NBA Finals - Game 5 Recap
Boston 92, L.A. Lakers 86 - Celtics lead series, 3-2
In an ugly game near the end of a very unattractive series marred by low-IQ basketball, the Boston Celtics were able to produce two gorgeous plays. As a result, they did what they absolutely had to do in the middle three games of the 2010 NBA Finals.
Ever since the NBA adopted the 2-3-2 travel format for its championship series, the calculus has been pretty clear: The team that plays the middle three games at home must lead 3-2 after five games in order to have any realistic chance of claiming the league title. No NBA team has ever won the Finals by winning Game 6 and Game 7 on the road. If Boston was going to reclaim the title the Los Angeles Lakers swiped from the C's in 2009, Game 5 was a must-win proposition. While it's technically true that the Lakers are one loss away from ultimate defeat, this series is actually just on serve at this point. Yet, the Celtics can fall back on the fact that they have two chances to close out the reigning champs, not just one.
Why is coach Doc Rivers' group one win away from the finish line? You only needed to look at two remarkable sequences fashioned in the crucible of late-game competition on basketball's biggest stage.
The Lakers had trailed by a double-digit margin for portions of the third quarter, but thanks to Kobe Bryant's 19-point third - en route to 38 points for the Black Mamba - Los Angeles was able to remain within striking distance. With just 5:30 left, Boston owned a solid but not entirely comfortable 83-75 lead. The C's stood a long way from the finish line, and more gut-check possessions were needed if they were going to win their final home game of this long and arduous season.
Enter Ray Allen, Paul Pierce, and Rajon Rondo.
On defense with 5:30 left and the Lakers trying to cut the lead to six, Kobe drove along the right side of the lane and lost the ball. Allen, running toward the baseline, caught the ball and, while turning, saw Rondo beginning to run downcourt in the other direction. Allen found enough mustard on his pass to hit Rondo at midcourt, sprinting up the left sideline. Rondo outraced Derek Fisher to the rim and converted a layup which extended the Celtics' lead to 85-75.
Then, a few minutes later, Boston sealed Game 5 with an even more remarkable display of catching and passing.
With the Celtics leading by a tenuous 87-82 count with 38 seconds left, a risky inbounds pass headed toward Pierce near the right sideline in the frontcourt. Pierce - like Allen a few minutes earlier - drifted toward the boundary, but he was also able to see Rondo racing toward the basket. Pierce laid a perfect off-balance pass into Rondo's mitts, and the guard swooped to the tin to finish off the sensational high-wire act with a layup that sent TD Garden into a state of pure pandemonium. Two possessions that had "turnover" written all over them became highlight-reel game-savers for the Eastern Conference champions.
Why did the Lakers fall short for the second straight game in this series? For one thing, center Andrew Bynum is clearly unable to move effectively with his balky knees. The pivotal low-post presence for coach Phil Jackson scored just six points and grabbed only one rebound in 32 minutes. As a result, the C's were once again able to do damage in the paint, with Kevin Garnett (18 points, 10 rebounds, 5 steals) and Rondo snagging key offensive rebounds down the stretch. Pierce popped in 27 points for Boston and Rondo added 18 as the Celtics' starters outclassed the Lakers' foremost five. L.A. also suffered because Lamar Odom (8 points in 26 minutes) was inadequate on defense, while Derek Fisher - the hero of Game 3 - labored en route to a 2-of-9 shooting performance.
The Lakers are behind the eight ball, but they're going to play Game 6 at home. Boston faces a hard road ahead, but without this victory, the Celtics wouldn't have stood a chance in this baffling and quirky Finals series that's been intriguing yet not elegant.
Who cares about style points, though? One more win, and you can call the Celtics world champions.
By: Matt Zemek
Pro Basketball Fans Staff Writer
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