the other hand 15 of the 18 infractions of Boston were from all five starters. Looking at it closely, it seems that the ball rotated more with Boston than it did with Miami. Attesting to this fact are the 25 total assists of Boston, while Miami only had 15.
Miami was also outrebounded by Boston, 34-28. Outside shooting also spelled the difference as Pierce hit 3-of-6 and Allen had 5-of-8 from beyond the arc. The Celtics also were more efficient with shooting the ball at 46% field goal percentage, while Miami was lower by 10%.
But what twists this story even more puzzling is not this first game, but their respective second games.
Miami just won their game against a relatively undermanned Philadelphia 76’ers. This one seems more plausible and acceptable. But Boston lost their second game of the season. And the team that beat them is… the LeBron-less CLEVELAND CAVALIERS!
Pick your mind with that one!
It was 26 years ago when the Boston Celtics and the Los Angeles Lakers last squared off in a game seven in a Finals series. Boston won that series, as well as the three other game sevens that they met as rivals. LA has never won against Boston in a finals game seven.
For Phil Jackson, this is the first time that he will be playing a game seven in the finals. In all his championships with the Chicago Bulls, he always had the advantage of leading in the series before eventually clinching the championship. His first loss in a championship, to the Detroit Pistons in ’04, was the first championship series where he lost game one, and the first finals series that he and his team were the ones trailing. The second time, to Boston just two years ago, had a similar setting. While Jackson did win game one of the current series, he was never in a situation where his team was doing the catching up. Thus, Jackson is playing his first game seven in the finals.
The last time a game seven was played was five years ago, between the San Antonio Spurs and the Detroit Pistons. It was also a series that featured the last two champions of the previous two seasons, much like the one we have now. San Antonio won that series, and Rasheed Wallace, who is now with Boston, was standing on the other side of history, losing and being dethroned. He, among anyone else in the roster of players, know what it feels to lose in a game seven. This time he wants to know the feeling of winning.
Kobe Bryant calls the game on Thursday as “just another game seven.” Truth is, THIS game seven is anything but “just” another game seven. If Boston wins this series, Kobe would still be winless in a Finals series against Boston. But if he wins, the sweet revenge also brings him a championship ring closer to the man his destiny has been chasing. While he probably has five more years or so in the league, he is not taking his chances of doing the amazing some other time. If it’s now, then he will have to seize it.
While age is not much of a problem for Kobe, it is a glaring one for four people—one is wearing the same jersey like him, and the other three on the other side of the fence. Derek Fisher has been a veteran to Lakers championships in the post-Jordan era. He has authored some of his team’s game winning shots, hustle plays, and impossible situations, especially during the playoffs. And sooner or later, all that will be just a memory. For him, a sterling performance this Thursday could top all that, and forever cement his legacy as one of the best players who wore the purple and gold.
Paul Pierce said that one of the reasons why they lost the closing game for them last Tuesday is because some of them never felt the urgency of winning game six. But for him, Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen, it’s all about urgency, especially that age is catching up with them. They are nearing that stage that all of Boston’s Big Threes have stood on—retirement. When Bird, McHale and Parish retired, they gave Boston their last championship before the franchise went on hiatus until 2008, with the re-emergence of a new triumvirate. Hopefully, Pierce, Garnett, and Allen, as they near their retirement, can do the same for the little green leprechaun. After all, the only way for them to join the elite club of the Best Ballers of Boston is for them to win a second ring.
Boston will be one less starter in game seven: Kendrick Perkins’ knee situation could be career-ending unless he sits out the final game of the series. Doc Rivers will not risk a Willis Reed with Perkins against the possibility of keeping him stronger for the upcoming seasons where he can still be useful. But if there is anything that hurts Kendrick more than his knee, it is the frustrating fact that he can’t join the fray for his brothers in the clincher game.
Not that LA has no problems with one of their big men. But compared to Perkins, Andrew Bynum can still afford to play a couple of minutes, provide defense on the post, get some good shots, and stave off Garnett or Wallace, before sitting down. For Perkins, there’s no way he will be on the floor when game seven tips off.
The Larry O’Brien Trophy. Another championship banner. Championship rings on each of their fingers. A victory over their rival. And of course, the bragging rights.
Just so we will be reminded, all the marbles are on the line on Thursday.
The Los Angeles Lakers pushed the NBA Finals series to the ultimate do-or-die situation by crushing the Boston Celtics at the Staples Center, 89-67.
