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NBA Finals, Lakers Celtics: Role Players turn game six into a blowout

Jun 16, 2010, 1:33 AM EST

Shannon Brown.jpg

In games four and five, the main difference between the Lakers and the Celtics was that the Celtic role players played like they were ready to win an NBA Finals, and the Laker role players played like they were terrified to be playing in an NBA Finals. 
You can talk all you want about what type of role players survive in high-pressure situations and which ones don’t; shooters vs. slashers, veterans vs. young players, et cetera. You can talk about the coaching. You can talk about the culture of the team. In the end, it generally boils down to this: role players almost always play better at home, and they almost always play better when their team has a substantial lead than they do when their team is behind. When a team is ahead and the home crowd is behind them, everyone relaxes. Everyone is comfortable running the offense, nobody is afraid of making mistakes, and offensive balance and efficiency generally results. 
When a team gets behind, especially on the road, everyone gets tense, the ball slows down, jumpers get missed, and that’s when the best one or two players on a team have to go ISO or pick-and-roll to try and get their team back into the game. 
The Lakers are fairly comfortable playing from behind thanks to Kobe — the flip side of that coin is that they sometimes lean too heavily on Kobe, and can have trouble playing four quarters of efficient offense as a result. The (playoff incarnation) of the Celtics is a classic front-running team; their defense keeps the other team from making big comeback runs, and they have too much balance in their offense to allow it to go stagnant if a superstar goes cold. 
However, when forced to play from behind, there’s nobody who can jump-start the offense for the Celtics the way Kobe can for the Lakers. Because of that, things can sometimes get ugly when the Celtics fall behind early. In game six, that’s exactly what happened.
The first thing Los Angeles did to get their role players going was to take the pressure off of their role players early. They did that by more or less giving the ball to Kobe Bryant and getting out of his way. Since Kobe’s jumper was on, it was a prudent strategy. Kobe had 11 points and an assist in the first seven minutes of the game. Even better, the pick-and-rolls he ran with Pau Gasol forced the Celtic D to collapse and opened up Ron Artest in the corner for two early threes that got his confidence going. 
By the time Kobe and Ron’s mini-onslaught was over, the Lakers had a 26-16 lead with three minutes to play in the quarter. Kobe was on his game, the shots were falling, the crowd was going crazy. (Nothing gets the Los Angeles crowd going like a Ron Artest three — it’s the adrenaline dump.) It was all good news from there for the defending champions. The Lakers put the Celtics on the ropes early, and they didn’t give the Celtics one chance to recover in the final 42 minutes of play.
The final three quarters of game six were less a contest than an extended Laker victory march, and every Laker got in on the fun. Sasha Vujacic came off the bench to knock in some long jumpers. Shannon Brown got four points on two spectacular dunks. Jordan Farmar threw his body all over the court and finished with three steals. Pau Gasol came an assist shy of a triple-double. Josh Powell, Luke Walton, and D.J. Mbenga all actually got into the game. 
Meanwhile, the Celtics got a total of 13 points from players not named Garnett, Pierce, Rondo, or Ray Allen. Eight of those 13 points came in the final five minutes of play, and no non-”big four” player scored until the fourth quarter. The Celtic role players looked completely out of their element, and the Laker defense absolutely feasted on their lack of confidence and inability to run the offense. 
When they talk about this series 10 or 20 years from now, they probably won’t talk about Tony Allen or Ron Artest. (Well, Artest might get a mention.) They’ll talk about Paul Pierce, Garnett, Kobe, Phil Jackson, Doc Rivers, Rajon Rondo, maybe Pau Gasol. All the same, it was the bit players on both sides who put the Lakers in a 3-2 hole, and it was those same bit players’ fortunes changing that allowed the Lakers to tie the series with a rout. There’s a very good chance that they’ll be the ones making the extra passes, the quick doubles, the timely steals, or the open shots that will end up deciding game seven and the NBA Finals. 
  1. Foul Dwimmerlaik - Jun 16, 2010 at 4:19 AM

    Great series. You can trash talk all you want against the Lakers or the Celtics, but one thing is clear: both teams deserve each other slugging it out till the very end of the series. Lakers had their moments so do the Celtics, with that goes their respective heroes for each game win. Both teams have their bad games and respective goats for each game loss. Love it! All or nothing in Game 7. I won’t be surprised if it goes down the wire. One thing I’m sure tho: whoever wins deserves the championship and the bragging rights. My hats off to the Celtics team for giving the Lakers a tough challenge as they defend their crown. May the better team win. GO LAKERS!!!

