Lakers, Celtics react to Game 4
June 12: Kobe stunned after L.A. blows a record lead.
"Be like Mike" remains wishful thinking.
Kobe Bryant is not yet Michael Jordan, and sure, who is? In two of the four games of these NBA Finals, though, the NBA's Most Valuable Player has had the opportunity to sculpt his own MJ moment. Both times Bryant has come up short.
The first time occurred in a game when the Lakers trailed by 24. The second occurred on Thursday evening at the Staples Center, a game in which Los Angeles led by 24.
Jordan owned those moments.
Bryant? He is every ounce as competitive — just ask Curt Schilling — and very nearly as talented. But on the NBA Finals stage, we have yet to witness Bryant heroics. And can you imagine Jordan's Chicago Bulls allowing the greatest comeback in Finals history since the league began keeping a running play-by-play back in 1971? That is what happened this evening, as Los Angeles turned a 45-21 second-quarter lead into a 97-91 soul-crushing defeat.
"We just wet the bed," said Bryant. "A nice big one, too. One of the ones you can't put a towel over."
Are we still talking about basketball or are we discussing that Michael Landon biopic, The Loneliest Runner?
The paradox of Game 4 is that at halftime the Lakers led 58-40 despite Kobe, the league's premiere offensive weapon of the past decade, having yet to make a shot from the field. Kobe had three points, all on free throws, while shooting 0-for-4 from the field. Trevor Ariza had doubled him up in the "PTS" column on the stat sheet.
And yet, who cared? Game 4 seemed as in the bag as the two free tacos Staples Center fans would receive if L.A. could just hold Boston to below 100 points. Fans proudly flashed "We Want Tacos!" T-shirts. Congratulations, Angelenos, and bon appetit!
At halftime Celtics forward Paul Pierce approached coach Doc Rivers and said, "Let me guard Kobe." Which is funny. The Celtics were down 18 at the time and you could understand if Ray Allen, like Pierce a tenured All-Star, might have taken umbrage. Hadn't he held Bryant to three first-half points?
Let me guard Kobe? Hell, Kobe wasn’t the problem.
"It was … interesting," Allen said with a smile about Pierce's proposed defensive switch.
However, Pierce and Allen and you and I and Larry David, seated just four seats down from Phil Jackson (and making sure not to inadvertently trip any Lakers reporting to the scorer's table), we all knew the same thing: Kobe wanted to score. In the second half he attempted nearly four times as many shots as he had in the first (15, compared to four), while his teammates became more and more reticent.
The other four Lakers starters attempted just 16 second-half shots, or one more than Bryant, whereas in the first half they attempted 21 to his four.
"We knew it was coming," said the Celtics' P.J. Brown. "We knew it would be a different Kobe in the third quarter."
If the third quarter, in which Boston outscored the Lakers 31-15, had a signature play, it was this. With just under five minutes to play and Los Angeles still comfortably ahead 70-55, Bryant backed down Pierce on the left block, then stepped back and attempted a turnaround jumper. Rejection. Pierce recovered the blocked shot and tossed it upcourt to Ray Allen, who was fouled.
From that moment on, the Celtics doubled the Lakers' output, 42-21.
Blame Kobe? How can you? He had 15 of the Lakers' final 31 points in that exciting near-comeback in Game 2, when the Lakers trailed 95-71 with 8:02 remaining. On Thursday night he either scored or had the assist on all but two of the Lakers' 18 fourth-quarter points. And yet, maybe that was part of the problem. When the going gets tough, Kobe takes over. And twice in the Lakers' past three games, that has not been enough.
It's enough to drive a man to drink. And pun.
Y! Sports: For Roy Hibbert, a sense of ownership means knowing he should have fought to get in the game with two seconds remaining in overtime, when his absence allowed LeBron James to hit the winning lay-up.
Video: NBA from NBC Sports
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