I hope the members of the Los Angeles Lakers failed to get a good night's sleep last night. I hope their dreams were haunted by the ghosts of opportunities past. Opportunities that they could have capitalized on, but failed to do so because, well, because that requires too much work.
Game 5 wasn't a lost opportunity. Game 5 was an expected result. Not expected in the sense that it was how we thought the game would play out beforehand (because I sure as hell could have found a better use of my time if I expected that to happen). But, it's expected that, over the course of a 7 game series, there will be a game in which one team plays well and the other team plays poorly. It's how the Lakers won game 1. That's just generally how basketball works. Sometimes you have it, sometimes you don't. If you don't, and your opponent does, tough cookies.
There's just one problem: The Celtics didn't have it in Game 4, and they still won. If, at some point over the next week, the Celtics raise the Larry O'Brien in Staples Center as the Southland collectively vommits, the Lakers will not look upon last night's game with a ton of regret. They will look at game 4 ... and they will look at game 2, because those are the games the Lakers could have won. Those are the games the Lakers should have won. Those were the games the Lakers failed to win, because, despite actually winning a championship, they still have failed to learn what the phrase "championship effort" really means.
This isn't about game 2, and it's not about game 4. If you want to hear about those games, check the archives. This is about Game 5. Anybody who thinks the Lakers got out worked in game 5, kindly raise your hand. Now take that hand, and use it to slap yourself across the face. Last night wasn't about desire. The Lakers had 16 offensive rebounds. They forced 16 Boston turnovers. Yes, there were some massive defensive breakdowns, but those breakdowns were caused by the simple fact that, just about everywhere the Lakers looked on the court, the Celtics had a guy that was superior on the 1 v 1 matchup. They didn't know where to help from, because they couldn't help from anywhere.
Last night, outside of Ray Allen's 3 pt shot, the Celtics performed at the absolute top end of their offensive spectrum. Paul Pierce went 12-21 from the field. Take a look at his shot chart. There are a couple in close, but not one single attempt at the rim, and most of his damage was done from 15-23 feet. He didn't score because the Lakers sucked or lacked effort defending him. He scored because he's fucking Paul Pierce. You may hate him (and I certainly do) but there's a reason the tag "Future Hall of Famer" is attached before his name, and that reason had failed to show up in this series until last night. In fact, I would go so far as to say that the Lakers spent more effort defending Pierce than they have for most of the series. The shots he nailed in Game 5 were much less open than the many of the ones he bricked in the first 4 games. This wasn't the collosal failure to stick with a guy that we saw with Ray Allen in game 2.
And Pierce wasn't the only one. KG played well for the 2nd time in 5 games, Ray Allen didn't hit threes but he found his spots to be effective elsewhere, and with all his weapons firing, Rondo was able to find the seems of the Lakers defense. He even hit his jumpshots. For crying out loud, Tony Allen hit a 20 footer and Kendrick Perkins hit a fade-away. Tip your cap, pay your respects, and pray the Celtics don't collectively have one more of those performances in them. If they do, they will likely win the game, unless the rest of the Lakers raise the level of their games just as much.
This is neither the typical "Celtics had everything going and only won by 6" drivel, nor the "OMG The Lakers have no chance, look how much better the Celtics are" over-reaction. Game 5 happened. It means nothing now. If that sequence of events happens again, the Lakers will likely lose. I'm not telling you it will or it won't, what I'm telling you is that it did happen is neither an indication that it will happen again, nor that it can't happen again. Momentum is dead in this series. Tell Ray Allen that a performance like last night's carries over to the next game. Tell it to Pau Gasol. The only player, on either team, who's performance has been consistent throughout this series has been our best friend, LO, and that consistency is made out of shit.
It should be pointed out that, in the 2-3-2 format, this series is exactly where it is supposed to be. While the script hasn't been followed to a T, and the Celtics are clearly capable of beating the Lakers in Staples Center, the Lakers do have home court advantage. They will have the crowd at their back, which is theoretically very important considering how tired these two old teams are at the end of a very long season, not to mention how much better bench players tend to play at home. Being down, especially this late, in a playoff series is never a good thing, but, in a series between two evenly matched teams, things are as they should be. It's up to the Lakers to once again live up to their end of the billing.
But therein lies the problem. Yes, the Lakers have two home games, and yes, this is what's supposed to happen in a 7 game series. The problem is that the NBA Finals script doesn't actually come pre-written. The Celitcs can smell a championship. It looks as if they have played the Rope-A-Dope strategy to perfection, all that's needed is one final knockout blow. They have two chances to have another game like last night's, two chances to have everything click in their favor. I wish I could tell you otherwise, but these guys are champions for a reason, and have a decent chance to pull off the feat.
The Lakers now have a very simple equation put in front of them: Win or fail. There are no more 2nd chances, no more respites. They no longer have a fall back. I have no idea whether that will help or hurt them. Over the past two years, they've always won when they needed to, but they've never needed to like this. We don't know how they'll respond to the pressure, because this pressure is brand new, even to the defending champions. Pressure can make diamonds, but it can also make lungs collapse. We know Kobe Bryant is made of diamonds, but his teammates will remain a mystery until the deed is done, one way or another. All there is to do now is watch the pressure gauge rise, and see what happens.