Joe Crawford , Derrick Stafford , Joe Derosa: They are who we thought they were.
Over the past couple weeks, when people have asked for my predictions about a Celtics-Lakers Finals, my answer was this: I don't know what the outcome will be, but it will probably depend on how the officials call the games. The Lakers are a skill team and the Celtics are -- as Phil Jackson put it -- a "smackdown" team. Those are slight over-generalities, of course, but that's pretty much how it is.
Anyway, games that are called tightly favor skilled teams. Physical games favor the smackdown-style teams. That's how it is and how it always will be. A few hours before game time, I texted this to my buddy Craig at The Association (a pro-Lakers blog). When I laid this theory on him, his reply was: "Joey Crawford tonight...EVERYONE fouls out, the game goes five hours long."
It wasn't quite that bad, but it was too close for my tastes. Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol and Ron Artest all got called for two quick fouls. So did Ray Allen. Ray finished with 5 fouls in only 27 minutes, the last of which...well, we'll get to that. At any rate, I much prefer NBA Finals games where the officials let the players play, and not just because that probably would have benefited the Celtics. Just because, damn, man, it's the freaking Finals, not Swan Lake.
The Boston Celtics: The Celts were behind the eight ball pretty much from the start because of how the game was called. Look back at their last two series against Cleveland and Orlando. While they weren't all-out bloodbaths, the refs allowed the teams to be extremely physical...and the Cavaliers and Magic found out it's pretty hard to out-tough the Celtics. Heck, even their series with the Heat in the first round got a little rough.
That wasn't the case last night. Bumps and touches were being called from the onset. The Celtics weren't able to switch gears from Smach My Bitch Up to U Can't Touch This. And you know what? I think Doc Rivers must have predicted that would happen, especially after Phil Jackson started playing his little mindgames with the press earlier in the week. Boston looked like a team that had been instructed to keep it cool, keep it under control. They approached the first half with a very business-like intensity. Which means you can officially strike the "intensity" part out of that last sentence.
Bill Simmons did a live blog of the game, and he felt the Celtics didn't bring it. He didn't like their body language. I didn't either, but I really believe that Boston's too-calm demeanor was part of Doc's game plan. Remember how he was complaining about how he just knew Kendrick Perkins was going to end up with another tech (and therefore a one-game suspension) in this series? My guess is that he preached too much about composure and poise...because the C's didn't look like the chew-em-up and spit-em-out team from the last couple rounds. That's their game, and they didn't play it.
The sad thing is, Boston didn't ramp up the intensity until they were down 20 and Doc subbed in Nate Robinson, who apparently was the only Celtic with a pulse last night. IMHO, Rivers should have put Robinson in sooner. Forget his stats, the team needed his spark. Maybe he could have been like a shot of 5-Hour energy to the sleepwalking Celtics.
What got me is that the C's didn't take advantage of some early breaks. Due to a couple quick whistles on Derek Fisher, Sasha Vujacic came off the bench two minutes into the game. Luke Walton and Shannon Brown were in the game at the same time. At one point, the Lakers were using a backcourt of Jordan Farmar and Fisher. That should have been blood in the water to the Celtics...but they just kept playing their game instead of stepping it up to take advantage of these situations as they unfolded. And they paid for it.
The Celtics shot poorly (43 percent from the field, 1-for-10 on threes). When a team has a poor shooting night in the Finals (or any other time), they absolutely must a) get to the free throw line and b) crash the glass. Well, Boston got to the line, where they were 30-for-36. What they did not do was take care of the boards. L.A. outrebounded them 42-31, including 12-8 on the offensive end. Hell, Gasol finished with as many O-boards as the entire Celtics squad. That killed. So did the Lakes' 16-0 advantage in second-chance points.
Boston in the paint: I already read off the rebounding numbers -- although I didn't specifically mention the Lakers' 34.2 to 21 advantage in Offensive Rebounding Percentage -- but L.A. also outscored Boston 48-30 in the paint (thanks largely to Gasol's 23 points on 8-for-14 shooting). But it was more than that. The Celtics were only 12-for-27 (44 percent) at the rim. By contract, the Lakers were 19-for-34 (56 percent). L.A. was also 5-for-9 inside 10 feet. Mind you, they were only 6-for-17 from 16-23 feet and 4-for-10 from downtown.
In other words, the Celtics needed to force the Lakers into more jump shots. And they probably would have in a more physical game. But that obviously wasn't happening.
Speaking of which, I just love how various experts and (especially) Lakers fans exploded out of the woodwork to bleat "See?! Pau Gasol isn't soft!!" And you know, that happens a few times every year. But you'll also notice that Gasol always seems to get "tough" in games where the officials are calling it tightly. I wonder how "tough" Pau would have been if the refs were calling last night's game the way they were calling the Celtics-Magic series. Let's just say I have a feeling people wouldn't be so quick to nominate him for the Pantheon of NBA Tough Guys. Pau is the same player today he was yesterday. He's an extremely skilled player, and he's going to dominate in a skill game. In a wrasslin' match? Not so much.
