Monday, June 09, 2008

Two down, two to go

Dan Shaughnessy

Is Basketball America ready to Go Green? Just like in the old days?

Playing the blood-and-thunder game that marked their Bill Russell-Larry Bird glory years, the Celtics last night bolted to a 24-point fourth-quarter lead and hung on to beat the Los Angeles Lakers, 108-102, at the New Garden to take a 2-0 series lead in the NBA Finals.

In the midst of a championship banner drought that has spanned both Bush Administrations, the Celtics are two wins from a long-awaited 17th NBA title as they resume play at Staples Center in Los Angeles tomorrow night.

It's premature to be lighting cigars, but the possibility exists the Celtics have played their final game in Boston this year. The Red Auerbach Celtics won championships in Los Angeles in 1963, '68, and '69 and are slated to play three games (if needed) in California before bringing the series - or the trophy - back to Boston.

"It's nice to be up, 2-0," said Celtics coach Doc Rivers. "We've done what we should do. We took care of home, and that's what we should have done. Now we have to go on the road for us to keep attacking."

Certainly the Lakers will be happy to be playing 3,000 miles west of the Causeway Street gym. The high-flying Western Conference champs dissolved early in the second half of Game 2, falling behind by 24 before a furious rally pulled them within 2 in the final minute. Favored by most experts across the land, the Lakers are in a giant sinkhole as they head home.

Lakers coach Phil Jackson is trying to pass Auerbach by winning a 10th championship and sounded much like Boston's favorite redhead after watching his team take only 10 free throws compared with Boston's 38.

"I'm struck at the fact that Leon Powe gets more foul shots than our whole team does in 14 minutes of play," he said. "I've never seen a game like that in all the years I've coached in the Finals. Unbelievable. I think my players got fouled. I have no question about the fact that my players got fouled but didn't get to the line."

The unheralded Powe attempted 13 free throws and shredded the Lakers under the basket, scoring 21 points, many on dunks. Paul Pierce scored 28 points with eight assists in 41 minutes. Kevin Garnett added 14 rebounds and Rajon Rondo had 16 assists for the winners.

Kobe Bryant scored 30 for the losers, but he did little damage until the final quarter. Bryant made only 9 of 26 shots in Los Angeles's 10-point loss in Game 1 and got off to a slow start last night before recovering with 13 in the fourth.

It was well over 90 degrees yesterday, with a heat index registering north of 100. Had the game been played in the Old Garden in the 1980s, when the Celtics and Lakers last met (back when the fans sweated as much as the players), certainly the West Coast team would have required oxygen at courtside.

Keith Lockhart and friends performed the national anthem before Game 2. The Los Angeles arts community no doubt will be hard-pressed to top the Pops.

Celebrity sightings were plentiful, including Kevin Millar, Tedy Bruschi, Mike Lowell, Vince Wilfork, and Richard Seymour. Big lug Curt Schilling, attired in a vintage Larry Bird jersey, sat next to the Lakers' bench. Not sure if Schill was carrying his Kevin McHale lunchbox.

Bryant canned only 1 of 4 attempts in the first quarter. Despite the slow start by their megastar, the Lakers had a 22-20 lead at the end of one. There were four lead changes in the first 12 minutes.

A 3-pointer by Pierce completed a 10-0 Boston run at the start of the second quarter and thrust the Celtics into a 30-22 lead. Jackson called time in an attempt to stop the bleeding. Bryant scored after the pause to get the Lakers back on message.

With 5:50 to go in the first half, Red Sox lefthander Jon Lester, a cancer survivor and no-hit perpetrator, was introduced as the nightly "Hero Among Us." He waved to the standing masses while the public address system played "Glory Days." Nice touch.

The Lakers cut the lead to 4 before Pierce and Ray Allen hit back-to-back threes to make it 47-37. Jackson called a 20-second timeout and the crowd chanted "Beat LA!" Bryant picked up his third foul late in the half and Boston led, 54-42, at intermission.

A Pierce trey gave the Celtics a 62-46 lead in the fourth minute of the third quarter. Bryant and Pau Gasol got hot and closed the deficit to 9, but the Celtics had an answer for every punch and went up by 22 when Powe dunked three times (two off passes from Pierce) at the end of the third quarter.

It was the Powe show again at the start of the fourth. Boston led, 95-71, with fewer than eight minutes to play when the Lakers went to work.

Los Angeles cut the lead to 104-102 on a pair of free throws by Bryant with 38.4 seconds left. The Celtics came back and iced the game on free throws by Pierce and James Posey.

"I was a little disappointed in our play in the last six minutes of the game," said Pierce. "There was definitely a lesson to be learned in that last stretch. I'm happy that we won, but we definitely learned a valuable lesson in the fourth quarter."

"I just wasn't very happy with the way we played," said Rivers. "I thought the first quarter was awful and the fourth quarter was awful. Thank God for the second and third quarters."
"We played as poorly as we can possibly play for 2 1/2 quarters," countered Jackson. "Basketball is about momentum."

The Lakers finished fast, but Boston takes all the momentum to California.