The Celtics won Game 5 of the NBA Finals 92-86 on Sunday night, taking a 3-2 series lead. The game really wasn't as close as the final score, as the Lakers never led after owning a 37-36 lead and in watching the game, one never felt the Celtics "weren't going to win." Kobe scored 38 points, his second straight and third 30-point effort of The Finals (it marked his 78th, 30-point game of his postseason career), as well as being the 13th time he's reached 30 points in LA's last 16 games this postseason. However, Gasol was the only other Laker to reach double figures (12 points), not joining Kobe in double digits until there was less than 2 1/2 minutes to go in the game.
Bynum played 31 minutes but finished with just six points and one rebound and while the young seven-footer was 'game,' his knee troubles are severely limiting his effectiveness. Bynum did not score nor grab a rebound after the first quarter. Artest looks as if he's lost his defensive edge the last two games vs Pierce (more on that in a little bit) plus he continues to struggle offensively, shooting 2-of-9 on Sunday (seven points). Fisher made just 2-of-9 shots as well and while only Odom (8 points / eight rebounds) is contributing anything off the bench, he's been just a 'shell' of the player we saw vs the Suns in the Western Conference finals.
Pierce had his best game of the series, putting together back-to-back strong performances. He was 12-of-21 from the floor for 27 points and has now made 19-of-33 shots (57.6 percent) the last two games, after going just 13-of-36 (36.1 percent) the first three games. KG added 18 points and had 10 rebounds, his first double-digit rebounding game of the series (had averaged just 5.0 RPG the first four games). Rondo had a line of 18-5-8 but had seven turnovers and like in Game 4, Rivers left him on the bench for a good part of the fourth quarter in favor of Tony Allen and Nate Robinson.
Ray Allen contributed 12 points for the second straight game but the man who made a Finals record eight three-point shots in Game 2 (while scoring 32 points), has averaged 8.7 PPG the last three games, going 0-of-16 from three-point range (you read that right!). Boston's bench got most of the credit (well-deserved) for the team's Game 4 win (outscored LA's bench 36-18) but Sunday night scored just 13 points. Big Baby followed his 18-point Game 4 effort with ZERO points in 13 minutes in Game 5.
Boston's win makes home teams 3-2 SU and ATS in this series, with four of the five games going 'under' the total (37 overs, 40 unders and three pushes for the entire postseason). Those following the "Zig Zag theory" lost for the first time in the NBA Finals with the Lakers (to fall to 3-1) and remain big losers this postseason, going 28-37 ATS overall, which is minus-12.7 net games. There have been 80 postseason games so far, with home teams going 52-28 SU (.650) and 47-33 (58.8 percent) ATS. The NBA regular season consists of an 82-game schedule and if this year's Finals go seven games, its postseason will have lasted 82 games as well. It's amazing how often sports falls into this type of symmetry.
However, I'm getting ahead of myself. Game 6 is set for LA and the early number has the Lakers favored by 6 1/2 points (total is 187 1/2). The Lakers are 9-1 SU this postseason at home, compared to 5-6 SU on the road. The team's three-year postseason record, which includes three consecutive trips to the NBA Finals, shows them 29-4 at home and just 15-17 on the road. The Lakers don't need another road win to capture this year's title, just two more home wins. Is that easier said than done? Look at the swings we've seen in this series, so far.
LA produced a dominating Game 1 performance at home, led by Kobe's 30 points plus Gasol's 23 points and 14 rebounds. However, the Celtics bounced back in Game 2, behind the backcourt duo of Ray Allen (32 points, including those eight three-pointers) and Rondo's triple-double (19-12-10). Pierce opened his big mouth while walking off the court in that game, proclaiming, "We're not coming back." The Lakers responded with a 91-84 win in Game 3 back in Boston, as Kobe scored 29 points, Gasol and Bynum combined for 22 points plus 20 rebounds and Fisher scored 16 points (including 11 in the 4th quarter).
That left the Celtics in a position in which they had to win both Game 4 and 5. That's exactly what they've done, despite Kobe getting 33 in Game 4 and 38 in Game 5. LA's trouble in the last two games has been it's been too much Kobe and not enough of a team effort. Bynum's been limited by his knee injury, all of a sudden Artest can't guard Pierce (plus Artest continues to be a major liability on offense), Gasol has reverted to his play during the 2008 Finals the last two games (decent numbers but his play is turning 'soft') plus Odom continues to be in a deep 'sleep!'
As for the Celtics, it's been a total team effort. It was Allen and Rondo leading the way in their Game 2 win, the Boston bench being the 'heroes' of Game 4 and then Pierce, the team's 56.3 percent overall shooting and Boston's' team 'D' (held LA to just 39.7 percent) being the stars of Game 5. If one had to hand out a Finals MVP award after five games, Boston head coach Doc Rivers might be the most deserving winner. It's hard to see LA coming back to win this series, if it's 'all Kobe." Case in point is that while Kobe scored 23 consecutive points for LA from the late second quarter and into the third in Game 5 (on 9-if-14 shooting), his teammates went 0-for-7 from the floor during that span and the Celtics outscored the Lakers by 14 points.
Who wins? If one were to believe Paul Pierce, it's Boston. He raised his right index finger and yelled "one more, baby," as he walked off the court on Sunday. However, as we've seen after his Game 2 proclamation, he sometimes gets things wrong. After all, shouldn't the Celtics have been aware that this series was effectively over after the Lakers won Game 1. Surely they couldn't have missed hearing that Phil Jackson-coached teams are 47-0 all-time in playoff series after winning Game 1 (including 23-0 with the Lakers).
If Boston failed to catch that stat, they surely couldn't have missed the one that said since The Finals went to a 2-3-2 format in 1985, there have been 10 previous instances of a series being tied 1-1. In all 10 cases, the Game 3 winner went on to win the title. Delve back a little deeper in the NBA history books and you'll find that the Game 3 winner of a series that was tied 1-1 has gone on to win the championship 28 of 32 times in The Finals! Didn't that mean the Lakers were almost guaranteed to win this year's title after winning Game 3, 91-84?
Now, who knows which stats to believe? Boston won Game 4, tying the series at two-all. We all know that put into play this stat. Game 5 winners in best of-of-seven series tied at two-all have gone on to win 130 of the previous 156 series, which is 83.3 percent. Following Boston's Game 5 win, I read and saw where the Celtics are 11-0 all-time in NBA Finals in which they've owned a 3-2 lead. As Vinny Barbarino of Welcome Back Kotter fame used to opine, "I'm so confused." Actually, I'm not, going 4-1 ATS in the series on sides but you get my drift.
My next journal will be available by 3:00 ET on Wednesday.