After four games of a blockbuster NBA Finals between the league’s most storied franchises and some of its best players of the last generation, the Los Angeles Lakers and Boston Celtics are tied 2-2 and the role players have stolen the show.
In a 96-89 victory in Game Four, Boston’s Glen “Big Baby” Davis and Nate Robinson were trusted, valiant understudies with Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett both shooting under 40 percent.
Robinson and Davis became big-time players during the crucial moments of the game to help the Celtics reclaim momentum in the series.
Boston cemented its reputation for defensive focus and teamwork, with six players scoring in double figures while the Celtics limited the Lakers to less than 90 points for the first time in more than a month.
Although Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol were in full superstar mode as Bryant, last year’s Finals MVP, scored 33 points and his co-star Gasol added another 21, Bryant also had seven turnovers and only two assists, Gasol only grabbed six rebounds and backup Lamar Odom was the only other Laker to score in double figures.
The rest of this series is tailor-made for the superstars to take over. The refs will put the game in their hands and Paul Pierce, Ray Allen, Garnett, Gasol and Bryant will have the opportunity to bolster their championship reputations.
Bynum-Gasol Tandem Key
Pau Gasol will have to play tougher basketball if the Lakers are to win Game Five.
Gasol, a great offensive player with a variety of moves in the post to match a consistent outside jumper, has to play a stronger all-around game.
In Game Four Gasol was efficient on offense, going 6-for-13 from the field and 9-of-10 from the free throw line and finishing with 21 points.
However Gasol, known as one of the best passers in the post in the NBA, had four turnovers and only three assists. He only grabbed six rebounds in 44 minutes while the Celtics’ undersized Glen “Big Baby” Davis snatched four offensive rebounds and scored 18 points off the bench.
In Laker wins in Games One and Three Gasol finished with a double-double—23 points and 14 rebounds in Game One and 13 points and 10 rebounds in Game Three.
Gasol played much better at home in the first two games of the series averaging 24 ppg and 11 rpg. In Boston, those averages have dipped to 17 ppg and eight rpg.
An extremely polished star on the offensive end, Gasol has developed a more physical game since joining the Lakers, averaging a double-double for the first time in his career in 2009-10, finishing with a career-high 11.3 rpg along with a steady 18.3 ppg.
The loss of Andrew Bynum in Game Four—the Lakers starting center only played 12 minutes in the game —severely hampered the Lakers as Gasol had to slide over to the center position and man the paint without his bigger, more physical comrade.
The All-Star’s strength is his offensive ability but if Bynum isn’t available for major minutes, the seven-footer needs another double-double or the Lakers need to attack the boards better as a team— Boston had 41 rebounds to Los Angeles’ 34 and the Celtics had 16 offensive rebounds vs. eight for the Lakers— to help the defending champs to a 3-2 edge in the Finals.
Role Players On a Roll
The NBA Finals is supposed to be the place for superstars to shine but thus far it’s become a stage for role players and backups to ignite their inner fires and light a path to some postseason fame.
Whether it’s the Derek Fisher’s clutch play to help the Lakers take Game Three or Glen “Big Baby” Davis and Nate Robinson teaming up to help the Celtics even the series in Game Four, some surprising faces and names are the images and headlines of the 2010 Finals.
Boston has relied on a team effort throughout the Finals with Ray Allen and Rajon Rondo helping the Celtics win Game Two and the bench producing huge results in late in the Game Four victory.
Los Angeles’ Derek Fisher had 11 crucial points in the fourth quarter of Game Three that gave him best supporting player honors and helped the Lakers take a 2-1 lead.
Though superstars usually grab all the attention, role players like the Celtics’ Robinson, Davis, Tony Allen and Rasheed Wallace along with the Lakers’ Fisher, Bynum, Odom and Ron Artest, will help determine the outcome of the Finals.
Whistles Toning Down But Still A Major Factor
The intense physicality of the games has led to foul trouble, compelling both teams to go to their benches early and often.
The Celtics’ Ray Allen and the Lakers’ Kobe Bryant have engaged in hotly-contested battles but their backups, Boston’s Tony Allen and Los Angeles’ Shannon Brown have played a lot more than most anticipated.
After witnessing an average of 56 fouls per game in the first two games in Los Angeles, the referees, players and coaches have adjusted and the teams only combined for 45.5 fouls per game since the series shifted to Boston.
The refs didn’t leave their whistles behind though and Boston received two technical fouls in the fourth quarter.
First Boston’s Wallace was issued the dreaded personal foul-technical foul combo on a Bryant drive to the hoop.
Then the Celtics’ Nate Robinson, after doing a great job of drawing a foul on the Lakers Lamar Odom, had a few choice words for the power forward and was issued a technical foul also.
Boston head coach Doc Rivers showed plenty of heart in sticking with his high-strung second unit late in the fourth quarter and the Celtics enjoyed some luck as Bryant missed the first technical free throw and Wallace followed with a three-pointer before Fisher missed the second technical free throw and Robinson made both of his free throws.
The players will have to be less demonstrative when calls go the other way or they’ll risk losing a game because of an overreaction to a call.
Game Five presents the ultimate test for both teams and the winner will have the benefit of knowing it only has to win one of the last two games of the series.
Boston may have the momentum but it also has the pressure of playing its last home game of the year.
However, the Lakers are well aware that Boston has played well on the road and the Celtics have been resilient with a 6-4 road record in the playoffs and resounding, bounce-back wins after falling behind in series against Cleveland and Los Angeles.
Sunday night the stars should be out. But look out for some scene stealers, too.