NBA Finals - Game 4 Recap
Boston 96, L.A. Lakers 89 - Series tied, 2-2
An unpredictable, up-and-down championship series just got weirder Thursday night.
The Boston Celtics didn't mind.
In yet another contest with confounding floor combinations and a bizarre box score, this clash of champions between the Celtics and the Los Angeles Lakers - which has not been a classic by any means - did manage to become more intriguing. This best-of-seven battle has lacked artistry and precision, but it hasn't been lacking for tension or surprises. Now that the Celtics have knotted up the competition at two games apiece, this series will go at least six games and will return to Los Angeles, where the Lawrence F. O'Brien Trophy will be handed out sometime next week.
What is the source of endless fascination in these 2010 Finals, which - unlike the 2008 series - are dead even through four throwdowns? Quite simply, unheralded players are turning into stars. This is often more of an NCAA Tournament narrative than an NBA Finals theme. Usually, college basketball is the realm in which no-names turn into national conversation pieces. The NBA is the domain where the superstars are supposed to deliver the goods.
On a night when the Lakers' main men actually were the stars, the Celtics were the ones who prevailed with a patchwork lineup that shockingly found success.
Don't blame Kobe Bryant or Pau Gasol for the Lakers' loss at TD Garden. Kobe poured in 33 points and didn't need 25 or 30 shots to do so. The game's best player needed only 22 looks to ring up his big number. Gasol, L.A.'s potent post presence, added 21 points thanks to a 9-of-10 effort from the foul line. Kobe and Gasol combined for 16 free-throw makes in 18 trips to the charity stripe. The Lake Show's determined duo held up its end of the bargain.
The problem for Phil Jackson and the rest of the Laker coaching staff was that no one else in a purple uniform was able to answer the bell. The Celtics, on the other hand, saw their whole team respond to the urgency of a 2-1 series deficit.
Boston hit only 45 percent of its shots and nailed just 3 3-point field goals. Coach Doc Rivers saw his team labor its way to just 60 points through three quarters, as point guard Rajon Rondo missed layup after layup while Ray Allen (4 of 11) continued to struggle with his jump shot. The Celtics got quality looks but didn't knock them down, and with Kobe lurking on the opponent's bench, a relatively even game (62-60, Lakers) entering the fourth and final period was not a scenario the C's were comfortable with.
Then, two nights after Derek Fisher improbably carried Los Angeles to a series lead, a pair of decidedly unexpected heroes emerged for the Eastern Conference champions.
If you were floored by Fisher in Game 3, you had to have been bowled over by Glen Davis and Nate Robinson. Yes, the beefy Big Baby and Robinson - a diminutive sparkplug - were seen on the floor for much of the final stanza with teammates Tony Allen (not Ray), Rasheed Wallace, and Kevin Garnett. Rivers benched his most historically reliable performers - Rondo, Ray Allen, and Paul Pierce - at a point in the game normally reserved for... well... non-reserves. To old-time basketball fans who remember the Laker-Celtic showdowns of the 1980s, the idea that Magic, Bird, Kareem, McHale, Worthy, or Parish would not be on the floor with six minutes left in regulation would have been well-nigh unthinkable.
This series has broken the mold. Even more amazingly, the unorthodox gang of five worked for Boston. Wallace and Tony Allen were terrible at the offensive end, but their length bothered the Lakers defensively and gave value to the Celtics when they were on the floor. Garnett wasn't exceptional, but he played an entirely solid game (13 points, 6 rebounds) and was anything but the liability he proved to be in Games 1 and 2.
And then came Davis and Robinson. Davis - who drooled, slobbered and cussed his way through a typical performance brimming with his signature antics and bad manners - was rude and inhospitable not just to the national TV audience, but to the Laker front line. Big Baby scored 18 points and was flatly the Celtics' go-to guy in the first half of the fourth quarter. It's not a stretch at all to say that Davis' second-half surge made him the Celtics' most valuable player on Thursday.
Robinson wasn't far behind. The former New York Knick - who was flatlining in these playoffs before his breakthrough in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Finals against Orlando - used his fresh legs and limitless energy to carve through the Lakers' defense and finish shots within 12 feet of the basket. Robinson's slashing and dashing represented both a good complement and a tricky change of pace that Los Angeles couldn't solve. Robinson finished with 12 points on a night when Boston's bench doubled L.A.'s reserves, 36 points to 18. In a seven-point contest, it's fair to say that was the number one difference maker in Game 4. Yes, Rondo and Pierce provided key buckets late to fend of L.A.'s last push, but the bench and the supporting actors clearly upstaged the Kobe-Gasol superstar set.
What unlikely hero and what floor combinations will emerge in Game 5? Who the heck knows? This series has been ugly and choppy, but it's surely been anything other than a tedious cookie-cutter event. Look for a fresh plot twist on Sunday, with the winning author taking a decisive step toward a title in a series that just got a little longer.
By: Matt Zemek
Pro Basketball Fans Staff Writer
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