Game 5: The Good, the Bad, the Van Gundy

1212679756The Lakers were seconds away from sending the series back to Boston. They had survived two blown leads. If this was a test of their manhood, they surely passed — especially Pau Gasol, who outplayed Kevin Garnett by a wide margin. Meanwhile, the Celtics starting center is hurt, their young point guard is finally showing his age, and their indefatigable scoring guard had to leave the building quickly because of a family emergency. Not good.

That’s one way to look at it. Another would be summed up nicely by Jeff Van Gundy on the ABC broadcast. “If you’re the Lakers, and you want to win it all, you’ve got to be disappointed,” Van Gundy told the television audience.

The Celtics are coming home. They did what they had to do in Los Angeles by winning a game. They had a chance to win all three, and if a few things had gone the other way, a call here or a call there, they would have wrapped it up out there.

So which is it? Are the Celtics are fine, or are they playing with fire? Let’s investigate.

The Case for the Celtics

1. The Lakers have proven to be a schizophrenic team that relies on Kobe Bryant far more than their earlier playoff success indicated. When things are going well, Kobe’s supporting cast is confident and frisky. When things go poorly, they go right into the tank. The Celtics have figured out the Laker puzzle. Simply put, the only Laker who can guard Paul Pierce or Ray Allen is Kobe. The Celtics can drive by LA like it’s midnight on the 405 and they’re in the carpool lane. One would think that will continue at home.

2. Ah, home sweet home. The Celtics finally figured out their road thing, at least in quarters two through four, but at home they are a different team entirely. We all know this. If Rajon Rondo’s ankle really isn’t hurting him, one would expect him to at least be adequate on the parquet. At home, Leon Powe goes to the free throw line when he gets mauled. At home, the crowd is better, the lights are better, and no one has to worry about knocking over Justin Timberlake in the first row.

3. Garnett is due for a monster game. The Finals have not been KG’s finest moment. He is shooting 40 percent from the field, and it has taken him far too long to realize that the guys in the yellow shirts are not named Josh Smith, Anderson Varaejo, or Rasheed Wallace. He should be dominating Gasol, Ronny Turiaf and whoever else the Lakers have. Garnett was also at his over-exuberant worst picking up ticky-tack fouls, some of the dubious variety, but fouls that he never should have been in position to accumulate. He is due.

The Case Against the Celtics

1. The Lakers have Kobe Bryant. Look, I’m not buying the deification of the Kobester any more than you are, but the fact remains that the guy is a cold-blooded killer late in the game and he will get every single call, both on offense and defense. You simply do not want to give the guy a chance.

2. The Kendrick Perkins injury is bad news. Without Perk, the Lakers went over the smaller Celtics for rebounds time and again. Perkins wasn’t having a great series, but the C’s rebounding edge with him in the game was huge. OK, injuries happen, and the Celtics have enough depth to cover for one more night, but what is really disturbing is the way Rondo has taken himself right out of the game.

I don’t blame Doc Rivers for throwing Eddie House, Sam Cassell, and Tony Allen in there when Rondo is passing up layups. Eddie was great in Game 4, Sam and Tony were good in Game 5. It’s not realistic to think that will continue.

3. Garnett has had five games to get it together and it hasn’t happened yet. There are a billion and one theories as to why Garnett has struggled in The Finals, but no one really knows for sure. They can win it without him, but it would be a shame if they had to.

Final note: Thank God for Van Gundy. After listening to Mike Breen stroke the Lakers for the last three games, I’ll be glad to be back in the building with nothing to listen to but the roar of the crowd and the 80’s metal soundtrack the Garden pumps out. But I will miss Van Gundy for his funny one-liners, his refusal to suggest that Kobe is the greatest thing to ever walk the Earth, and his simple second-guesses (If I’m Phil Jackson I’m putting Lamar Odom on Pierce right now).

I hope he never gets a coaching job ever again, and I mean that in the nicest possible way.