From the get-go all the way to the final buzzer, LA did not relinquish their grip on the game, as they got all the open shots, second chance points, rebounds and hustle plays that sealed the deal for them to stage a Game Seven fray against their fiercest rivals.
The last time there was a game seven in the NBA Finals was in 2005, also between the two champions of the two previous seasons. The San Antonio Spurs, champions of the 2003 season, was pitted against the Detroit Pistons, the champs of the 2004 season. The Spurs went on to win the series.
Between the Celtics and Lakers, they have met in a game seven three out of the 11 times they’ve squared off in the Finals. All three were won by Boston. The last time they went to the ultimate game was in 1969. The Lakers had the home court advantage also in that year, and was led by their three greatest players, Wilt Chamberlain, Elgin Baylor and Jerry West. The Celtics team for that season was being branded as “aging and ready to retire,” pretty much the same criticism being thrown against the Celtics team of this present season. But the Celtics went on to win that series, the last one during the Bill Russell era.
Minutes after Game Four concluded with a win by Boston, NBA TV analyst Kenny Smith predicted that the series will go to a game seven. His fearless prediction came true.
The Lakers sort of reminded everyone what can happen if a defending champion team is being threatened with the prospect of being dethroned by their greatest rival. In this case they showed it by a winning margin of 22 over their foe.
Talk about which team feels more pressure is not as significant as it is if it were a game five or six. That there is a game seven means all odds have evened out. The ultimate test is to know who really gets to take it all home with them. Even history has to be silent for the moment in telling who will win. Phil Jackson has never lost a series where he took the first game, but the Celtics have never ever lost in a game seven against the Lakers.
Which means this series has become more exciting.
The previously downplayed Big Four has finally emerged from hiatus to power the Boston Celtics past the Los Angeles Lakers in their Game Five square-off last Sunday, 92-86. The Men in Green are just a game away from clinching their second title in three years.
Celtics veteran Paul Pierce gave the much needed boost with 27 points to lead his team to a crucial win that puts the Lakers to the brink of elimination. Kevin Garnett added 18 points and controlled the boards with 18 rebounds. Rajon Rondo had 18 points as well, while Ray Allen chipped in 12, though none came from beyond the arc.
While Kobe Bryant kept his team within striking distance against Boston, it was the lackadaisical showing of Pau Gasol that hurt the team’s efforts in catching up with Boston. Kobe was 38 points strong in game five, but Gasol was only 12. The other starters were not as much as significant in their contributions on the floor that night as well. And while their bench gave off 14 compared to Boston’s reserves with 13, it was the combined force of Pierce, Garnett, Allen and Rondo that made it possible for Boston to close their final game of the season in Boston with a crucial victory.
Game Six will be played in LA, and so will Game Seven if Boston fails to close out in 6.
Here’s where conflicts in history come in. While Phil Jackson has never lost a series where he won Game One, Boston has never lost a Game Seven against LA in all of their 9 championship wins against them. Obviously, LA will come out strong and focused for Game Six. A win for them sends the series to the ultimate do-or-die situation–a Game Seven. As it turns out, Jackson’s history will have to face Boston’s.
LA’s chances of catching up Boston and pushing the series to the last game is big. They have the last two games happening in their floor. Winning Game Six, however, doesn’t mean more pressure is on Boston. LA will feel the pressure of a game seven as well, especially the prospect that Boston might spoil the fun for LA right in their own backyard. This was the very same thing that Bill Russell did against Wilt Chamberlain during their Finals Series way back, when Boston, the underrated, aging underdogs, snatched away from a Lakers team led by Chamberlain, Elgin Baylor and Jerry West, the championship, on a game seven right in LA’s home court.
If Boston wins, they get one more banner, at the expense of taking away from LA the championship crown. But a win for LA gets them one banner closer to tying Boston for the franchise with the most championships.
And as for Kobe, a win will make him one championship away from Michael Jordan, and hopefully silence his critics about the comparison between him and the man everyone hails as the greatest in the game ever.
The “Shrek and Donkey” tandem of Glen Davis and Nate Robinson gave the much needed boost for the Boston Celtics as they won Game Four of the NBA Finals Series, 96-89.
