Game 4: Belief
I’m still not sure I believe what I saw. Oh, I believe the Celtics snapped out of their offensive funk. It had to happen eventually. I believe Lamar Odom turned into a shivering pile of goo when things started getting tight. I believe Kevin Garnett could, should, and would, get it through his head that no one on the Lakers can stop him down low. I believe, that on any given night, Doc Rivers can out-coach Phil Jackson for a half. I believe in The Truth.
But, I’m still not sure I can believe that a team with Kobe Bryant can blow a 24-point lead at home in the NBA Finals.
I certainly didn’t believe it through the first quarter and a half, when the refs called Kendrick Perkins for a foul during a free throw attempt and handed the Lakers 15 free throws in the first 12 minutes. I was hoping it would happen on general principle when ABC got bored with the game and went to a beyond-disgusting suck-up interview with Will Smith complete with a hug from intrepid reporter Michele Tafoya while James Posey was shooting free throws. (By the way, watching Justin Timberlake try a “Let’s Go Lakers” chant later in the game confirmed every negative feeling I’ve ever had about L.A.).
I started to believe it midway trough the second quarter when Doc finally got Sam Cassell off the floor. Yeah, Jordan Farmar’s 3-pointer at the end of the half looked like a killer, but there was something else going on there. Phil Jackson, in all in his infinite Zen-ness, tried to go for the kill when he brought Kobe off the bench after a short rest when the Lakers had a 20-point lead. Didn’t work. Doc switched to a smaller lineup, and lo and behold, the Lakers couldn’t keep up with them.
I really believed it in the third quarter when Paul Pierce took over. Like Garnett, there is no one on the Lakers that can stay with him when he drives aggressively. Except Kobe. And then there’s no one on the Lakers that can guard Ray Allen, because despite what ABC would have you believe, Kobe is only one guy, and there has never been a player in the history of the NBA that can beat a team as good as the Celtics by himself.
My beliefs were confirmed when the camera picked up a Celtics player coming to the bench saying, “We’re going to win this f—ing game,” and I absolutely knew it when PJ Brown threw down the baddest dunk of the night.
It was only a matter of time in the fourth quarter. Odom was scared of his shadow and Pau Gasol was on his way to replacing Dirk Nowitzki as the poster-child for soft 7-foot Europeans everywhere. No one beside Kobe and Vujacic wanted the ball, and Vujacic didn’t know what the hell to do with it when he got a little pressure.
(Pierce’s defense on Kobe, meanwhile, belongs in a time-capsule somewhere. It was extraordinary, and I think it led him to have some sort of a nervous breakdown toward the end of the game. Garnett tried to snap him back to attention on the bench, but Pierce just seemed lost in his own world. At the end of the game, Big Baby had to help him keep his balance. Strange sight.)
Posey wanted the ball. Eddie House too (God bless him), and Pierce and Garnett damn straight wanted the ball. When Allen drove around Vujacic like he was playing the last pickup game at the Y, he didn’t just ice the game, he made Sasha cry.
I’m still not sure I believed that comeback was possible, but I know this, and so do the Celtics: They’re better. A lot better.