  2. jason twohey - Jun 16, 2010 at 5:00 AM

    nice article as usual krolik, but you made an error in this article , celtics arent the defending champs ,the lakers are

  3. Joshua - Jun 16, 2010 at 7:29 AM

    Lakers will be crowned NBA 2009-2010 WORLD CHAMPION come Thursday night…………HOPE THIS WILL BE AN EXCELLENT CELEBRATION WITH OUT UNTOWARD INCIDENT TO HAPPEN AFTER THE GAME…………

  4. Lion Woods - Jun 16, 2010 at 10:18 AM

    Lakers win the championship is stellar fashion tomorrow night at Staples. Take the Lakers and the points. I am 6 for 6 in calling this series partly due to the fact that the NBA needed to have this series go a certain way and everyone from the refs to the players seem to have received this memo from David Stern on high. Split at Staples.. Lakers take 1 in Boston and come back home to route the Celtics in Game 6. I don’t see Boston recovering from this beat down so soon. They need to take the summer to think about the greatest force in hoops today in Kobe Bryant. Shaq, I bet you wished you hung around LA just a little longer. Well… Jackson make sure you play Shannin Brown some quality minutes, Artest hit the boards again and all should be right with the universe. Go Lakers!

  5. Omnius - Jun 16, 2010 at 11:16 AM

    The Laker role players played their roles while Boston’s role players rolled over and played dead. The Lakers didn’t just beat the Celtics they beat them up and whipped them good. It was a joy to watch Aging Gang Green sitting on the bench looking shellshocked by the Laker Showtime defense. Hey Boston fans how about the Lakers forcing your team to it’s lowest point total in NBA Final’s history? Now Kobe can complete his resume with a series win in the Finals over the Celtics and do something Michael Jordan never accomplished – win a game 7 in the NBA Finals. Better believe that after scoring only 26 points Kobe will light it up Thursday night as the Lakers force the Fat Lady to sing the Blues for the Lost Celtics. It’s all in the script and even Pierce can’t change that Truth!

  6. phil collins - Jun 16, 2010 at 11:32 AM

    @omnius: you know what else kobe has done that jordan didnt? lose the finals. twice. maybe three times.
    anyone who has paid attention to this series should know better than to think its over, that the celtics will roll over like last night now that their backs are to the wall. no perkins will make it difficult, but this team has undeniably proven to have heart, and will not go out without a tremendous fight. should be a great game 7.

  7. jonnymac - Jun 16, 2010 at 11:45 AM

    The Lakers are soft?…..just ask rondo’s chin.
    Boston deserves to win it?…..just look at the replay of pierce’s tripping of Gasol…Classless…celtic thuggery got spanked last night.
    Celtics fans whining about perkins being hurt….foools please!….Bynum has a frickin torn miniscus you dopes…so don’t say that the game is lopsided now that perkins is out….it’s a TEAM game as the celtics fans always like to say, so it shouldn’t be a problem for them…..besides our big-man has been injured all playoffs fools….Oh and by the way Kobe has a broken finger, twisted knee, bruised back, and a sprained ankle, and is still puttin up consistent great numbers, unlike the so called big three who probably shoot craps before the game tryin to figure out who’s going to be the leading scorer on a given night…Exhibit A?: allen’s 3 point massacre one night and disgrace the other.
    And for those who think Kobe’s so arrogant becuase he’s giving the press one-word terse answers and isn’t kissing their butt like Stan Van Gundy so aptly put it last night…..well how would you act if people said/wrote that you were washed up and too old all season long?
    Lstly I love the comment by the Kobe-hater above who said I can’t wait for Kobe to get older so younger players can dominant him. Well with that logic I agree, in fact let’s all wait 56 years when Lebron turns 82….so that the oderlies in the nursing home can dominate him in nerf hoops!

  8. Angel - Jun 16, 2010 at 3:38 PM

    lol

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