The 2008 NBA Finals were supposed to be all about the match ups. Who would prevail as the dominant leader, Kobe Bryant or Paul Pierce? Which big man would own the inside, Kevin Garnett or Pau Gasol? What sharp shooter would rain down perimeter shots, Ray Allen or Sasha Vujacic?
With Boston’s 108-102 Game 2 victory in the books, one match up the Lakers never saw coming was the explosiveness of Celtics’ reserve Leon Powe. In one of the most impressive performances by a bench player in the 2008 playoffs, Powe went off for 21 points on 6-7 shooting in only 15 minutes of action to help lead the Celtics to their second win and a 2-0 series lead over the Los Angeles Lakers.
Powe, who scored a total of 8 points in the Eastern Conference Finals vs. Detroit, made the most of his minutes and provided a huge spark off the bench in Sunday’s win. His performance may have instantly earned him the new title of fan favorite and Celtics broadcaster Tommy Heinsohn may just have to replace his famous “I love Waltah” saying with “I love Leon!”
Although the Celtics came away with an impressive win and head out to LA with a nice 2-0 cushion in the series, lots can be learned from the teams effort, or lack there of at times.
With 7:55 remaining in the game, the Celtics led by 24 points (96-73) and it appeared they would coast to another homecourt win. The purple and yellow jerseys scattered throughout the TD Banknorth Garden began turning around for the exits, probably hoping to catch the red eye back to LA. Over the next 7 minutes, the Lakers went on a serious tear, outscoring Boston 29-8 to make it a 2 point game with 38 seconds left to play.
“We’re happy because we won, but we definitely learned a lesson,” Paul Pierce said.
Aside from Powe’s impressive night, the Celtics were again led by Pierce who finished the game with 28 points and 8 assists. From behind the arc, Pierce was 4-4 on the night and didn’t look at all phased from his Game 1 knee injury. He made a key drive to the hoop with 23 seconds left to play in the game and was fouled hard. Once composed, he confidently stepped up to the line and nailed both free throws to secure a Celtics victory.
The Lakers comeback was too little too late but showed the Celtics that this series is going to be a fight until the end.
“We’ve got to play through the game for 48 minutes, and I didn’t think we did that,” Celtics coach Doc Rivers said. “I thought we got cute when we got the lead.”
Call Rivers captain obvious, but if the Celtics plan on winning in LA, they will need to protect any lead they can get. The environment will be hostile, the calls will not be going their way, and lets face it, Kobe will not shoot as poorly as he did in the first two games of the Finals.
Bryant finished Game 2 with 30 points on an 11-23 shooting performance but did not come out of his shell until the 4th quarter where he dropped 13 points leading the Lakers comeback.
“We’ve come too far to really sweat being down 2-0,” said Bryant, who scored 13 of his 30 points in the fourth quarter. “We’re going to go home and handle our business.”
Looking at the box score, one stat that sticks out is the discrepancy in each team’s amount of attempted free throws. Boston got to the charity stripe 38 times compared to LA’s 10 attempts. For the Celtics, Powe actually had more attempts then the entire Lakers team, converting on 9 of 13 foul shots.
“I’ve never seen a game like that in all these years I’ve coached in the finals,” said Lakers coach Phil Jackson, who is going for his 10th title in 11 finals appearances. “Unbelievable.”
Well Phil, believe it. Your team is now in an 0-2 hole that only three teams have ever been able to come back from to win a championship (Boston in 1969, Portland in 1977 and Miami in 2006). Your fearless leader in Kobe Bryant has done nothing but cry to officials which may or may not cost him some of those hometown calls you’re hoping for. Not to mention you’re team is letting the likes of Leon Powe score on uncontested dunks and coast to coast drives. Nothing against Powe, he’s my boy, but come on!
So far, the NBA Finals have been nothing but business for Boston and they aren’t about to let a different time zone change any of that.
“We’re not settling on a 2-0 lead,” Garnett said. “We want to go out there and win two games in L.A.”
Game 3 of the NBA Finals tips off Tuesday evening at 9:00pm EST.
And so, for the Boston Celtics, their quest for GREEN 17 continues. Next stop: Los Angeles. The only thing left to be said…BEAT L.A.!