I go into game 1 of these finals thinking a few things are certain. These certainties are soon obliterated. Let’s play a little before and after, shall we?:
What Evil Ted thinks - before and after:
BEFORE: The Celtics defense is like nothing the Lakers have seen thus far.
AFTER: The Celtics look surprisingly soft and slow and old. A possible explanation is offered up by Tommy Heinsohn on the Mike and Mike show the morning after. Tommy says the C’s are still playing “Magic” defense, which involves one-on-one guarding of the bigs and squelching the 3-point shooting. He says they need to start playing “Laker” defense which involves clogging the paint and MAKING the opponent shoot threes. Apparently Tom Thibodeau forgot he was still being paid to coach the Celtics defense, and not to field head coaching offers from lesser teams. Random thought: Are the Celtics going to be forced to play Sun-style zone? Should they consider it?
BEFORE: The Celtics have dispatched the two “best” teams, by record, in the league, so they will, logically, win this series.
AFTER: Thinking deeper reveals the flawed logic - regular season records are false gods. The West, chocked with a greater number of talented teams who simply play each other more often and therefore water down the records of all its respective teams, is in fact the stronger conference.
BEFORE: If I am a Laker fan, I am worried about the matchups for this series. Who will stop Rondo? Who will chase Allen? Will KG completely neutralize Gasol?
AFTER: If I am a Laker fan, I am not worried about matchups at all. Rondo, apparently, will stop himself, frequently halting in mid-drive when approached by the Laker bigs. Allen will get into foul trouble while supposedly “guarding” Kobe, and KG will look like he’s returned to worrying about his knee while Gasol looks nothing like the “soft” player of two years ago.
And now, the game highlights, lowlights, and random observations:
Stoudemire and Howard combine for a goofy commercial to promote the return of ABC’s regular-person-gets-humiliated-by-large-death-machines show, Wipeout. Think to self, self, that’s why they’re on vacation now. Think you’d see Kobe and KG doing that? Uhm, no. Kobe will sign a form to let you make a muppet out of him to sell shoes, but that’s where the line is drawn.
Opening of the Game:
The Lakers’ PA announcer is the disinterested-and-fey-sounding Lawrence Tanter. By announcer voices alone, the Celtics have a huge advantage. If you put the Celts’ Eddie Palladino and Tanter in a Beat-it-style street fight, Palladino would issue a serious voice-kicking. And then moonwalk.
This is followed up by a Whitney Houston-esque Star-Spangled Banner by Jeffery Osborne. I expect this to also be outdone by Boston. Game 3 will probably have Ben Affleck and Dennis Leary screaming the opening anthem while drunk. Little do I know, the opening ceremonies will be the best part of my night.
11:33 in 1st – Looks like Artest tries to rip off Pierce’s arm as the two go to the floor with both arms locked against each other, back to back. Double technical called on Pierce and Artest. Worrisome. The Lakers did not have an enforcer like Artest in ’08. He could create problems, and narrow the who’s-a-tougher-team gap significantly.
10:13 left – If Bryant can consistently get to the hole like he just did, watch out for the Lakers. Celts are playing that “Magic” style defense, I guess…
9:58 – Fisher gets his second foul. Could be big.
9:46 - Artest steal from Pierce. Artest looks fresh and why-doesn’t-this-guy-play-for-Boston hungry.
Bynum slam. Lakers up 6-2.
8:41 – Artest gets another steal
7:45 – Rondo makes a jumper, followed by Bryant.
6:34 – Joey Crawford calls a travel on Gasol. Doing so takes him approximately seven seconds. With his eyes, he practically says “I’m going to make my presence felt because of my massive ego and need for attention.” My thoughts immediately turn to Jim Joyce, the umpire who messed up Armando Gallaraga’s perfect game on a badly blown call with two outs in the ninth inning. He immediately said he screwed up and then cried the next day in front of a forgiving Detroit crowd. I think to myself if NBA officials had the same conscience, they’d be in a constant state of malaise and contrition, and would likely have to apply for leave from their respective mental hospitals to officiate games. Fortunately for us, they collectively have no soul.
6:20 – Pierce lay-up past Artest one on one. That’s more like it.
Team Anecdote time:
There is a story about the 100 bucks that Doc Rivers took from every player in an LA regular-season game and placed in the ceiling of the Staples Center visitors’ locker room, only to be retrieved if the C’s made it to the Finals. Jeff Van Gundy (JVG) openly wonders “What if the Lakers hadn’t made it to the Finals?” Good point. Better point? How about some incentive for winning the Finals? Best point: Is 100 bucks really incentive to these guys? Bestest point: The Lakers’ coaching staff is offering 50 bucks for each charge taken in the Finals. What ever happened to the you’re-paid-a-lot-of-money-to-compete-your-ass-off-so-just-friggin-do-it coaching style?
