In game four, the stifling defense of the Boston Celtics was once again able to keep the Lakers from doing what they wanted to do on the offensive end.
For the second game in a row, the Lakers had trouble establishing their post game (Bynum being limited to 12 minutes certainly contributed to this), and the Lakers had all sorts of trouble swinging the ball and making clean passes when the Celtics trapped their ballhandlers.
For the second game in a row, the Laker offense was almost entirely dependent on Kobe Bryant throwing up deep, contested jumpers from the perimeter. Because Kobe is Kobe, he was able to have a solid game, managing to fling in 33 points and shooting 6-11 from beyond the arc.
However, Kobe turned the ball over seven times and didn’t get one basket at the rim all game — Kobe managed to make something out of nothing a few times thanks to pure talent and skill, but he was never able to get the Laker offense going the way he wanted to.
The Celtics were able to contain the Laker offense in game three as well, but thanks to Paul Pierce and Ray Allen combining to go 5-25 from the field, Boston failed to take advantage of Kobe and the Lakers faltering on offense. Pierce and Allen didn’t exactly look like world-beaters on Thursday night, but they managed to do enough to get Boston a 96-89 win and even the series at two games apiece.
Pierce and Allen started the game off strong; Allen got a transition layup a minute into the game to break his horrifying field-goal drought, and Pierce scored or assisted on five of Boston’s first six field goals. Allen certainly didn’t have a great game, finishing with only 12 points and one assist, but he wasn’t a liability, and he made some shots that should give him some confidence going into game five.
Allen playing like he actually knew what he was doing out there kept the Celtics competitive. Glen Davis and Nate Robinson’s energy off the bench gave the Celtics the lead. And Paul Pierce playing like the Captain of an NBA Finals team sealed the deal for the Celtics.
After the Lakers cut the lead to six points with 2:50 remaining in the game and Kobe starting to get that look, Kevin Garnett grabbed a Ray Allen miss and allowed Pierce to re-set the offense. Pierce ran the clock, made his move, went to his favorite spot on the floor (the right elbow), elevated, and drained his signature step-back jumper to put the Celtics up eight. After Kobe answered with a fadeaway of his own, Pierce made a (controversial) and-1 to put the Celtics up by nine with 1:16 to play. After that, a Rajon Rondo steal and layup all but sealed the game for Boston.
Paul Pierce certainly isn’t the fastest player in these finals. He’s strong, but not overpowering. He’s a good shooter, but he needs time and space to get a deep jumper off. More than any other “superstar” in these finals, Pierce is capable of being a relative non-factor for long stretches of time. Pierce likely knows all of that. He also knows that if he can get himself his second ring and the Celtics their 18th banner, it won’t matter whether he averaged 30 points per game or 3 points per game in the finals.
With two Hall-Of-Famers and one other all-star in the Boston starting lineup, Pierce’s job isn’t to be the best player on the floor. His job is to grab that one extra loose ball, draw that one extra foul, make that one extra step-back that the Celtics his team needs him to get. On Thursday night, Pierce was able to do just that. If he can do just enough two more times, he’ll officially enter his name into Celtics lore.