In sports, how you perform at the start and in the middle of a game is not as important than how you finish. The Celtics’ job of containing Kobe Bryant was excellent. Coach Doc Rivers put Ray Allen and Rajon Rondo on Kobe, and the two limited the former NBA MVP to a mere 19 points (well, a mere 19 if you are Kobe).
However in the waning moments of the fourth quarter, Kobe made a tough shot over Ray Allen’s fully stretched arms to give the Lakers a one point lead with under ten seconds in the game. Ray Allen’s three point attempt to win the game was not successful and the Lakers escaped with a gutsy win.
After withstanding the Celtics’ physical strategy throughout the first quarter and building a double-digit lead, LA started to falter in the second quarter. The quickness of Rajon Rondo and Tony Allen were too much for Laker guards Derek Fisher and Sasha Vujacic to handle.
The Lakers refused to quit, and got a spectacular performance from center Andrew Bynum, who outplayed his young opponent Kendrick Perkins. Bynum’s strength forced Perkins into early foul trouble, and was too strong for Kevin Garnett and his recovering knee.
Pau Gasol did not wilt under defensive and verbal pressure from Kevin Garnett, or Rasheed Wallace. Ron Artest played solid defensively, and drew a crucial offensive foul from Celtics captain Paul Pierce with under a minute remaining in the game.
The Lakers proved they can go into a hostile eastern conference environment and win. Even more impressive was their ability to match the physical play of the Celtics and not lose their composure. The 2008 NBA Finals loss to the Celtics has been the best thing to happen to the Lakers post Shaquille O’Neal. They have become tougher both mentally and physically.
All the Lakers need for the stretch run is another guard who can play solid defensively. The leadership of Kobe Bryant, and his Jordan-esque love for late-game drama is something no other team in the league has. The only thing keeping the Lakers from winning back-to-back NBA titles is injuries.