4:50 – Pierce hits jumper with Artest’s hand an inch from face.
Lakers up - 18-13
3:55 – Rasheed enters the game.
3:24 – Artest’s second foul. Legit blocking call.
3:03 – JVG mentions that Ray Allen hasn’t had a burger since he was 19. This astonishes him. Sounds like just another facet of Ray’s obsessive-compulsive traits. At some point, Ray-Ray said to himself “No more fatty greasy burgers” and stuck to it…forever. I find myself cool with whatever messed-up personality disorder keeps Ray Allen practicing three hours before games. Sure, he’s also probably washing his hands forty times before going to bed, but if it works for him, that’s cool.
Celtics have been mediocre, only down 18-16. Encouraging.
Cutting to commercial, we see Ray Allen trying act up some contact with Gasol in slow motion, then smiling. Then going to bench to apply anti-bacterial lotion to his hands.
2:30 – In put back attempt, Gasol yells out and draws a foul. This is the second time in the game he has drawn a foul with nothing but volume.
2:10 - Glen Davis manages to stay in front of Kobe on a drive. JVG (who’s the only guy worth quoting, by the way), notes how well Davis moves for a big man, or semi-big man. Or fire-hydrant man masquerading as big man.
1:23 – Davis draws foul on Odom with a scream of his own. Phil Jackson gives him 50 bucks.
Celts Defense looking average. Which means below average. Someone forgot to tell them they’re in the finals.
“MVP” chants while Kobe shoots free throws. Kobe bows, offers air-kisses. I wonder to myself if the best player of every team will soon be hearing “MVP” chants while shooting free throws. Rondo’s been getting them. He better pick up his play, or he’s going to continue hearing it…but from Laker fans.
59.1 - Kobe gets second foul on an acting job by Pierce, who can’t reach Rondo’s off-the-mark pass.
19.1 – Farmar steals the ball from a sleeping Rondo. Celts not looking sharp at either end, and worse, look disinterested. I think back to Rondo grabbing the ball from between Jason Williams’ legs in that “just-wanted-it-more” moment. Farmar just made Rondo look like Jason Williams.
10:34 - Pierce draws 3rd on Odom – offensive foul. Reasonable call.
10:12 – Rasheed hits a 3 on a dish from Pierce. If Rasheed gets going, maybe there’s a chance.
9:11 - Gasol tries a here’s-the-ball-over-here-and-now-I’m-going-to-spin-around-and-shoot-over-here move that he probably saw Rajon Rondo do against Cleveland. Good News: Shot is blocked handily by Rasheed. Bad News: The Lakers are comfortable enough right now to practice unusual new shots in game 1 of the Finals.
8:20 – Shannon Brown walks in for lay up, has six points. Made it look easy. Celtics D continues to blow.
7:35 – Vujacic weak grab of perkins jersey. Perkins scores and one.
7:31 – Nate Robinson gets his first foul. Legit.
7:11 – Nate fights for ball after knocking it out of Gasol’s hands. Jump ball. Nate loses the jump ball, but not by much. Go figure that Nate would look like the only Celtic out there who wants it.
6:22 – Tony Allen pass knocked out of bounds. He has the lack-of-swagger of a man for whom the moment looks too big.
4:51 – Garnett hits a turnaround against Gasol. Celts have been yawn and so-so, and only down 2. 37-35.
A-Team advertisement…I can understand why they couldn’t use a dead George Pappard, but why not Mr. T? And if the original mohawked one doesn’t make a cameo, I’ll be ticked. The Ultimate Fighting dude who took over Mr. T’s role has bitched about acting distracting him from his UFC fights, and then said “acting is kind of gay.” What is gayer than acting? Thinking acting is gay and doing it anyway. Guess what? You’re not welcome back for the sequel, you homophobic dickface. Yeah, I said dickface, which would imply a dick being somewhere around your face. Suck on that.
Chris Rock, David Spade, Speilberg, Jack Nicholson, who is now referred to only as “Jack.” The close up reveals Jack now looks like a chipmunk, and causes me to briefly consider adding him to my Dead Pool when a spot opens up on my bench.
2:54 – Second foul on Pierce against Kobe. Lame call.
Two bang-bang Artest plays get Lakers up 9. This score seems more a reflection of the way the game has “felt.” Also, Artest really making a difference with his hard-nosed play.
1:36 – Classic Rondo to Garnett alley oop.
:56 – Fisher tear drop over Garnett’s out-stretched hand. Pretty.
Before buzzer, rondo hits dramatic fall away long jumper to get Celts to within….uhm…9. This could get out of hand quickly.
11:47 - Perkins called for letting Bynum elbow him in the ribs.
11:36 – Artest sticks out his butt and fouls Allen. Dumb foul.
