BOSTON -- Tommy Heinsohn must have loved Game 4.
There was tons of physical play, plenty of Tommy Point-worthy dives to the floor and extra efforts, a 1950s hook shot off the glass, and a referee even got punched -- accidentally, but still -- and oh yeah, and the Celtics beat the Lakers 96-89 to tie up the NBA Finals at 2-2.
The Celtics were pushed around in Game 1 in Los Angeles, but they brought a physical brand of play to the paint in Game 4 at the Garden and controlled the glass, grabbing 16 offensive rebounds in their victory.
Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE/Getty
For three games, discussion surrounding the NBA Finals was largely about refs and whistles going "Woo-woo!" In Game 4, get this: players decided the outcome in a slugfest and the Celtics were finally comfortable; they pounded the Lakers on the inside en route to a thrilling victory at the Garden.
At times, play in the paint looked more WWE than NBA, but to their credit, Scott Foster, Eddie F. Rush (infamous for his hair-trigger ejection of Kendrick Perkins in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Finals vs. Orlando) and Greg Willard allowed the game to be decided in the paint rather than at the free-throw line.
"I think both teams -- this was an extremely physical game, but it was a clean game. There was some talking, but you know, whatever," said Celtics Coach Doc Rivers, who spent the last few days subtly campaigning for a more physical brand of basketball and jousting with Phil Jackson through the media on everything from moving screens to Derek Fisher's veteran tricks (read: flopping) against Ray Allen.
"I just thought both teams were allowed to play, and it was terrific. It was good basketball," Rivers said. "You know, there's frustration all the time, but I thought overall it was a really well-played game. It was a physical game."
Saddled with foul trouble for the first three games of the Finals, the Celtics played the first seven minutes of Game 4 without being called for an infraction. The Celtics got outmuscled by the Lakers in Game 1 in Los Angeles, but they responded to the allowed tone Thursday night with their most aggressive performance of the series.
Boston grabbed 16 offensive rebounds, obliterated L.A. in the paint, 54-34, and doubled them up on second-chance points, 20-10.
"It was definitely a factor, giving up 16 offensive rebounds. It's huge," said Lakers forward Pau Gasol, who worked for all 21 of his points and was limited to just six rebounds. "We need to do a better job of gang-rebounding and not giving up as many second-chance points as we did tonight."
The Lakers certainly missed the presence of center Andrew Bynum, who's dominated play for lengthy stretches in the against the Celtics when he's been on the floor, but lasted just 12:10 before succumbing to a wounded knee that's been ailing him throughout the playoffs and appears to be worsening as the Finals wear on.
Kobe Bryant called out his team, undermanned or not, after the game for letting the Celtics bring the attack to them, pointing to the hustle categories as deficiencies for his team.
"They got all the energy points, the hustle points, second‑chance points, points in the paint, beat us to the loose balls," Bryant said. "I mean, that's how the game turned around."
Bryant, who went 10-for-22 from the field but had to make a lot of tough perimeter shots to score his 33 points, turned the ball over seven times while being hectored by Paul Pierce, Ray Allen and Tony Allen. Still, he didn't seem to think Game 4 was any more physical than the first three, and apparently didn't notice that the Celtics were never really in foul trouble and had a full compliment of defenders to throw at him. And he dismissed the idea that Game 4 was called any differently than the first three.
"They've all been physical games," Bryant said. "I wouldn't say it was officiated any different."
Then again, his team's rarely been in foul trouble in the Finals to this point, so from his perspective, it probably does all look the same.
That can't be said for Pierce, who coped with foul trouble throughout Game 3. He was a very efficient 7-for-12 on his way to 19 points and liked the pace at which Game 4 was played. Pierce said he prefers a half-court contest to a shootout against the Lakers. And while he found himself not attacking the rim fearing fouls in the Game 3 loss, Pierce made a point of being aggressive in Game 4 and scored two huge buckets down the stretch to help seal the victory.
"You know, we liked the way the game was played today, just real physical, real grind‑it‑out type of game, both teams in the 80s pretty much, and that's the type of game we like," Pierce said.
"We don't really want to get into a scoring duel with the Lakers when they're going out and trying to score 120 points. If the game is in the 80s and 70s, that means both teams are pretty much in the half court playing tough, grind‑it‑out defense."
The Celtics' bench, along with Ray Allen, did plenty of dirty work in the fourth quarter, playing 9:09 of the final period. Nate Robinson (12 points) and Glen Davis (18 points, with four of his five rebounds coming on the offensive end) out-scraped the Lakers starters in the final stanza, staking Boston to a lead they wouldn't relinquish down the stretch when the starters finally returned.
With the series tied, the Celtics host Game 5 Sunday with a chance to wrest away the lead for the first time in the Finals.
It's best two-out-of-three now. Celtics vs. Lakers, for all the marbles.
Just the way Tommy likes it.