For whatever reason that he did not elaborate on, it was Nate who branded his team-up with Davis as such. But far from being a hilarious duo on the court or the press con table, these two reserves contributed the much-needed fire power whenever the Big Three or any of the starters were being relieved of their tasks. Combined, they were an efficient 61% in field goals, compared to the 41% mediocre output of Paul Pierce, Ray Allen, and Kevin Garnett.
Relatively, however, mediocre for the Big Three meant they had 44 points of Boston’s 96, which was nearly half of the total. The difference was that usually, these three were the only offensive certainties for Boston at any given night. Rondo, if put into the equation, has 10 points, making the total to 54–more than half of the total already.
But they need to sit some minutes out, don’t they?
Enter Shrek and Donkey.
Davis, who played half the minutes of Ray Allen, was 7-10 in field goals, led the team in offensive rebounds, and gave Boston the second chance points they needed to establish a safe buffer for their lead.
Thirteen times the lead changed between the two rivals, and ten times they were tied. This was certainly tighter than when Boston lost to LA in game three. In fact, stats for this series would reveal that on nights when there were not much lead changes and tied scores, LA went on to win. In Game One of their series, there was only one time that the lead changed from Boston to LA, and only twice that the score was tied. In Game Three, there were only three lead changes and two knotted scores, and the Lakers also won that. When Boston beat LA in Game Two at Staples, there were 22 lead changes and 11 tied scores.
It would seem Boston emerges the winner in close matches.
Percentages might fool a layman to thinking that LA was a better team. But despite being better in field goal percentage and beyond-the-arc shooting, LA had fewer attempts than Boston. In field goals, Boston had five more connections than LA, but obviously had to attempt more. In three point shooting, Ray Allen’s hot hands went frozen again, as he was 0-4 from behind the line.
But as for Paul Pierce, he lead the way for Boston with 19 points, 6 rebounds and 5 assists, and gave Nate and Glen the chance to pick up from the game and seal the deal. He took over the rotating of the ball, and melted down LA’s defense, making key passes that allowed for more fluidity under the net and through the driving lanes.
There’s one more game at TD Bankworth on Sunday (Monday here in Manila). The series has finally gone to a six game duel, and if one or the either takes another win–either home or away–this classic match-up will go the distance.
The Boston Celtics came home to a loud and rowdy crowd.
But the Los Angeles Lakers played to silence them all.
Edging the Celtics by seven points, the Lakers are now up 2-1 in their Finals rivalry courtesy of a 91-84 win on the road at the TD Garden. Kobe Bryant led all scorers with 29 points, while Kevin Garnett, making for two dismal nights of playing on the road, notched 25 points for the Celtics.
Derek Fisher was the key to LA’s win on the road, putting up 11 of his 16 points in the second half, not to mention the terrific defense he covered against Ray Allen. Fish’s performance not only snuffed out the life from Ray Allen’s shooting, but also helped the Lakers keep their seven-point margin from Boston until the final buzzer.
If Garnett had made up for his uncharacteristic outing in games one and two, it was Allen who was on the other side of things. Just two nights earlier he was 8-of-11 from beyond the arc. All of a sudden, he was 0-of-13 in their very own home floor. If only three of those thirteen went in, Boston would have kept the home court edge.
It was Boston’s bench that kept their team within striking distance down the stretch against the Lakers. Glen Davis and Tony Allen dared to bang bodies with Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol under the post, and they had more times successful in getting scores. But as the minutes ticked by, Fish flipped the switch on and gave LA enough cushion to steal one on the road. Add to that the many possessions they got as time was winding down, but their missed shots and infractions away from the ball cost them the game.
LA now has the home court edge back.
Boston will have to win both games at home and steal one on the road if they want to end the series in six. Otherwise, LA can win it all away from home and seal the deal in five. Phil Jackson, talking to his team at the dug-out minutes after they were trampled in Game Two, mentioned that he’d rather not go home to LA and win the championship there. After all, its sweeter to vanquish the foe right in their own ground.
As for Boston, this is far from over for them.
The 103-94 win by the Boston Celtics reminded everyone that home court advantages mean nothing to them.
And it had to be done in record-breaking fashion.
Ray Allen, after three nights of dismal shooting from behind the arc, notched eight three pointers of eleven attempts, surpassing the record of seven three pointers in a Finals game, that was set eight years ago by no less than Michael Jordan. 27 of Allen’s 32 points came from the first half, and it would have seemed he was out of gas for the next half of the fray.
