If you had asked me prior to Game 4 about what the outcome would be, I would've told you "Lakers by at least 15-points."
For a time in Game 4, I looked to be right - and my prediction of Lakers in seven as well. But like Game 2, we found out that no lead is safe, only this time, it was erased and replaced.
Lamar Odom had been struggling mightily through the first three games of the Finals. Foul trouble was keeping the versatile wing-man of Kobe Bryant off the floor, as Odom finished with five fouls in all three games leading into Thursday night. He apparently decided enough was enough before tip-off. The small-forward scored the opening bucket of the game, giving the Lakers a lead they wouldn't relinquish until the 4:07 mark of the 4th quarter. Odom went on to either score or assist in all six of Los Angeles' first field goals, and shot six-of-six in the opening quarter boasting 13-points. Los Angeles ended the first quarter with a 21-point lead, the largest in NBA Finals history after one period of play. Boston shot six-of-22 from the field, looking even worse than they did in Game 3 as a whole; not to mention the 4th quarter of Game 2. Garnett failed to get on the board, as the Celtics were being not only outrebounded and outshot, but being outhustled; predominately by kids like Trevor Ariza who furiously stormed for loose balls and rebounds, even off missed free-throws of his own, contributing six-points and five-rebounds in the first half. And through all of that, Kobe Bryant was 0-for-two from the field with only three-points. It was that bad for the C's.
The Lakers, fueled by Odom and his aggressiveness, went on to take a lead as large as 24-points in the first half, before ending the half with a 58-40 lead. The Lakers shot 50% from the field, holding Boston to only 35% and their two stars, Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett to combined 12-points. Pau Gasol and Lamar Odom combined for 25-points, leading the Lakers past the Celtics in rebounds and even weathering a few runs in which the C's got the lead cut down to as little as 12-points. And still, Kobe Bryant was sitting on three-points on 0-of-four shooting.
Something told me that that would come back to haunt the Lakers.
In Game's 1-3, the Celtics owned the third period, outscoring the Lakers by a grand total of 27-points. In each game, whether down or in need of a boost, the C's took advantage of the half time rest and lecture, and put momentum back in their court. In Game 4 it was no different. The defense was turned up, as Kobe Bryant was harassed profusely along with his teammates, leading to numerous fast breaks for the Celtics and as if Kevin Garnett had been reading my blogs, he started to establish himself in the paint. Garnett had said before Game 4 that he would make a point of getting inside and doing what he was paid too do. And he did that in Game 4, especially in the 3rd quarter and beyond. He, along with the help of a smaller lineup featuring James Posey who finished the night with 18 huge points, led the Celtics back from the dead going on a 21-3 run closing out the third period only down by two-points. The Celtics outscored the Lakers 31-to-15 in the 3rd, putting them in prime position to take back what was theirs and possibly the series as well.
Boston continued the pressure defensively, continuing to bog down Laker players before finally taking their first lead and giving the game its first lead change at the 4:07 mark off an Eddie House 18-footer. And from then on, it was all Celtics. James Posey lit it up from the corner to make it a five-point game down the stretch, and then like Kobe against Ray in Game 3, Ray Allen decided to be the Sandman himself when he drove past Sasha Vujocic to make it a 96-91 game. The Celtics never let that lead slip away, and now are up 3-1 in the 2008 NBA Finals; and when teams go up 3-1 in Finals history, they are 28-0 going forward.
Keys to the Game
Lamar Odom: 19-points; four-points in the 2nd half.
Kobe Bryant: 17-points, 10-assists; 6-of-19 from field.
Starters: All five in double figures.
2nd half: Outscored 31-15 in 3rd quarter, 57-33 overall.
Kevin Garnett: 16-points, 11 REB; established self inside paint on both ends.
Paul Pierce: 20-points, 14 in 2nd half.
Ray Allen: 19-points; played entire game.
James Posey and Eddie House: 29-points; six-of-12 from 3-point land
FG%: 45; 35% in 1st half.
Assists: 15; three in first half
Looking Ahead to Game 5
It's 3-1 now in favor of the Boston Celtics, and statistically it is over. Statistically, it's time to stick a fork in this series and hang ‘em up. Doc Rivers cannot and will not allow his team to look ahead to the champagne showers and the parade. Yes, their city needs a parade and they'll be hurting plenty of people's hands after fist pumps due to diamond encrusted rings, but they've still got Game 5 in Los Angeles, and possibly more in Beantown. Kevin Garnett finally got himself going from inside the paint, looking ahead he may have to do that again. Eddie House showed that he deserves to be on the floor, and may just be the answer to any issues the Celtics have had in getting Garnett his shots inside. Rondo is a good young star, but he's been ignored by defenders due to his pass-first mentality and lack of an outside shot. Putting Eddie House in at the one-spot obviously made a difference, and if Doc Rivers is truly a good coach he'll continue that. And if he really was paying attention tonight, he'll keep Paul Pierce on Kobe Bryant. With all due respect to Ray Allen, Paul Pierce shut down Kobe Bryant in Game 4. Pierce did his thing on the offensive end, as well as tying down the world's best player and statistically, the series. Boston has fought through huge deficits and even huge comebacks, and now are in position to be kissing a golden trophy in a few nights.
For the Lakers, they know they let one get away. A 24-point lead in the first half, and a 18-point lead going into the locker room, all gone by the final few minutes of the 4th quarter. Like the Celtics in Game 2, the Lakers saw their momentum dissipate and fall right into the hands of the opposition. But unlike Game 2, they weren't able to man up and hold on. Los Angeles played outstanding basketball in the first half, finally getting something out of Lamar Odom - in the 2nd half, they lost track of him and never got the MVP like performance they needed out of #24. In Game 5, they must do everything in their power to maintain the same aggressiveness they exhibited in the first half of Game 4 throughout the entire game. No lead is safe in the NBA Playoffs, and they found that out the hard way. In Game 5, it's about maintaining their level of play. They got solid contribution from the bench in the first half. They got positive numbers out of Odom, Radmanovic and Gasol. They got tenacious defense and great ball movement. That's what they have to do in Game 5, only sustain that through all 48-minutes of play. They've got their backs against the wall now just like in Game 3, it's time to tough it out and leave it all on the floor.