11:29 – Fisher “fouls” Ray Allen. Terrible call. Fisher’s third.
10:15 – Rondo misses lay up.
7:50 – Gasol screams himself into another foul.
6:10 – Steal and Bryant dunk puts Lakers up 13, biggest lead of the game – signature play of game one if the Lakers win, which it looks like they will.
4:48 – Egregious Gasol flop earns a foul call. Commentators discuss calling fouls for flopping. I am completely in favor of this.
4:28 – Gasol hits a put back. He has been huge, and not remotely marshmellowish or soft.
3:!3 – Rondo dish to Tony Allen, who dunks and hangs on the rim. He appears to spin 720 degrees, causing me to wonder if he is equipped with the wrists of a toy Transformer. The rest of his play during this game would indicate that, in fact, he possesses no particular special powers or gadgets.
2:37 – Bryant block of Tony Allen dunk. Huge. Replay shows the ball fell out of Allen’s hand before the block (because of his faulty Transformer wrists?), so the block is not quite as impressive as it first seemed.
2:10 – Fisher alley oop to Bryant. Lakers are simply playing harder. Inexcusable.
The Dwight Howard, Lebron James dunk contest for McD’s, ending with Larry “I-have-no-idea-who-that-guy-is” Bird stealing their meal. Awesomest, most underappreciated commercial ever.
Point comparison at this point in the game, offering the answer to the question: “Who plays better defense? Artest or Allen?”
Pierce 11 points - 3 for 6
Kobe 24 points - 9 for 16
1:39 – Ray Allen called for foul number 5. Horrible call. Allen has been called for ticky-tack junk all game. At least it’s been consistent.
1:19 – Rasheed with stupid moving pick foul on Fisher. Rasheed can be seen on bench later, checking “Requisite one-stupid-foul” off a list.
:55 - Laker defense looks superior, forcing an off-balance Pierce 3.
:46 – The requisite “We-give-up-here’s-your-victory-cigar” Rasheed Wallace Technical Foul. A couple more and he gets a one-game suspension. Maybe he and Perkins can sit out the same game so we can just get that loss out of the way.
Lakers - 84-64
11:19 – Wallace can’t even properly outlet the ball to Nate Robinson. Ends up chasing the ball into the stands in a too-little-too-late attempt to redeem himself.
10:18 – Pierce called for a carry. A CARRY! JVG points out that every player, especially Kobe Bryant, carries on nearly every dribble of every play…somewhere off camera, Joey Crawford is grinning and awaiting his moment in the sun.
8:56 – Garnett jumper – Celts back to within 13.
Lakers up: 85-72
Best I’m-a-Celtics-fan-but-I-love-this-Laker-move Moment #1:
8:28 – Phil Jackson yells at ABC interviewer Doris Burke and Chris Rock to cut the crap and get their cameraman off the court. Also love David Spade trying to squeeze his B-movie mug into the shot, giving the Why-don’t-you-want-to-talk-to-me? look to Doris. Because the top of your resume reads Currently in Unfunny Ensemble Sitcom, David. That’s why.
7:48 – Robinson misses a 3, and Garnett can’t handle put back. Doesn’t have the same ups as in ‘08. Huge.
7:34 - Gasol baby hook. Laker lead back to 15.
7:17 – Odom called for a block on Pierce. Cheesy call. Jack agrees.
6:20 – Artest strips the ball from big baby, long pass to Gasol for a dunk. Fat lady sings.
Commercial Alert and Best I’m-a-Celtics-fan-but-I-love-this-Laker-move Moment #2:
Nike’s Kobe “All together now” commercial. Actually made it seem like cheering for Kobe is fun, even though we all know this is not the case.
Best I’m-a-Celtics-fan-but-I-love-this-Laker-move Moment #3:
6:12 – Chris rock is blabbering from his $10,000 seat next to the Laker bench, trying to jock sniff Kobe with stupid small talk. Kobe sits stone-faced, completely ignoring him. Only people more awful than Lakers? Celebrities. Way to go, Kobe. I almost love you right now. But only right now. At this moment. Hating shall resume promptly.
5:47 – C’s still diving for loose balls. Good.
5:29 – Rondo feeds Garnett for an open dunk, but Garnett can’t finish. Twice. Disastrous. Could the Celtics play worse? Could Garnett look any more anemic?
I kinda stopped paying attention at this point, except for noticing what sounded like “Boston Sucks” chant going on while Pierce was shooting free throws, to which Mike Breen called the Laker-Celtic rivalry something like “fun” and “healthy”…
…No more ignorant-of-what-it’s-like-to-actually-give-a-huge-shit-about-an-athletic-contest comment has ever been made.
There’s nothing healthy about what I’m feeling right now, Mike. Nothing.