When Rajon Rondo shoved Ron Artest with 4:41 remaining in the second quarter of the Celtics' 92-86 Game Five victory on Sunday, it triggered a role reversal that played out for the rest of the night.
With less than five minutes remaining in the quarter, Rondo attacked the Lakers on a fast break, setting up Boston center Kendrick Perkins, who dished off to a cutting Kevin Garnett. Garnett was then shoved to the ground by Artest on a hard foul, prompting Rondo to push Artest in retaliation after the whistle was blown.
Rondo received a technical foul for his exploits, but his team received a shot in the arm for his courage.
With his team leading 34-31 in the second quarter, Rondo—the second-smallest member of the Celtics' rotation—shoved Artest, arguably the Lakers' best defender and most physical player, to the side, as if he were two inches shorter than him. Rondo's push, followed by a profanity-laced reprimand of Artest, showed the Celtics' heart and passion and was just one of a series of plays that helped mentally subdue two of the Lakers' most important players.
Highlighted by 6-foot-4 reserve guard Tony Allen's block on Lakers' seven-footer Pau Gasol in the bottom of the third quarter, the Celtics out-muscled and out-played the Lakers for a second consecutive game.
Gasol, who went on record after his 23-point, 14-rebound performance in Game One to say "Garnett has lost a step," was stuffed three times in the period. One by Allen that left him on the floor and two others by Garnett, the same player who had "lost a step."
In fact, Garnett has actually gained a few steps over the past few contests. He's averaging 19.6 points per game in the last three outings, light years more effective than the 11 points per game Garnett struggled to score in the series' first two games.
Garnett's inspired containment of Gasol (15.3 points per game the last three meetings, 12 points and 12 rebounds in Game Five) has helped swing the series in Boston's favor, but it was Rondo's shove that swung the series momentum.
Artest, known for his bruising style of in-your-face defense, was pushed by Rondo and later torched by Paul Pierce for 27 points while the Lakers forward could only muster a seven-point, two-of-nine shooting performance.
Since turning in a strong Game One with 15 points and two steals, Artest has bottomed out over the last few games (like Gasol). He has averaged just six points per game and is shooting a wretched 24 percent from the field, connecting on eight-of-33 field goals in his last four games.
Artest was acquired by the Lakers last summer to be their hired hit man —their bruiser, so to speak. After his first career Finals game, Boston has now turned Los Angeles' biggest off-season acquisition into its biggest goat, and a player that Lakers coach Phil Jackson has to strongly consider lessening minutes for at this point.
Gasol and Artest aren't the only two reasons why the Lakers find themselves down 3-2 and one game away from another Celtics' championship. However, Los Angeles cannot afford to have two of their core players physically and mentally manhandled again in Game Six if the Lakers hope to even the series.