Ten Thoughts from a Game 5 in which we learned a valuable lesson: Doesn't matter if you are a Celtics or Lakers fan, we are all united for one common goal. And that is to make sure that "Grown Ups" fails so spectacularly at the box office that we will never have to watch a group of actors try to talk sports again.
1. If they find a way to win one more game, the 2009-10 Celtics will have completed the most improbable playoff run of my Boston sports lifetime. And I don't think it's even close. OK, you could argue the 2001 Patriots. But didn't that team seem more likely to make a run when its postseason started? The Patriots had won six games in a row, the Pats had the No. 2 seed in the AFC, and the No. 1 seed in the AFC had Kordell Stewart as the starting quarterback. Plus there was just a feeling about that team, right? You remember.
This Celtics team inspired no such warm and fuzzies over the last three months of the regular season. People (I'm raising my hand) were digging the graves, readying themselves for a first-round loss to the Heat. Actually, a lot of people were hoping for a first-round loss to the Heat, if only to avoid the inevitable sweep or five-game wipeout at the hands of a Cavs team that looked to be ready to make the leap. If there is an opposite of momentum, this team was soaking in it.
Then the switch went off. The Celtics told us that they would be ready for the playoffs, that 27-27 fell in the "nothing to see here, move along" department. Why didn't we believe them? Because we have watched a lot of sports in our lives. Teams that are older and struggle for months don't wake up one day, realize that the playoffs are about to begin and just decide to start winning again.
Until now. One more win and this team is going to put up Banner No. 18. And I promise you there will be nothing about 27-27 or trading Ray Allen or booing Rasheed Wallace on that banner. And I'll be first in line for the 2009-10 championship DVD, titled "Regular Season: Irrelevant."
2. When the 2010 Kevin Garnett is playing somewhere close to the 2008 Kevin Garnett, the Celtics are probably going to win. Is it that simple? Well, maybe not, when you realize that they did lose a Game 3 in which KG was terrific (25 points). But as good as he was in Game 3, I thought Game 5 was the best I've seen Garnett in this postseason. He was as close as you'll ever see to vintage KG on both ends of the court. We all took shots at Garnett after Games 1 and 2, agreed that Gasol was simply out of KG's league at this point. Well, Garnett destroyed Gasol in Game 5. Blocked his shots, boxed him out, posted up and scored and hit jumpers over him. The biggest shock of this series (other than me skipping Halftime Pizza before Game 4) is Garnett re-establishing himself as a force in the matchup with Gasol. Never thought he'd be back in his head, but here he is. I hate to leap to judgment (actually I really don't) but if the Celtics win this series and Garnett controls that matchup the rest of the way, Gasol has to take a monster hit. He'll be forever slapped with the soft label.
3. Have you ever seen a better six minutes of shooting than what Kobe Bryant did to start the second half? Hit seven straight shots, and none of them were easy. The Celtics played good to very, very good defense each time. Kobe was just better. Twenty-six-foot fallaways, double-pump 18-footers over triple-team coverage, all of his greatest hits tossed into a half a quarter. Unreal. But Kobe was all alone vs. the Celtics in Game 5. Gasol was the only other player in double figures, and he needed 12 shots to get his 12 points. Only Lamar Odom (4-for-6) shot better than 50 percent. This wasn't the 2008 Lakers -- Kobe would've loved that supporting cast on Sunday compared to what he got. No, this was more like the 2005 Lakers, with Chris Mihm and Chucky Atkins. I was living in California then and watched a lot of that team. Those Lakers did a lot of standing around, watching do Kobe incredible things offense. Then they would jog down the court and give up a ton of points on defense. They won 34 games. That was about what Kobe was working with in Game 5. These Lakers are better than that, of course, but they sure turned into the 2005 group in a hurry on Sunday.
(And what if that was the one "Kobe goes crazy" game and the Celtics survived it?)
4. Still, even with KG and Kobe, the game ball goes to Paul Pierce. The best clutch shooter not named Larry Bird in Celtics history had his best game in the series, scoring 27 points, including 12 in the third quarter to play a key role in limiting the damage of Bryant's remarkable outburst. Just one of those games when Pierce seemed comfortable with all of his moves, and the Celtics knew it and spent a lot of time getting out of his way, while still keeping their identities. Think the Lakers could have learned from that?
5. I'm pretty sure that the Lakers didn't bring in Ron Artest to shoot 30.2 percent from the field in the NBA finals while playing the kind of defense that led to Kobe begging Phil Jackson to be switched to Pierce. But I'm sure he'll be a nice value at $7.8 million in 2014, the final year of his contract.
6. Everyone pegged Andrew Bynum as the X-factor for Game 5. If Bynum could play 20-25 minutes, it seemed likely that the Lakers would at least be able to get back some of that inside toughness that was gone in the second half of Game 4. And Bynum, to his credit, gutted out 32 minutes on Sunday. But you could tell he just isn't close to healthy. Says a lot about the Lakers bench that Jackson feels compelled to play a way-less-than 100 percent Bynum. If that were, say, Perkins, there would be three or four ways Doc could go. Just not the case with the Lakers.
7. I understand that he has to chase Kobe all over the court and that Fisher is using every Old Man Trick ever invented to defend him, but there is no excuse for Ray Allen going 0-for-Boston behind the 3-point line. Yup, Ray hasn't hit on a triple since his record-breaking eighth in Game 2. Zero for 16 in Games 3-5. Now, we've all watched Allen enough over the last three years to know that a 6-for-9 game from behind the arc is probably right around the corner. But I wonder if the thigh injury is a bigger factor than he is letting on. Some of these misses aren't even close -- see his final attempt, the "Did it hit the rim or not?" shot at the end of Game 5. You have to think at some point Allen is going to have to hit a couple of big second-half triples in this series. The Celtics have managed to grab a 3-2 lead with Allen making a true offensive impact in one of the 10 halves. I still think they'll need him to get going at some point to close this series out.
8. Is that Rondo follow-up on the Pierce missed 3-pointer the play of the series? Every game, it seems, Rondo makes a play that you'll never see another point guard make. That was it for Game 5. A messy (seven turnovers) game from Rondo, but lots of good stuff thrown in there. And I liked the technical foul he picked up by giving Artest that "shove" following Ron's quasi-hard foul on Garnett. Sticking up for big brother is part of growing up, right?
(And if that Rondo tip-in was the best play of the series, then the Tony Allen block on Gasol was 1A. Even Gasol felt guilty complaining to Joey Crawford after that one.)
9. Five games in and we don't have a runaway MVP favorite. You could make a case for Rondo and Pierce, I think, and Bryant and Gasol. I'm thinking (barring something goofy, like a 35-20 from KG or 50 points from Allen in a win) that the MVP is coming from one of those four guys. I guess if I had the old gun to the head right now I think I'd go with Rondo. Why? Well, he's had the best game of anyone in the series (Game 2) and has made a legit impact in two wins. But a 25-point game from Pierce in a series clincher could easily get him finals MVP No. 2. Can't imagine the Lakers could find a way to win the next two without Kobe playing like the MVP, but I still threw Gasol in the mix, if only because he's still averaging 19-10 in the series. And to be fair, if Shelden Williams has 212 points and 98 boards in Game 6, he'd have to be considered.
10. I picked the Celtics in seven games before the series started. Had them getting a split in LA, winning two of the three in Boston and taking Game 7. Still on script. And I think that'll be true after Tuesday as well. The Lakers aren't the Cavs or the Magic. This is the best team the Celtics have faced the entire postseason, and they have the best player. He'll do enough to get them to a Game 7.
Lakers 94, Celtics 84