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Who could blame him? After all, L.A. was running a clinic. The Lakers shot 11-for-17 in the quarter and picked up 10 assists on those 10 baskets en route to an all-time Finals record 21-point advantage after the first 12 minutes.
It wasn’t quite Kobe Bryant 62, Dallas Mavericks 61 after three quarters, but Lamar Odom 13, Boston Celtics 12 after the first 10 minutes of Game 4 set the tone for L.A. to even The Finals 2-2 in a romp, he probably thought.
Sure Kobe hadn’t scored a field goal yet, but he was in facilitator mode with four assists and three steals. This one was in the bag. “Why not catch a few extra winks?” he probably rationalized.
Somewhere on the East Coast on Friday morning, that same hypothetical transplanted Lakers fan will wake up feeling well rested and fire up his computer, eagerly anticipating reading about Game 4. He might even play U2’s “It’s A Beautiful Day” as he waits for page to load. And then he’ll stare blankly at the monitor when he sees Celtics 97, Lakers 91.
It will seem wrong to him on a ”DEWEY DEFEATS TRUMAN” level.
“That can’t be right,” he’ll dismiss.
He’ll flip on the TV to make sure it corroborates. Maybe his PC was having a cache issue. “Damn it, I knew I should have gotten a Mac,” he’ll think.
But he’ll find the same score on NBA TV. Rick Kamla will tell him that Eddie House hit a go-ahead jumper with 4:07 left in the fourth quarter to give Boston a lead that they never relinquished the rest of the way.
He’ll look puzzled.
“Eddie House? Am I still dreaming?” he’ll question.
The newspaper will be at his front door. He’ll rifle to the sports page. He’ll read again, “Celtics 97, Lakers 91 – Boston leads the best of seven series 3-1.”
Then a second dash to the computer, followed by some channel surfing to a few other sports stations … then the shuffle on his iTunes cues up the Psycho theme song.
Reek! Reek! Reek! Reek! Reek!
Wait, what happened?!?!?!?!?
I’ll tell our imaginary friend what happened: The Lakers offense transformed from a smooth sailing Ferrari to a herky jerky jalopy.
The Celtics outscored the Lakers by three in the second, 16 in the third and eight in the fourth. Odom’s 13 and five rebounds after one only swelled to 19 and 10 by the end of the game. After only taking two shots in the first quarter, Kobe took 17 the rest of the way and only made six, finishing with 17 points and 10 assists.
But, how did it happen?!?!?!?!?
“We got away from the things that we were doing well in the first half,” Pau Gasol said after his 17-point, 10-rebound outing.
“We started settling, and then they started making shots,” Gasol added. “They started taking advantage of those long shots and those turnovers we had in the third quarter, and then it put a lot of pressure on us.”
Settling never sounds good. Why settle all of the sudden?
Phil Jackson said the C’s made defensive adjustments, “[Boston] reacted to passing situations [and] destroyed passing lanes.”
Oh, so it was the Celtics’ defense, not the Lakers’ fault. Boston was the No. 1 defensive team in the league. That makes sense.
But, what were the adjustments?
Paul Pierce (20 points, seven assists) volunteered to guard Kobe at halftime.
OK, Kobe was already in facilitator mode with six assists against just four field goal attempts in the first half. What could Pierce guarding him do?
“Well, this team is -- if you watch them, if you've paid attention to them all year, usually the first half is team ball, second half is usually Kobe takes over the games,” Kevin Garnett said. “It just looks like they wanted to get the ball to Kobe and him sort of finish it off. That's what it looked like to me. It didn't really look cohesive like they did in the first half.”
“One of the things I was concerned about was that Kobe hadn't scored a field goal in the first half, and that puts some then they knew, hey, he's going to come out and try to get some scores so we're going to have to commit as a team,” Jackson said.
So Garnett and the Celtics knew Kobe was going to shoot more and Jackson and the Lakers knew Kobe was going to shoot more …
And what happened next? Kobe shot more.
“I think we got stagnant offensively on how we wanted to attack them,” Lakers captain Derek Fisher (13 points) said. “I think we did too much through Kobe’s hands in terms of screen and rolls and they were able to really load their defense up.
“What allowed us to build the lead was ball movement and I think we got very one-sided in terms of doing a lot of stuff off the dribble as opposed to really passing that ball,” Fisher added.
Bryant started the second half by making his first two shots. The Lakers were up by 18 with 8:36 left in the third. A 2-2 series was inevitable.
But Bryant finished the quarter by going 0-for-5 (including getting blocked on a jump shot by Pierce), the rest of the Lakers finished the quarter by going 1-for-8 and by the time Bryant next made a field goal it was to break a tied ballgame with 9:32 left in the fourth.
Boston battled to take the lead on the aforementioned House jumper and kept it thanks to key buckets by James Posey, Garnett, Pierce and Ray Allen down the stretch.
Of all the people in the game, Kobe can surely explain to the hypothetical Lakers fan what happened.
“I think they did a good job forcing us to take difficult shots,” Bryant said.
Gotcha. It was their defense.
“We did a much better job in the first half getting back on defense,” Bryant continued. “We've got to do a better job of cutting back on those easy opportunities and not putting them to the free throw line and giving them timely three point opportunities.”
Wait, it was the Lakers' defense?
“I think it's a combination of both, always,” Bryant said. “It's a combination of their defense, a combination of our poor execution.”
Sorry, I can’t help you understand it any better, hypothetical transplanted Lakers fan.
Had you stayed up and saw the second half with your own eyes, it wouldn’t have made any more sense to you anyway.
I know it didn’t for me, and I was awake for it.