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Trailing 95-71 with 7:55 to go in the fourth quarter, the Lakers mounted a furious comeback as they drew to within two at 104-102 with less than a minute remaining before succumbing to the home team, 108-102 to fall down 0-2 in The Finals.
The Garden had transformed to The Graveyard for L.A. By midway through the fourth quarter, the game had all the makings of your classic blowout:
It seemed almost redundant that the capacity crowd at TD Banknorth Garden was continuing to shout its raucous “Beat L.A.! Beat L.A.!” chant because by that point, L.A. had already beat itself.
Instead of the Lake Show it was more like the Lake Didn’t Show Up.
But somehow, all of the sudden, despite all of the poor play by L.A. throughout the first 40 minutes of the game, the momentum started to shift in its favor. What appeared to be a too little, too late Kobe jumper sparked an unbelievable 31-9 run by the Lakers.
Bryant led the charge, scoring 13 of his game-high 30 points during the surge in which the Lakers shot 10-for-14 as a team, including 5-for-7 from deep.
It had to be most improbable turnaround since John Travolta’s career went from Look Who’s Talking Now in 1993 to Pulp Fiction in ’94.
“You just keep playing,” Bryant said. “You don't know what's going to happen.”
Bryant also said that he thinks his teammates learned on Sunday that, “you're never really out of a game,” which is an important lesson for a young squad to understand.
“We played with a sense of desperation and more aggression, and I think that's something for us to take home and learn from,” Bryant added.
Two Bryant free throws brought the Lakers within two with :38 seconds left, but the Celtics’ Paul Pierce (who showed no ill effects from the knee injury he sustained during Game 1) responded with two freebies of his own to boost his game total to 28 points and put Boston back up by four.
The Lakers called timeout with :22 seconds to go, still holding on to a glimmer of hope of returning to L.A. with the series tied 1-1, but Sasha Vujacic had his three-point attempt blocked by Pierce and the Celtics secured the victory.
L.A. scored 42 points in all of the first half and 41 points in the fourth quarter alone during its flurry.
Pierce said that he was disappointed in how his team closed out the game and Boston coach Doc Rivers damned the C’s performance with two C-words:
His team got “cute” when they raced out to a big lead and allowed L.A. to get “comfortable” in the game’s final stanza which opened the door for the Lakers to make their run.
As comfortable as Doc perceived the Lakers to have been, L.A. coach Phil Jackson doesn’t think his team’s cross-country flight back to STAPLES Center to host Games 3, 4 and 5* (*if necessary) will be too cozy.
And the Zen Master doesn’t expect the team’s plane to have a guest on it for the trip either.
Uncle Mo’ doesn’t travel coast to coast.
“It's 2,500 miles away,” Jackson said. “It's too far to carry [the momentum].”
Even if the Lakers don’t believe that they have momentum on their side, at the very least they should know their opponent better. Among the many adjustments Jackson will have make for his team before Game 3 you can expect Jordan Farmar to get more playing time in place of Derek Fisher to guard against Rondo’s first step, the Lakers to key in on their porous perimeter transition defense that allowed Boston to go 9-for-14 from three and for L.A. to ratchet up its intensity and aggression from the opening tip.
The game was reminiscent of Game 4 of the Lakers’ Western Conference Semifinals series with Utah when L.A. erased a 12-point deficit in the last four minutes of regulation to force overtime. But, just like on Sunday, the Lakers couldn’t complete the comeback as they lost that game to the Jazz by seven in OT.
“We just learned about momentum,” Jackson said. “We started turning the corner a little bit in the fourth quarter, but they'd come back, hit a three, something would happen, and I just kept saying we'll find a moment in this game to come back and play it. We just want this game to last long enough to carry it out. But it didn't. So we'll learn some lessons from that and we'll learn some lessons from what we have to do offensively to control the game and control the pace of the game.”