What happened to the aggressiveness, the physicality in defending the perimeter? What, it all suddenly vanished at a time when the Los Angeles Lakers were in command of presumably traveling to Boston with a 2-0 lead in the best-of-seven series of the NBA Finals.
In Hollywood, the Lakers are a sociable and ethical event in a diverse community that assembles at a venue where thousands sit in the stands and communicate on BlackBerrys or fondle with any electronic device, until Kobe Bryant reveals the most intimidating facial expression in the game and titillates the crowd with his scoring attributes.
It was a night when the Lakers had no answer in stopping Ray Allen, whose scorching three-pointers burnt out the nets. It was a night when Jack Nicholson, a lifelong Lakers fan with courtside seats, couldn’t handle the truth.
It was a night when a veteran sharpshooter refused to fall without a fight, recovering from a poor performance, as usual simultaneously, to challenge and precisely turn what seemed like a one-sided series into an interesting and a prolonged showdown. It was a night, of course, when Allen reminded us that the Celtics are still championship bound, adequate in dispatching the mystified Lakers when the Boston Celtics propelled to a 103-94 win in Game Two.
It was, I’ll admit, a night when Allen rescued his teammates of possibly facing a large deficit against their longtime foes. All the celebrities were in the stands, witnessing an ominous moment and watched Allen control the dynamics in the game. So it was Allen, riding a sensational streak in three-pointers, that slaughtered the Lakers from every angle on the floor beyond the perimeter. This time, the Lakers deteriorated in a must-needed win, ignoring and disrespecting the outside shot of Allen.
He couldn’t miss on a night when every shot scorched the nets, and as a result, he buried seven threes in the first-half, en route to eight three-pointers and shattered a Finals’ record for the most threes made in a game that changed the complexion for the Celtics. This would mean that Allen is the next MJ, right? Considering that he was the hottest player on the floor and assassinated his archrivals and archenemy in Bryant with a spectacular masterpiece since Michael Jordan fired six three-pointers in the 1992 Finals against Portland, scoring incredibly 35 points in the first half and flaunted when he shook his head and shrugged his shoulders, Allen is a clone of MJ in three-point shooting in the NBA Finals.
If he has found rhythm and returned to streaky long-range shooting, it would be imperative noting that his ubiquity of essential offerings puts a tremendous amount of pressure and massive weight on the Lakers, now having to travel to Boston for the next three games. It’s obvious that they have to win at least one game in a hostile environment, but will have to make some minor adjustments, like defending the arch and putting a hand in Allen’s face. In retrospect, it may minimize his possibility of heaving outside shots.
How did the Lakers abandon defending the perimeter, when a dangerous shooter in Allen is proficient in lighting it up? It’s fitting to believe that L.A. disrespected his ability to shoot it from long distance, getting an assumption that he’s beginning to descend because of his age and recent travails. Earlier in the season, his scoring average devalued and it almost forced general manager Danny Ainge to listen to offers and send Allen off in a midseason trade to Golden State for Monta Ellis.
And it showed that the Celtics were fortunate in holding on to Allen, especially when he’s known for firing shots, useful in a moment when much is a stake. Of all the struggles in Game One, he recovered after a miserable field goal percentage. As it was, the Celtics weren’t worthy of winning a championship, but criticized harshly for relinquishing their solid defensive effort and not attacking aggressively.
By salvaging the first win in the series, the Lakers faltered in a game they needed badly, now forced to win at least two out of three in a hostile territory because of the 2-3-2 format. A few nights ago, the Lakers were physical, for once, and weren’t feeble and eluded softness. To his credit, Allen was very mobile and cleared himself by moving without the ball and caught it and attempted shots that fell in.
But his nemesis Bryant was frustrated and bitter. Entering the late stages, he’s slowly debilitating in his game, and hasn’t facilitated much in this series, though his teammates have stepped up the intensity. And instead of focusing on what was happening in the game, he bickered and even seemed angry when the refs whistled an awful call or no-call.
For a while, he pestered and harassed Allen in a one-on-one duel, but stopped playing defense a bit. It was obvious that he tried to avoid being whistled for a foul, and was forced to sit out much of the game in foul trouble. Sometimes, the refs make us wonder if the series are rigged, but either way, they called an offensive foul on Bryant for his third personal foul. Then, coach Phil Jackson hurried and yanked him out with 3:20 left in the half. Above all, it was a bad night for Bryant, out-dueled by his villain Allen.
If not for Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum, who combined for 46 points, 14 rebounds and 13 blocks, the Lakers might not have survived. They are both flourishing and no longer have a soft personality, willing to exploit a prolific scheme inside. And when the inside presence of Bynum and Gasol makes Kevin Garnett older as if he’s leaning towards retirement, you know the inside game must be a dynamic force.
The game was over once Ray-Ray stole the Hollywood limelight.
“There’s no better place, moment or time to win a game—and to win in a great fashion,” Allen said. “I don’t know what record it is that people are telling me that I got, but it’s great to have, great to be able to look back on it and say I did that. This is definitely our time.”
It’s good to know that Allen is optimistic and has swagger.