NBA Finals Game 2: The pride of Queensbridge, the shame of Queensbridge

The Boston Celtics reversed their fortunes in Game 2 of the NBA Finals, coming away with a 103-94 win in Staples Center, and the split of the first two games they so desperately wanted and needed.  So many things changed from Game 1 to Game 2, and, when considering the two teams involved, that shouldn't surprise you in the least.  The Boston Celtics and the Los Angeles Lakers are many things; champions, veterans, versatile, big, etc etc, but the one quality that fails to describe either team is consistency.

In no place was that inconsistency more clear for the Lakers than in the play of the boys from Queensbridge.  I suppose it's harsh to put this loss entirely on Ron Artest and Lamar Odom's shoulders, there were plenty of other factors involved as well, but these two guys had a much bigger hand in the loss than most.  For Odom, it was the same script from Game 1, except without the team's happy ending to keep his story off the front page.  Artest, on the other hand, was one of the heroes of Game 1, and the reversal of his play is one of the factors that stands out the most from Game 1 to Game 2, especially down the stretch of the 4th quarter.

We'll start with Odom.  3 fouls in 3 minutes.  That describes the entirety of LO's first half.  Combined with the 3 fouls he picked up in 6 minutes in Game 1, Lamar has effectively fouled out of the 1st half of these games in a combined 8 minutes.  Travis Knight is not impressed.  Beyond the fouls, though perhaps intrinsically linked to them as well, Lamar has provided nothing off the bench:  4 points, 4.5 rebounds, and 1.5 turnovers in 18 minutes per game.  He's easily been the worst Laker to see the court over the past two games.  Consistency has never, and will never, be a part of Lamar's game, but the Lakers need his inconsistency to show up soon, because his NBA Finals effort so far has been consistently awful.

Unfortunately, he had company tonight, in the form of Ron Artest.  Artest had one of those games that makes you afraid to have him on your team.  The box is bad:  1-10 shooting, 3-8 from the FT line, 6 points and 3 turnovers, but the box doesn't tell the story nearly as well as it would seem.  In the 4th quarter, Artest killed the Lakers chance to pull this game out with a variety of poorly selected shots and strange decisions.  He took 3 shots in the final period, and they were all woefully ill-advised.  One could point positively to his defense of Paul Pierce (who only had 10 points on 2-11 shooting), but the gains made on the defensive end failed to balance the losses made on the offensive end.  Besides, Pierce had plenty of open looks last night, he was just off. 

Then again, anybody who doesn't man the center position for the L.A. from time to time can fit in the "Bad" category in this game.  Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum carried the Lakers, and if a victory had been obtained, they would clearly be the story.  Despite Boston's convincing win, it seems clear that Pau will not be outmatched in this series, just as clearly as it seems that having Andrew Bynum does make a huge difference when playing the Celtics.  On top of scoring a goodly chunk of the Lakers points, both bigs were huge (no pun inten ... nevermind, I meant it) on the defensive end, coming up with 13 blocks between the two.  Much of their damage done was at the free throw line, as they combined for 25 of the Lakers 41 attempts from the stripe, putting every Celtics big man in foul trouble in the process.  If there is one positive to be taken from this game, it is that Boston has been incapable of dealing with the Lakers size in two straight games.  That is all the more incredible when you consider how poorly LO has played.  Bynum in particular has really stepped up in a way that not many of us thought he could, considering his injuries.  It's clear the knee draining procedure has done him wonders, much like it did for Kobe a few weeks ago.  Maybe LO should get his knee drained, too.  What's that you say?  He doesn't have any fluid in his knee?  Fine, drain some out of his head then.

