It was a classic Boston Celtics-Los Angeles Lakers rivalry at The TD Garden Sunday afternoon, but unfortunately for the Celtics, it ended with a Lakers victory, 90-89.
Up one point with under a minute to go in the game, Paul Pierce drove right on Ron Artest. As he stepped back, he put his arm out to create space between him and Artest. He was called for an offensive foul as Ron Artest flailed his body to the baseline.
"I thought I made a good move," Paul Pierce said. "I got to my sweet spot. I guess the ref saw it differently and he made the call."
"I haven't seen it yet honestly," Coach Doc Rivers said. "I just think at that point it's got to be unbelievable, but I didn't see it so I really can't give an opinion on it. You know, I do know Kobe [Bryant] pushes off a lot."
Bryant may push off a lot, but he also does some other things on the court worth noting, including hitting what appears to be impossible shot after impossible shot.
Bryant hit the game winning shot over Ray Allen with 7.3 seconds remaining in the game, and Allen couldn't win it on the next possession, missing his open three-point attempt.
Asked what he said to Phil Jackson in the timeout before the shot, Bryant joked, "I didn't say give me one more chance, I said give me the damn ball. I didn't really give him much of a choice."
The Celtics once again squandered a second half lead, and once again could not put their opponent away in the fourth quarter. The defense that this team has been known for through the past couple seasons is nowhere to be found in the closing minutes of games.
"We haven't been able to get timely stops to end games," said Rivers. "And that's- if anything bothers me over the turnovers and the offensive part- we've been able in the past to lean on our defense when we go cold offensively. The Atlanta game down the stretch they scored every time- and tonight. The biggest quarters over the last three games offensively, for the most part, have been the fourth quarters by the other teams."
The Celtics held the Lakers to just 17 points in the second quarter and 19 points in the third quarter. They allowed 24 points in the fourth, but could only muster up 16 of their own. In the fourth quarter against Atlanta they allowed 26 points while only scoring 18, and against Orlando they allowed a whopping 35 points while only scoring 22.
"We have been beating ourselves," Rasheed Wallace said. "We've been having double digit leads, coming in there and losing those leads. I don't know, I guess we just have to go a little bit harder, step on the peddle a little bit harder."
It is one thing to understand that after the game, but it is another to recognize it during the game and adjust the play of the team.
"Only thing I thought," said Rivers, "with five minutes left we went into the stall mode offensively, walked the ball up the floor, and took forever to run stuff. That's just not who we are. And I got on them about that. And then the two offensive rebounds- the one with Shannon Brown, you know that's what we've talked about. We had a big discussion about it today, about timely rebounds; offensive rebounds are killing us and that hurt us."
Rajon Rondo and Tony Allen provide spark
It was during the second quarter that the Celtics took the momentum away from the Lakers, as they came roaring back from an eleven point first quarter deficit and took a ten point lead at one point in the second quarter.
Central to this turnaround was the play of Rajon Rondo and Tony Allen on both ends of the court. It was the hustle and energy of Rondo and Allen off the bench in the second quarter that propelled the Celtics to the lead that they would hold on for the majority of the rest of the game. Rondo had nine points, eight assists, three rebounds, and two steals in the second quarter alone- no one benefitting more than Paul Pierce, who Rondo found on all three of Pierce's converted three pointers. Rondo finished the game with 21 points, 12 assists and five rebounds.
Tony Allen played tenacious defense on Kobe Bryant throughout the game, especially in the second quarter. Bryant went one of seven from the field for only two points in the second quarter, largely in part to Allen's in-you-face defense. Allen finished the game with 14 points off the bench.
"The first half [Allen] and Rondo singlehandedly got us back in the game, with their energy. Forget the bait and made baskets and the defense. I just thought they came in the game and played with energy. We told Rondo before the game we were going to sub him early because I wanted him against their second unit. I thought it'd be a good change for our second unit to have Rondo with the second unit."
Where is the swagger?
Despite the recent three game skid against the Magic, Hawks, and Lakers, members of the Celtics insist that they still believe in themselves.
"We don't lack any confidence," said Kevin Garnett. "Our spirits are high. We have a little saying to work hard- ‘You put into it what you want to get out of it' and just as of late we haven't been producing wins but we're a hard working group... but Doc tells us that nothing worth acquiring is easy. We're just going to continue to grind."
And they certainly have been grinding. One has to wonder how many more games the Celtics can lose to good teams before their confidence does get shaken. With the loss to the Lakers, the Celtics end January with a 6-8 record, and those wins certainly aren't convincing either: Toronto twice, Miami, New Jersey, a banged up Portland, and the other team from L.A. On the contrary, they lost to Atlanta twice, Chicago, Dallas, Detroit, Orlando, and the Lakers. Every team aside from Detroit has a winning record as of today.
"We just have to keep forging forward, because it doesn't get any easier," said Ray Allen. "It's not going to come from other teams, it's not going to come from the referees, we just have to do it for ourselves. Regardless of what happened yesterday or the day before, moving forward we all have to buckle down and do our jobs."
"No. I don't [see slippage in confidence]," said Rivers. "The only thing I didn't like is we didn't finish the game with our normal speed. I thought we got a lead and then we tried to sit on it, and in the NBA, you know 24-second clock, you're not sitting on the lead."
Ok, no more sitting. So, will the real Boston Celtics please stand up?