NBA Finals - Game 3 Recap
L.A. Lakers 91, Boston 84 - Lakers lead series, 2-1
In the game that would very likely swing the outcome of the 2010 NBA Finals, the player who pulled the pendulum in his team's direction did not appear on anyone's top five list of candidates.
Lamar Odom was solid for the Los Angeles Lakers on a night when his teammates needed him to perform at a high level, but the rangy forward made his contribution in the first half and not the second. Pau Gasol hit a key late bucket in the low post, but the Spaniard scored just 13 points and still didn't get as many touches as he could have or should have. Andrew Bynum - who played so well and courageously for the defending world champions in Game 2 - re-aggravated his knee injury and hit just 3 of 9 shots in a generally ineffective outing. Ron Artest played solid defense and took only four shots, which is what coach Phil Jackson and staff wanted him to do, but L.A.'s defensive stopper wasn't the main man in the mix for the Western Conference's best team.
So who could it be? Oh - of course: Kobe Bryant, right? The Black Mamba scored 29 points and led his team to a seven-point win in TD Garden, as the Lakers responded to their home-court loss in Game 2 with a road triumph two nights later on the other side of the country.
Well, that's actually not the right answer. Kobe did score 29 points, but he tallied just two points in the fourth quarter. The best player on the planet was surprisingly small, a sideshow to be brutally honest. Kobe faded from the scene in a strangely quiet fourth quarter on the road, when he usually takes over and insists on being the man to take the big shot in the final minutes. Kobe did hit all eight of his foul shots on Tuesday night in New England, but from the field, his performance was decidedly different. Kobe hoisted 29 shots in Game 3 and made only 10 of them. Kobe jacked up low-percentage threes well behind the three-point line instead of feeding Gasol in the low post and putting more pressure on the Celtics' big men to defend L.A.'s Spanish sequoia near the rim. If you wanted a Laker hero in this bruising Beantown battle, it wasn't the man you'd expect.
No, of all the people in a visiting purple uniform, the one man who towered over the rest of the proceedings in the fourth quarter was a man who had been written off by much of the Lakers' own fan base earlier in the season. In a fiercely-contested final period when the Celtics - down 17 in the first half - crept within a single point and got their home building juiced up, the man who met the moment for a proud Laker franchise was its Old Man of the Sea, its serene and sagely presence, the person who is universally acknowledged as the big brother on the L.A. roster.
Yes, when this sloppy but dramatic duel wound its way to the finish line, Derek Fisher owned the occasion.
Testy mid-range jumpers dropped. Slashes to the basket produced layups. And then, after Boston's Ray Allen missed his final 3-point shot on an 0-for-13 night (0 for 8 from 3-point range) that helped kill the Celtics' chances, Fisher caught the entire Boston defense sleepwalking in transition. Fisher saw his lane to the goal from the left sideline near midcourt. His sprint beat three white-jerseyed Boston defenders, and as Fisher got crushed, his soft teardrop kissed off the window and through the basket to give the Lakers an 86-80 lead with 48 seconds left. Fisher hit the subsequent foul shot, and the Lakers had regained control of the Finals.
Yes, this performance was improbable, but it's not as though it hasn't happened before. Fisher took control of last year's Finals for L.A. when he burned the Orlando Magic down the stretch in Game 4 of that series, nailing a tying triple late in regulation and then continuing to stick ballsy shots in overtime, as the Lakers - up 2-1 but teetering - found their footing and forged a 3-1 series lead. This Game 3 masterpiece similarly rescued the Lakers on a night when their best player took bad shots and Gasol - a matchup problem for Boston - still didn't get the amount of looks he needed to get.
Boston will lament the Ray Allen o-fer not just for its own sake (if Allen had made just 3 of 8 3-pointers, the C's would have had a different outlook on life; we might still be playing an overtime period or two), but because it wasted a great night by Kevin Garnett, the player who appeared hopelessly out of form in the first two games of this series. Garnett shrugged off all the obituaries that had been written about him after Game 2, as the proud professional led his team with 25 points on 11-of-16 shooting. For four quarters, Garnett hit tough shots and gave Boston the ballast it needed. However, with Allen missing all 13 shots, Paul Pierce hitting only 5 of 12 field goals, and Rajon Rondo getting outplayed by Fisher in the fourth quarter - a massive surprise - Garnett's exploits were all for naught.
Fine - don't bury Kevin Garnett just yet. However, if Boston doesn't win Game 4 on Thursday, you can start writing the obits for the Boston Celtics' season.
Derek Fisher will hold the pen and the ink well.
By: Matt Zemek
Pro Basketball Fans Staff Writer
> Read all of the pro basketball articles online from ProBasketball-fans.com.