All throughout the regular season, the Celtics, even when they won, rarely did it in easy fashion. Game Five of the NBA Finals was a flashback to those types of efforts, as holding on describes perfectly what Boston did on its way to the 92-86 victory. The Celtics now lead the series 3-2 with the Finals headed back to Los Angeles for Game Six on Tuesday night.
For much of the game, it had the feel as if the Celtics should have been far ahead. At halftime, Boston was shooting 65.6 percent from the field to just 33.3 percent for the Lakers. But, there was LA, right in the game, down only six points, 45-39.
Then in the third quarter, the Celtics at times looked ready to finally pull away. At the end of three, Boston was still shooting over 60 percent from the floor, and the Lakers under 40. But, again, the Lakers remained close, trailing by only eight, 73-65.
Finally, in the fourth quarter, Boston led by 12 points, 87-75 with under four minutes to play when Rajon Rondo flew in to tip in the rebound of a Paul Pierce miss. But, the Celtics could not put the game away, as they missed three free throws and made just one field goal the rest of the way (and shot just 7-20 overall in the fourth).
But, that lone field goal would be one to remember. Ron Artest went to the line with 43 seconds to play, with LA trailing by five, 87-82. Artest who had a night to forget, missed both free throws.
Kobe Bryant raced in from behind the three point line in an attempt to get the rebound, but Pierce secured the ball and called a timeout. The Celtics, though, only had four seconds to get past half court.
On the inbounds play, KG took the ball out of bounds and threw a risky pass into the front court that forced Piece to show off his wide receiver skills. Pierce came down near the sideline by the three point line, but was off balance. He spun and spotted a streaking Rondo. Pierce hit Rondo with a pass, as Artest gave chase, and Rondo finished off the reverse layup for the game-clinching bucket.
As for Artest, it was another mistake on his part, not only getting beat by Rondo to the hoop, but then not fouling someone who was shooting 26.7 percent from the free throw line in the Finals.
This series has been about different players stepping forward at different times. In Game Five, for the Celtics, it was Pierce and Kevin Garnett. Pierce had his best offensive game of the series, scoring 27 points on 12-21 shooting.
For Garnett, he had his first double-double of the Finals, with 18 points and 10 boards, to go with five steals. Rondo played well at times, with 18 points, five rebounds, and eight assists, but he also had seven turnovers. Most of Rondo's turnovers were of the unforced variety.
Ray Allen played tough defense on Bryant throughout, making Bryant work hard for every shot he took. But Allen was 0-4 from three and now has not made a three pointer since Game Two. Amazingly, Allen has failed to make a three in four of the five games. He has shot just 8-29 from three for the series, and is 0-18 if you discount his record-setting eight three pointers in Game Two.
On the Lakers side, Kobe Bryant did everything he possibly could to get his team the victory. He scored 38 points, on 13-27 shooting, including four three pointers. In the second half, he hit shot, after shot, that simply made me say "wow" afterwards.
Bryant got off to a slow start, with just six points over the first 16 minutes. He then accounted for 32 of LA's final 50 points. He had the Lakers' final four point of the first half and then scored LA's first 19 points of the third quarter.
The rest of the Lakers shot a dismal 18-15 from the floor for the game (35.3%). Pau Gasol had a quiet 12 points and 10 rebounds. Derek Fisher had nine points, but zero after the first quarter. Andrew Bynum did play 30 minutes, but it was easy to not notice him out there, as he had just six points and one rebound.
And then there was Artest. He did not do his job defensively, as Pierce scored 27. He then shot 2-9 from the field, and was 1-4 from the free throw line (with all of his attempts coming in the final two minutes).
Also, Artest had two severe brain cramps late in the game. First, he was unable to foul the poor free throw shooter Rondo on Rondo's reverse layup. Then, with about 20 seconds to play, Artest simply failed to foul Rondo, allowing Rondo to get the ball to the ninety-percent free throw shooter Ray Allen.
Boston now finds itself one win away from the championship.
It won't be easy.
Watching the way Bryant played in the second half tonight, you can certainly expect him to throw everything he possibly has at the Celtics on Tuesday night.
And while Gasol did not have much of an impact in the three games in Boston, that will definitely change now that the series will be played out in LA. Same could very likely be true for Lamar Odom, as well as for many other Lakers.
Game Five was not pretty, but style points do not matter in the playoffs. Going forward, the Celtics will have to cut down on the careless turnovers and execute better in the fourth quarter if they want to get that final win.
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