Enter Rajon Rondo.
Rondo, who was disappointing in Game One as Allen was, stepped up big time with his in-the-paint assault, slick dishes to his teammates, and big-time rebounds, giving him a triple-double figure that night to keep the Celtics on top the charging Lakers, who waged on for the last 5 minutes of the quarter, until everything went south for them.
Pau Gasol has been dominant for the Lakers and over Kevin Garnett. In their first game meeting, age showed up and slowed down Garnett versus a more versatile Gasol, who’s 25 points dwarfed Garnett’s 6. Andrew Bynum and Kobe Bryant notched only 21 points (something we don’t see from Kobe usually in ANY game), and every one else who stepped on the floor were nondescript.
As for Boston, they had a total turn around from their lukewarm performance two nights ago. They outrebounded LA, 44-39, moved the ball better as reflected by their 28 assists, compared to LA’s 18, and they had lesser turnovers.
Allen’s barrage of three pointers gave Boston 66% accuracy beyond the arc, while LA had only 5 out of 22 tries, a dismal 22%. Boston also had better field goal percentage than LA, and was shooting better in the charity line than when any Laker was taking one.
The Lakers are now sporting a 4-4 record in wins and loses on the road. Boston, on the other hand, is 6-2.
Kobe Bryant, having been troubled with fouls early in the game, was limited in his production. While he came in with clutch shots to salvage the Lakers late in the game, it also happened that Rondo stepped up big for the C’s.
Game three will be played in Boston on Tuesday (Wednesday here in the Philippines). Either Boston guards well their advantage for the next three matches, or LA storms back and takes one on the road.
What happens next in Boston for the next three nights will be crucial in deciding who wins, or goes home.
They have the home court advantage. They have the current championship crown. They have the best record in the league coming into the finals. Obviously, there should be no more reason why they shouldn’t win game one.
The Los Angeles Lakers led all the way from tip off to final buzzer as they defeated the Boston Celtics in Game One of their NBA Finals Series, 102-89. Kobe Bryant was clicking on all cylinders as he led the defending champs with 30 points. Pau Gasol added another 23 to solidify their grip on the series, which can also be their best chance of avenging their humiliating loss to the Celtics two seasons ago when Boston won as champions of the basketball world.
Winning Game One of Series doesn’t really matter much–unless Phil Jackson was your coach. If history had her way, Boston should just think about how it can smoothly exit the series: Phil Jackson is a flawless 47-0 in every series that his team took the opening game.That fact seems invincible.
But Boston has its own share of invincibilities as well.
Despite losing the first game, Boston can still rob LA of their precious home court advantage, defend their own edge at TD Bankworth three straight times, and once again be the champs. The Celtics are the number two team when it comes to winning games on the road. And they will have to bring out the best of that advantage if ever they would want to blemish Jackson’s immaculate record. Otherwise, there won’t be much talk about them being in the Finals after all.
The Lakers relied on solid offense, and was able to disorient Boston’s stifling defense. They were also quicker in transition offense, with Pau Gasol doing much of the sprinting. And what about Jordan Farmar slicing through the paint and attacking a Kevin Garnett-guarded basket? That tells you enough about how the fabled Boston defense has remained no more than a fable tonight.
Looking further into their stat sheets, LA out-rebounded Boston. That might be acceptable in other nights, except that tonight, the leading rebounder for Boston was Paul Pierce, who should have been better getting the points, rather than getting the boards. And his efforts were nowhere near those of Gasol’s and Bynum’s. That the Lakers have two big men catching the leather gives the guards like Kobe, Farmar, and Fish a lot of breathing space, and offensive juices, to pull their lead away from Boston.
Boston’s ball rotation wasn’t exquisite either. They were just one assist better than LA. This meant two things for LA: they were either doing just as good in their ball movement, or they have adjusted to Boston’s plays well enough to check their swingmen, Rondo, Pierce and Robinson. This meant also two things for Boston: either Doc Rivers wasn’t prepared to mesh up some of his tricks, or LA was just playing them with their own game.
For this reason, LA is leading the series, 1-0.
But just like any other gritty series, we can all go ahead now and forget game one.
Once Boston hits the floor on their next meeting, they will have to prove that being the number two road-winning team can get them one game to tie the series. Otherwise, Los Angeles will have more reasons to trample them this time, get their vengeance, and get back to back championships when this is all over.