Speaking of Gasol...
Invisible muggers: I can't stand Pau Gasol. And that's not an "I hate the Lakers" thing. I've always disliked him, going back to his days with the Grizzlies. I respect his skills, admire his game, but I cannot stand him. And, really, it's all the flailing and screaming. Every time he goes for an offensive rebound, he screams and flails. Pau sometimes does the same thing on defense, like that sequence last night when he hugged Kevin Garnett from behind and then flailed, screamed and fell over.
For years, I assumed this was because Gasol was a bit of a bitch. But now I get it: He is under constant attack by invisible muggers. They are always around him, lifting his wallet, smacking him in the face, yanking his chest hair, clipping him in the nuts. He can't control it and he can't stop it. Those invisible muggers are tormenting him all the time. But, somehow, miraculously, Gasol plays through it. And plays well I might add. I'm sorry for hating you, Pau.
Damn those invisible muggers. Damn them to hell.
Boston's starters: As tweeted by J.E. Skeets: "Ray Allen: No threes. KG: Four rebounds. Paul Pierce: 11 shots. Perk: Four rebounds. The Lakers disassembled all of 'em." H/T Dan B.)
Ray Allen's fifth foul: I recently read that George Lucas, Harrison Ford and Steven Spielberg want to make a fifth Indiana Jones movie. Maybe it's because they just have more Indiana Jones stories to tell before Ford is confined to a wheelchair, or maybe it's because they want to get the nasty-ass taste of Kingdom of the Crystal Skull out of their mouths. I don't know.
What I do know is this: Every Indiana Jones flick needs a MacGuffin. That's the thing that Indy has to search for...basically the entire point of the movie. Well, after watching that mystery whistle against Ray-Ray last night, I am officially nominating Allen's fifth foul for the role of MacGuffin in the next Indiana Jones movie. If he can find that, it truly will be Indy's greatest adventure.
Kendrick Perkins: Perk finished with 8 points and only 3 rebounds in 24 minutes. Only 24 minutes, you say? Yes, only 24 minutes. That's because Perkins is a liability in games where the officials are calling it close. Kendrick is built for kicking ass, not kissing it, and his value falls dramatically when he's not allowed to muscle people. Plus, he's not a threat to shoot the ball outside of three feet, and the Lakers know that. Therefore, when he's in the game, his man can wander around, clog the paint and harass any Celtic who dares to attack the rim...which is why Rajon Rondo kept getting his shit stuffed on those few occasions he actually journeyed intot he paint. Speaking of which...
Rajon Rondo: His numbers -- 13 points, 8 assists, 6 rebounds -- aren't too far off his regular season stats. But Rondo wasn't himself. He wasn't aggressive. I guess you could credit Kobe's defense, but Rondo was actually worse in the second half (only 3 points) when other players were guarding him. Every move, every pass, seemed telegraphed, like he was operating on a two-second delay.
Said Rondo: "They did a good job of collapsing when I did get inside. They're very long. Fish is very clever. He took a charge on me one time. They did a great job of mixing it up. I've got to sometimes attack, make the refs make the call and other times get it out to our shooters."
In other words, do what you usually do? Yeah, I agree.
Kevin Garnett: 35 minutes, 4 rebounds, only 2 on the defensive end. Those are Amar''''''e Stoudemire numbers and that gives me The Sad. You know what else gave me The Sad? Watching KG receive a pass right under the basket for what should have been an easy dunk or layup. Instead, he lost the ball on the way up and knocked it off the bottom of the rim. And after he managed to pull down the offensive board, he airballed the put back attempt. He never looked older...kind of like Harrison Ford in Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.
Rasheed Wallace: A very poorly timed technical foul near the end of the third quarter. I know. What a surprise.
Update! Free taco excitement: Really, Lakers fans? Really? This is game one of the fucking NBA Finals. I hope you bitches choke on your tacos.
Pau Gasol, quote machine: "I knew it was going to be physical. That's a given. After consecutive Finals, we understand the nature of the game. We understand who our rival is, how they play. You've got to compete, and you've got to match that physicality effort of the game to be successful."
Doc Rivers, quote machine: "They were the more physical team by far. They were more aggressive. They attacked us the entire night. I didn't think we handled it very well."
Paul Pierce, quote machine: "You can't ease into the game, especially in the Finals. That's one of the better rebounding teams in the NBA. We've just got to do a better job rebounding the ball, eliminating easy opportunities. When I look up and we've given up 100 points, I haven't seen that in a while."
Chris Rock: Sorry, Chris. Kobe don't want none...he be doin' work.
Unfortunately, Phil Jackson did not ignore you...
Spelling bee protesters: Seriously. Just add this one to the "I really, really, really wish I was making this shit up" file. H/T to Dan B.
Lacktion report: From Chris: "Michael Finley may have not been victorious, but at the very least he can afford a lifetime of cigar imports now after notching himself a 1.9 trillion (1:56)."