There were many heroes on each side of the Lakers 103-98 win over the Celtics in Game Five of the NBA Finals—but many goats as well.
The biggest hero was Kobe Bryant, who made the crucial play of the game. The key goat was Kevin Garnett, who choked away several teammates' valiant efforts.
Kobe Bryant was painfully mortal after a 15-point outburst in the first quarter that featured four three-pointers. Ray Allen, Tony Allen, and Paul Pierce each took turns contesting Kobe’s jump shots, staying down on his pump fakes, and fighting through LA’s various screens designed to create air space.
On defense, Kobe was routinely bested by Paul Pierce on screen/rolls initiated well beyond the three-point line.
However, with the Lakers up two and only 40 ticks on the clock, Kobe took a blind and desperate swipe at Paul Pierce’s dribble from behind after getting nailed by a screen.
Kobe’s hand somehow missed Pierce’s arm, Lamar Odom picked the ball up and launched it down the court, and Kobe slammed it in to give the Lakers much-needed breathing room.
Pau Gasol was generally aggressive near the basket and on the offensive glass, and finished with 19 points, 13 rebounds, and six assists.
With Kendrick Perkins out of action, Lamar Odom was extremely assertive in posting James Posey under the basket and cutting off Boston's penetration. Most importantly, Odom went up strong and converted six of his seven going 8-10 form the floor, and finishing with 20 points, 11 rebounds, and two assists.
Jordan Farmar put a lot more pressure on Eddie House’s ballhandling. When the Lakers didn’t force a turnover, they took precious seconds off the Celtics' shot clock. Plus, Farmar was in attack mode on offense, eager to get to the hoop rather than settle for jumpers.
Paul Pierce was The Truth (10-22 FG, 6 REB, 8 AST, 1 STL, 5 TO, 38 PTS), and aside from Kobe’s two strips, the Lakers couldn’t handle him. Whenever the Celtics needed to score, a simple isolation or screen/roll with Pierce and Garnett generated gaping lanes to drive to the basket.
And Pierce was a tough as he was talented, routinely stepping in front of Kobe's drives to the basket to take the charge, while getting to the rim 19 times—and converting 16.
Pierce’s scoring, playmaking, defense, and rebounding were all at a championship level. If Kevin Garnett had joined him, Pierce would already have his championship ring.
James Posey seemed to lock down the Lakers defense all by himself, taking charges, swooping in for rebounds, and giving his all on every possession. Like he did in 2006, Posey played with a warrior’s courage.
Sam Cassell mustered up enough quickness in his 38-year-old legs to torch Jordan Farmar for nine points and two assists.
Tony Allen made the most of his time in the daylight, finishing with six points on 3-4 shooting.
However, the game had many more goats than heroes.
While Kevin Garnett owned the offensive glass (seven offensive boards, 14 total), he made numerous poor decisions on defense leading to foul trouble. He also gave up far too many defensive boards to Gasol, and was often outplayed by Gasol in one-on-one situations.
In total, Garnett only scored 13 points to Gasol’s 19, tallied no assists to Gasol’s six, and committed four turnovers to Gasol’s none.
And in the clutch, Garnett missed two simple tip-ins—one over Jordan Farmar—and missed three straight free throws.
At the risk of sounding like a broken record—how many times can this man fail to produce in big time situations?
Ray Allen had an off-day with his jumper and missed a pair of layups. He finished 4-13 with 16 points before fouling out.
Rajon Rondo was a mess (1-7 FG, 1-2 FT, 3 AST, 2 TO, 3 PTS). Once again, Kobe Bryant simply sagged back eight feet off of him and roamed into the passing lanes, disrupting passes and limiting spacing.
To sum up Rondo’s day—early in the first quarter, Rondo had the ball and jetted to the basket. A half-hearted Vladimir Radmanovic lumbered in from Rondo’s right. Since Radmanovic was never going to beat Rondo to the hoop, the youngster had the easiest of layups—had he the guts to shoot.
Instead, Rondo leapt in the air and kicked the ball out to Pierce—who missed a three.
From that point on, the Lakers approached Rondo like a mother does when her son pleads for a flashy, but insubstantial toy. They ignored him.
P.J. Brown tried hard but didn’t get much done. He finished with four points and five fouls.
Vladimir Radmonovic, Luke Walton, and Kobe Bryant played terrible screen/roll defense. Kobe would try to fight around screens nowhere near the three-point line, while Radmanovic and Walton frequently allowed Paul Pierce to reject the screen and blow by them on the opposite side for unimpeded layups. On a different day, that flaw would have proved fatal.
Derek Fisher had a surprisingly unclutch day, missing a couple of important free throws and a wide open three.
Chris Mihm was rusty, and embarrassed himself.
Sasha Vujacic never stopped shooting and never stopped missing (2-10 FG, 0-5 3FG, 4 PTS).
In reality, the Lakers only won because their key second and third players didn’t come up empty, while the Celtics' second and third options did.
The unavailability of Kendrick Perkins to muscle Lamar Odom into submission was a factor, as was the fact that the Celtics once again spotted the Lakers a early 17-point lead and spent too much energy to catch up.
The Lakers have shown that they can get Pau Gasol and Lamar Odom on track in Los Angeles—but they made too many deplorable defensive mistakes to expect to be saved in Boston.
The Lakers deserve credit for their win, but it’s hard to have confidence in them on the road unless the team undergoes a radical defensive personality shift. Their best hope, again, lies in Kevin Garnett’s routine habit of folding under pressure.