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When Sasha's Your Best Guard, You're Probably Going to Lose

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I'm trying to sit here and explain to the world why this game doesn't matter. There's a decent argument to be made to that effect, and I'd love to convince myself of it. It's only one game out of 82. The probability is slim that it'll matter in any kind of race for home-court advantage. The outcome, a one-point loss suffered without Kobe Bryant at the hands of a desperate, elite opponent, probably says better things about the Lakers than it does the Celtics. All those statements are more or less correct and hold up to some analytical pounding.

But... come on. I'm not made of stone. No one's that coldly analytical. I wanted this one. It's the Celtics, man. Staples was rocking tonight, and I got sucked in, especially with the great Laker comeback in the fourth quarter. And with Cleveland stumbling earlier in the night, allowing an opportunity to make up crucial ground? I wanted this one badly.

You could say the game was lost before any of us really started watching. The Cavs-Nuggets undercard went to overtime, so TNT didn't cut over until seven minutes or so were left in the first, with the Celtics up 13-8. From that point until the end of the game the Lakers outscored them by four points. So if you think about it, the Lakers really were the better team for most of the night....

I'm not making you feel any better, am I? Yeah, I'm not buying it either.

This was a savage contest that, for all its off-the-charts stress content and unfortunate conclusion, was a delight to watch. Even though the Lakers lost, there's no other way I'd prefer to have spent the evening. When two excellent teams are crushing each other like they were tonight, we NBA fans are rewarded for all the crapfests we sit through during the regular season. Strictly in terms of entertainment value, there's not much more we could've asked from this one.

Digging into the analytics, let's start with the free throws. Both teams missed a bunch of them. The Celtics shot 8 of 13 (62%) and the Lakers 16 of 25 (64%). Had both sides shot their season averages, Boston would've earned an extra three points and the Lakers an extra two. So yeah, it's legitimate to look at those honked freebies and see a pretty crucial failing.

The Lakers' most systemic breakdown, however, came from their backcourt. With Kobe Bryant missing his fifth straight game, someone from the group of Derek Fisher, Shannon Brown, Jordan Farmar and Sasha Vujacic had to plug the hole. Sasha, weirdly enough, had a brilliant stretch in the fourth that sparked the Lakers' comeback and put them ahead briefly, but they needed a 30-minute, starter-caliber performance from one of those guys, and they didn't get it.

The trio of Fisher, Farmar and Brown was just dreadful. They combined for only 16 points on an unbelievably bad 27% True Shooting. Fisher, meanwhile, got vaporized on defense over and over, letting Ray Allen run wild for 24. On the whole it was a strong team performance on D, as the Lakers allowed the Celtics only 0.97 points per possession, the fifth straight game they've held their opponents below the 1.00 PPP waterline. That's truly stellar. But seeing Fish get worked over and over and over.... I can't say it wasn't painful.

A few endgame moments will be remembered unfondly. On the next-to-last Laker possession with the Celtics up one, Pau Gasol made a terrible pass to Shannon Brown that led to a turnover. After Paul Pierce missed a layup on the other end and Lamar Odom snagged the rebound, the refs failed at first to see Gasol signaling for a timeout, costing the Lakers a few valuable seconds. And when they ran a final play, it was an inbounds set for Fish (um, what?) that predictably failed.

As a general matter I think we tend to place too much emphasis on events, good and bad, that happen at the very end of games, forgetting all the crucial moments in the first and second quarters that count for just as many points on the scoreboard. But if you want to hash over those last 50 seconds in detail, I won't try to talk you out of it. Like I said, I'm not made of stone.

The Lakers are now 42-14, 1½ games plus a tiebreaker behind Cleveland and five games ahead of Denver. They don't play again until next Tuesday, in Memphis. It's going to be a long five days.

 

Poss.

TO%

FTA/
FGA

FT%

3FGA/FGA

2PT%

3PT%

EFG

TS%

OReb Rate

DReb Rate

PPP

Bos.

90

12

0.15

62

0.18

46

33

47

48

17

76

0.97

L.A.

92

13

0.30

64

0.20

44

25

43

46

24

83

0.93

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