Alright, everyone. Tell the truth. Raise your hand if you thought that during crunch time, in Game Four of the Finals, trailing in the series 2-1, the Boston Celtics would have a lineup on the court of Nate Robinson, Ray Allen, Tony Allen, Rasheed Wallace, and Glen Davis.
And it would be this lineup that brought life to a team that was lifeless for much of the game. And it would be this lineup that carried the Celtics to the 96-89 Game Four victory over the Lakers.
That, however, is exactly what happened.
After consecutive Kobe Bryant three-pointers late in the third quarter, Glen Davis scored to make the score 62-60, L.A., heading into the fourth.
Davis, though, was just getting started. He and Ray Allen each had hoops, sandwiched around a Pau Gasol jumper. Davis then had a layup off a Robinson assist to put Boston ahead 66-64 with 9:45 to play. It would be the fourteenth lead change of the game. Thanks largely to Davis, it would be the final lead change as well.
Leading 68-64, Tony Allen missed a layup, but Davis came crashing in for the offensive rebound, made the hoop, and got fouled. He completed the three-point play, extending Boston’s run to 13-2, and the lead to seven, 71-64.
Tony Allen then had a three-point play, Rasheed Wallace knocked down a three, Nate Robinson chipped in four straight points, and then Davis added a pair. All of that equaled an 85-74 Boston lead with less than four minutes to play, and it all occurred with Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, and Rajon Rondo on the bench
The Lakers attempted to get back in the game. Ron Artest in a rare offensive showing, had his own three point play and Bryant hit a pair of free throws, cutting the Boston lead to just six, 85-79.
There was still plenty of time, but Paul Pierce would not have it.
Pierce had not played well in the series and had not played well all season against the Lakers. He came out aggressive, with 10 first quarter points, but then had only two in the second, and did not even attempt a shot in the third.
But Pierce finally shrugged off Artest and had seven points over the final two-plus minutes. He hit a tough jump shot for an 87-79 lead. Then after a Bryant bucket, Pierce took the ball strong to the hoop, got the advantage of a very close block/charge call, and finished off the three-point play.
On the next possession, Bryant got his own benefit of a questionable call, on a three-pointer. He made all three free throws, and following a Boston miss, Bryant had the ball back in his hands, trailing 90-84 with 40 seconds to play.
Bryant tried to throw a pass back out to Derek Fisher, but Rajon Rondo picked off the pass, racing in for the game-clinching layup.
The story of the game was the Boston bench that outscored the Lakers bench 36-18. Davis had 18 points on 7-10 shooting, with five rebounds, four of which came on the offensive glass.
Nate Robinson hit Boston’s only two three-pointers of the game, finishing with 12 points.
The Celtics needed every bit of help from their bench too. Ray Allen had a few important hoops in the fourth quarter, but shot just 4-11 for the game and did not make a three-pointer, amazingly for the third time this series. Kevin Garnett was 5-13 from the floor for 13 points, and Rondo was 5-15. Worse than Rondo’s shooting, he managed only three assists, his lowest total during this year’s playoffs.
In addition to Boston’s bench, the major key for the Celtics was rebounding. Boston was hammered on the glass in Game One (42-31), and throughout the series, whichever team had the rebounding advantage won the game.
For Game Four, Boston out-rebounded the Lakers 41-34 and doubled-up L.A. 16-8 in offensive rebounds.
The Lakers were led by Bryant’s 33 points, on 10-22 shooting, 6-11 from three. As deadly as Bryant can be shooting threes, I would rather see him taking jumpers from beyond the arc than creating havoc (and Boston foul trouble) driving to the hoop. We saw attacking Kobe in Game One, but since then, he has been mostly a jump shooter.
Bryant shooting jumpers can definitely win a game and the series. But with as good as he is, you have to pick your poison, and I imagine Boston would prefer to see Kobe taking contested jump shots, then watching him play how he played in Game One.
Pau Gasol had 21 points, but only six rebounds. Gasol was aggressive in the first half, getting to the line eight times, but managed only two free throws attempts in the second half.
Tons of questions remain for Game Five. Despite the win, Ray Allen missed all of his three pointers, and outside the first half of Game Two, he is shooting 1-17 from three in the series. After 25 points in Game Three, the Celtics went away from going to Garnett in the post. Paul Pierce had his most effective game of the series, but Boston cannot afford to have him disappear for quarters as he did in Game Four at times.
Rondo has looked far from one of the game’s top point guards in three of the four games, and accordingly, the Celtic offense has struggled during those times. In the fourth quarter of Game Four, Doc Rivers turned the offense over to Nate Robinson, and it got the Celtics going. Boston had just 60 points through three quarters, but scored 36 in the fourth, most of which came with Robinson at the point.
For the Lakers, the primary question is Andrew Bynum’s health. Bynum played just 12 minutes after re-injuring his knee. He tried to give it a go, but was basically unable to. With Bynum out, a Lakers strength, namely depth in the front court with Odom coming off the bench, becomes a weakness, as it forces Odom and Gasol to basically have to play the entire time.
With the series tied 2-2, the Celtics will get to take advantage of a major benefit of the 2-3-2 format for the lower-seeded team. Unlike what would have happened in the earlier rounds, Boston will get to play pivotal Game Five on its home court, with the game taking place Sunday night.
Boston would be well-suited to view Sunday night as a must-win, because win or lose, the benefit of 2-3-2 will then shift to the Lakers, as the remainder of the series will then be played in Los Angeles.