Of course, any summation of Game 2 would be woefully incomplete without acknowledging the spectacular display put on by one Ray Allen.  I'm sure you've all heard the numbers:  8 three pointers (an NBA Finals record) including his first 7 attempts of the game, all in the 1st half.  Ray Ray unleashed all the frustration from his foul-plagued 27 minutes in Game 1 by finding seems throughout.  Whether he was getting space via screens (Pau Gasol did a particularly poor job early on of showing on those screens) or in transition (When Kobe left the game because of fouls, Shannon Brown played Ray Allen as if he was the Invisible Man, losing track of him repeatedly), Allen made everything count, on his way to 27 1st half points.  Of course, one of his biggest plays of the 1st half might have been the obscenely bad flop he used to convince Joe DeRosa to call an offensive foul on Kobe Bryant, giving Kobe 3 fouls and allowing for Kobe's 4th and 5th fouls (both of a dubious nature) to keep Bryant from playing much, and reducing his effectiveness when he did play.  That moment really caused me to have a crisis of faith.  Even Jesus flops.

Kobe was indeed rendered ineffective, because he was so worried about picking up that last foul that he was unable to do the things required to pull out a victory down the stretch.  When the Celtics moved the ball around well, and Bryant was the defender rotating over, he had to let layups go instead of making an attempt at the block.  On offense, he went 3-8 in the final period, with no attempts at the rim, because he was afraid of picking up a charge.  This performance will certainly not go down in the annals of Kobe Bryant's history, but it's not like he stunk up the joint either.  He did have 6 assists and 5 boards to go with his 21 points.  On the other hand, he also had 5 turnovers, 1/3 of the team total he was so pissed off about after the game.

Despite Kobe's (and Lamar's) bad luck with the officiating, the Lakers clearly got the overall benefit of the whistles, perhaps for the first time in these playoffs.  LA had a +15 FT disparity, despite intentionally fouling the C's in the final minute to drive up their number.  Particularly inside, Boston couldn't do much of anything without a whistle being blown.  There were some pointedly bad calls in the Celtics favor, but if we're calling spades spades, as we have done throughout the playoffs, that FT edge was pretty insane. 

There isn't much carry over from the series against the Phoenix Suns to this series against the Boston Celtics, but the one thing that does carry over is that the Lakers will have much more defensive success when their offense doesn't sputter.  Especially in the first half, the Lakers failed to limit the Celtics in transition, and that transition game was caused by a ton of turnovers, and because Rajon Rondo displayed a nose for the ball that 6'0" point guards shouldn't possess.  Rondo was brilliant all around, rebounding (again with the puns) from a poor Game 1 with a triple double, but his rebounds were the key.  Of Rondo's 12 rebounds, 9 resulted in a shot attempt within 6 seconds (especially telling when those rebounds came on the defensive end), and 7 of those 9 were successful, including two of Ray Allen's 1st half threes.

For the Celtics, it's mission accomplished over the first two games.  They acheived the split they needed, and now hold the homecourt edge, though in the 2-3-2 format, for them to actually utilize that edge all the way through seems highly unlikely.  Andrew Bynum said it best in the locker room, stating "The Celtics haven't taken home court until they win Game 3."  If the Celtics win 4 straight, they will be worthy champions, but more than likely they will have to win at least one more game in Los Angeles in order to obtain the big prize.  For the Lakers, this game represented many firsts, very few of them positive.  It's the first time they've been beaten at home.  It's the first time they've been outscored from the field.  It's the first time they've held a +20 FT disparity (not really, but I'm discounting the intentional end of game fouls).  It will be the first time they HAVE TO win a game on the road in these playoffs.  The Lakers probably picked the wrong time to throw up a real stinker, but they have the capability of redeeming themselves, just as Boston has shown a penchant for losing at least one home game per series. 

 As they say, a series doesn't start until someone wins on the road, and this baby is just getting started.

Postgame audio below.  It was a real madhouse, so some of it is real hard to understand.

Lamar Odom postgame NBA Finals Game 2

Ron Artest postgame NBA Finals Game 2

Shannon Brown postgame NBA Finals Game 2

Kobe Bryant postgame NBA Finals Game 2

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