The Boston Celtics rollercoaster ride of a postseason continued Thursday night as they overcame a 24 points first half deficit to beat the Los Angeles Lakers 97-91 in Game 4 of the 2008 NBA Finals. In one of the gutsiest team performances in Finals history, the Celtics were able to prevail over a hostile Staples Center crowd, the hometown officiating and a disgusting first half shooting display to pull out only their third road win of the 2008 playoffs.
In a game that for all intensive purposes should have been over at halftime, Boston was somehow able to find a way to dig down deep and come together for what could go down as the best come from behind Finals win ever.
“Some turnaround in that game. The air went out of the building,” said Lakers coach Phil Jackson, who was asked what he told his club afterward. “Well, it’s not over. This is not over. The series is not over.”
On paper, he’s right, the series is not over. Game 5 is scheduled for Sunday night at 9:00pm EST. However, no team has ever been able to overcome a 3-1 deficit in the NBA Finals.
All throughout the first half, the Lakers possessed a sense of urgency and attacked the hoop possession after possession. Lamar Odom, who had been a non-factor in the first three games of the Finals, provided an early spark hitting his first 7 shots and at one point was out scoring and rebounding the entire Celtics team.
At the end of the 1st quarter, the Lakers led 35-14.
The Celtics were able to make up a little ground in the 2nd quarter but a Jordan Farmar 3-point heave at the halftime buzzer killed any momentum the Celtics had established and they trailed 58-40 at the break.
Boston fans watching the game were disheartened. They knew that the C’s had lost a golden opportunity to steal a win in Game 3, and were now in the locker room trailing Game 4 by 18 points, on the road to Kobe Bryant and Co. Things just weren’t looking good.
And then something happened.
Maybe the water boys added a little something extra to their bottles for the 2nd half, but the Celtics team that came out of that locker room looked nothing like the rag-a-muffin bunch that had moped around the court for the first 24 minutes of play. This team looked inspired, as if it suddenly hit them that they have a once in a life time opportunity to do something special. They looked hungry with the need to feed, their only prey wearing yellow and purple.
Paul Pierce led the attack scoring 20 points, 14 coming in the 2nd half. He was fearless out of the court, demanding the ball in the right situations and creating for his teammates when his shot was not there. His play lifted the Celtics up and together they were able to cut the Lakers 18 point halftime lead to a 73-71 score by the end of the 3rd quarter.
The Elias Sports Bureau reports that the comeback was the largest in the Finals since 1971, and that before last night, no team had ever come back to win a game after trailing by more the 15 points in the first quarter.
Boston tied the score at 73-73 on a Leon Powe jump shot with 10:13 remaining on the game clock. It was the first tie since the game was knotted at 2-2, 28 seconds into the game. Each possession became more important than the previous and both teams tried to pick up their defensive intensity. For the first time in the finals, the officials finally took a step back swallowing their whistles, allowing both teams to play without ticky-tack foul calls.
Three times the Celtics would tie the game only to see the Lakers score the next possession to regain the lead. It wasn’t until Eddie House nailed a long jumper on the wing that the Celtics took their first lead of the game, 83-82 with 4:07 remaining in the action.
Boston would not trail again.
“It’s definitely a great win, one that you’re going to put up there in the library and break back out one day for your kids to watch,” Pierce said. “But I want nothing more than that ring right now.”
With the Game 4 victory, Pierce and the rest of the Celtics find themselves one win away from their first NBA Championship since 1986.
But honestly, did that win really happen? Did the Lakers manage to blow a 24 point lead, on their home court where they had yet to lose a home playoff game and been winners of 15 straight? Where was Kobe during “Kobe Time” late in the game? And did Brian Scalabrine’s hair get redder during the Celtics huge 3rd quarter run?
Seriously though, the comeback was amazing, but the collapse is the real story here. After a huge Game 3 win, the Lakers had a chance to even the series and really take the advantage because they would be able to host Game 5 with a chance to take the lead and put the pressure back on Boston.
One problem, they forgot to play basketball in the second half of Thursday’s game.
You can’t even say that LA choked because they simply stopped breathing. Had they gone to the emergency room, they would have been declared dead upon arrival. This team that had so much energy and life in the first half took their large lead for granted and it came back to ultimately kill them.
If this sounds all too familiar that’s because the same thing happened to the Celtics in Game 2. Big lead, sloppy play and lack of effort equaled a 41 point Lakers 4th quarter and a few near heart attacks by Bostonians watching the whole debacle.
The only difference between the two comebacks was that the Lakers made their run in the 4th quarter and merely ran out of time on the clock where as the Celtics pulled close in the 3rd, swinging the momentum their way to take over the game in the 4th.
Even Kobe couldn’t save this one for his team.
“They were determined not to let me beat them tonight,” said Kobe Bryant in a post-game interview. “I saw three, four bodies every time I touched the ball.”
Bryant still managed to score 17 points and dish out 10 assists in the loss, but was never really able to kick his game up a notch during crunch time, which is usually one of his many specialties.
The stage for Sunday’s Game 5 is set. For the Lakers it’s simply win or go home. The Celtics, on the other hand, will try to win the organizations 17th overall championship on the road. If they can’t pull out the victory in LA, they now have the luxury of returning home with not one but two chances (if they need them) to raise another banner in Beantown.