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The Lakers were out-rebounded by the Celtics 46-33 in Game 1 and that was cited by many as a big factor for their loss in Game 1. However, one astute invested observer recognized another haunting issue. Derek Fisher, the Lakers 12-year vet, pointed out to the media in the two off days that the Lakers must not get into foul trouble.
Fisher, unfortunately for Lakers faithful, was prescient when he said, “When you get into the penalty with eight or nine minutes left in a period, you can’t play defense in the NBA that long.”
In Game 2, the Lakers were down 56-42 at the half. The discrepancy from the free throw line was tantamount to the difference in the score. The Celtics were 14-19 from the charity stripe while the Lakers were just 2-2.
The Lakers started the game getting called for fouls and it never let up. Vladimir Radmanovic who was guarding Paul Pierce, picked up two quick fouls with just a little more than two minutes elapsed in the game.
He was quickly replaced by Trevor Ariza, who received his first meaningful action since he went down in January with an injury. Luke Walton, ended the quarter guarding Pierce, but it didn’t matter who checked who, the Lakers kept picking up fouls.
The Lakers were in the penalty in the first quarter at the 3:04 mark, and the second quarter was worst.
The Lakers entered the second quarter with a 22-20 lead. But they committed two fouls within 40 seconds of the quarter's start. And the Lakers had accumulated four fouls, one way from the penalty, with 10:07 remaining in the quarter. That instigated a 10-0 run by the Celtics and the Lakers played Heinz ketchup the rest of the game.
The Lakers ended the game making 10-10 from the free throw but the Celtics made 27 on 38 attempts.
“They had 38 attempts — no matter how aggressive a team is that has to change,” Radmanovic said.
Phil Jackson thought that the Celtics assertiveness did play a role in the disparity.
“The aggressiveness swayed the effective calls,” Jackson said. “They went to the basket. We didn’t take charges in situations that we had charges to take, and the first half the contacts subsequently ended up being a foul shot."
Yet, Jackson found it incredulous that Celtics reserve Leon Powe lived at the line.
“I’m more struck by the fact that Leon Powe gets more foul shots than our whole team does in 14 minutes of play,” Jackson said.
But Lamar Odom seemed bewildered with the media mantra all weekend about the foul question. On the off days between games, he questioned the call to become more physical as nothing but a path to more fouls.
“We played physical, so I guess we just need to not play without our hands,” Odom said
The Lakers do seem to be caught between a rock and a hard foul. The Lakers were also thought to have been too soft because they left the lane open for a few high-flying dunks. Lakers guard, Sasha Vujacic addressed the dilemma.
“I don’t know how more aggressive we can be,” Vujacic said. “I think going back home will help us a little bit and it will be a different story.”
Don’t Call it a Comeback
The Lakers finished the game with a surge that cut an 83-61 deficit at the beginning of the 4th quarter to two points. However, there was a sequence near the end of the third quarter that played a part in shaping the outcome.
The Lakers trailed the Celtics 65-49 with 7:13 remaining in the 3rd and called a timeout. Over the next three minutes, the visitors crept back in the game. With 4:15 on the clock, the Lakers were down 69-58 and Pierce missed a short jumper. The Lakers best opportunity to slash further into the lead vanished after Radmanovic passed on an open three at the top of the key. Instead, he passed and eventually forced a 22-foot jumper that missed.
Pierce made a jumper on the ensuing possession. Radmanovic then turned the ball over with a bad pass that Kevin Garnett was credited with a steal. Pierce made another basket and the lead ballooned to 72-59. Although the Lakers regrouped to make a mad dash at the end that fell a little short, the Lakers missed a chance to make the game more manageable in the final quarter.
Radmanovic accepted responsibility for his part in the failed comeback.
“I tried to make a play but I didn’t and something bad happened,” Radmanovic said.
Radmanovic would go onto redeem himself in the fourth as he played a major role in the late surge. He made three baskets, including a three. He also had the steal and dunk that brought the Lakers, with just over a minute to play to within four, 104-100, and almost on the verge of one the most remarkable comebacks in Finals history.