Monday, June 16, 2008

Game 5 is just a rubber stamp

It's nice for the ratings that the NBA Finals are going to have a 6th game so that they can rake in some more advertising dollars from a prime time slot. But even the most enthusiastically blinded fanatics can't believe in the Lakers' chances of doing something that's never been done before: come back from a 3-1 deficit to win the Finals.

The Lakers stand a slim chance of winning Game 6 in Boston, and even a more minuscule one of winning two in a row in the Boston TD Banknorth Garden. It's not because they supposedly have the best player on the planet, the ultimate closer, but it's because their defense is flat out atrocious. The fact that they've won two games with such a lax defensive effort is amazing, and even at that pace they needed a huge stroke of luck - non call on the wrap-around foul, and two intense Garnett free throw clanks - to pull out an elimination game at home. With everything riding on the line, the Lakers couldn't come up with a pitiful excuse for a defensive possession late in the game. And Paul Pierce, as unbelievable as he's been in the Finals looked effortless in getting to the rim time after time. It was constantly the path of least resistance.

But I think the real story has to be the ineffectiveness of Kobe Bryant in this series. He's looked magnificent and masterful in stretches, at times when the Lakers were up by double digits. He found open players, hit tough shots, all the things that a player of his caliber has to do. But when the Boston defense tightens up, he's been unable for the most part to get a basket when it counts. It isn't the first time that the Celtics have handcuffed a one-man show, but the worrysome part has to be that Bryant has still not solved the puzzle. LeBron James, for all his struggles shooting in the first couple of games progressively got better against that defense. His final shooting percentage is nothing to gloat about, but after shooting in the teens the first two games, he shot nearly 50% over the next 5. Kobe hasn't done that. He hasn't adjusted his game, he hasn't been aggressive; and while a lot of the credit has to go to the Boston defense, not enough scrutiny falls on the Black Mamba.

As if his offensive possessions of the 2nd half weren't disappointment enough, his defense has been incredibly porous. This is the guy that used to be on the All-Defensive first team right? All those skills, and all that tenacity seems to have gone the way of his rings. He couldn't stop Paul Pierce when it counted, he couldn't stay in front of him, and most of the time, never even tried. All those comparisons to Michael Jordan have fallen apart, because for all his offensive talents MJ consistently worked on both sides of the floor.

The Celtics are the more poised team both physically and mentally, and it's become blatantly clear that they're the better one. What was originally billed as clash of the Titans, has turned out to be a colossal mismatch.