The NBA Finals: Game 1 Notes and Pain

by Marcel Mutoni

-Prior to the game, ABC ran a Finals-Edition of Jimmy Kimmel Live! Kimmel’s show – which, if you can look past the nepotism, can at times be entertaining – kicked off with an old bit where Jimmy and Shaq play a game of H-O-R-S-E. I only mention this because a large SLAM poster was plastered on one of the walls, and could be seen throughout the entire segment. Pretty cool.

First Half:

-What in the hell happened to Mike Breen’s face? As he ushered in the NBA Finals and ABC’s coverage of the monumental matchup, Breen was sporting a small band-aid just above his left eye.

(I can only guess that he got between Glen “Big Baby” Davis and a biscuit, and well, that simply couldn’t have ended well.)

-Good thing Kobe’s teammates are actually good at basketball now, because he came out shooting blanks. His first three shots were tough misses, all contested, and taken nowhere near the rim.

(You could say that Boston watched a lot of tape of the Spurs/Lakers series – where San Antonio did everything to keep Bryant out of the paint, and away from the free throw line – they had just better hope he doesn’t catch fire from the perimeter like he did in the previous round.

One guy who wasn’t missing from the outside early on was Kevin Garnett. Matter of fact, KG wasn’t missing from anywhere and scored a quick eight points to begin the festivities, and led all scorers in the first half with sixteen points. So much for his reputation as a guy who passes up shots…

-I don’t know how they did it, but the Celtics somehow dusted off Sam Cassell’s rotting corpse and brought him back to life. Sam I Am taught Derek Fisher a lesson in the art of making the turnaround jumper, made all the more remarkable not only by the fact that Sam is ancient, but that he barely gets any lifts on his shot.

(After Phil Jackson had seen enough of Sam’s jumpers tickle the net, he stuck Kobe on him, which quickly put an end to the nonsense.)

-Paul Pierce, due to foul trouble, was a complete non-factor in the first half. Ray Allen showed flashes in the opening quarter, but didn’t do anything particularly memorable.

-The highlight of the first half wasn’t a monster block, lightning-quick steal, or a spectacular basket. Nope, it was a beautiful pass from Kobe to Gasol with a about a minute and a half to go, in which Bryant passed up a laughably open baseline three and found a cutting Pau, resulting in a trip to the line for the Spaniard. There’s no way in hell he would’ve made a similar play at any point in the previous three seasons.

(The Lakers – bolstered by the Bryantaires – were able to take the air out of the Celtics and their rabid fans. The crowd had to be feeling extra anxious going into the second half with their team down by five, and Kobe not having begun to look for his offense.)

-The lowlight of the game, and perhaps of the season, was the debut of the split-screen NBA promo featuring the worn and leathery faces of Magic Johnson and Larry Bird. Thanks for the night terrors, fellas. ‘Preciate it.

Second Half:

-Welcome to the NBA Finals, Paul Pierce! The Truth quickly made up for his atrocious first half by canning three consecutive shots to open things in the third quarter – one of which was a surreal four-point play. Paul’s explosion gave the lead back to Boston, and made me nearly punch a wall in my apartment.

-You know, this Kobe Bryant guy isn’t too bad of a passer. With about eight minutes remaining in the quarter, Bean twirled through a double team and found a leaping Gasol at the rim for an easy finish.

(Moments later, everyone in the state of Massachusetts has a collective heart attack after Kobe knocks in a tough runner. It wasn’t the basket that quieted the arena; instead, it was Pierce crumbling to the floor and clutching his right knee. He was carried off the floor, and put in a wheelchair. Not a good look.)

-As Pierce’s dramatic entrance back into the game was rudely interrupted by a Phil Jackson timeout, he was greeted by Eddie House’s kid as he made his way back to the bench.

(I don’t mean to be cruel, but the first thought that came to my mind when I saw Eddie’s offspring on the Celtics’ bench was that of Dusty Baker’s son nearly getting trampled at home plate during a World Series game a few years ago. I suggest you find that kid a seat in the crowd before something terrible happens, Eddie.)

-I mean, how discouraging to a defender must it be after having played flawless defense, forced the shot clock down to its final second, and making your opponent shoot an impossible-to-make shot as he falls into the bench … and he still wets it. Ladies and gentlemen, I introduce you to the life of one Ray Allen as he attempts to stick with Kobe Bryant.

-Pierce and his knee must be feeling awfully good, because he knocks in a couple of three balls on consecutive possessions. This inspires the crowd to begin the “Beat LA” chant, something that hadn’t been heard since the pre-game ceremonies.

-Heading into the fourth, buoyed by the emotional play of their captain, the C’s hold a four-point lead and have the crowd on their feet. Ugh.

-Three minutes into the fourth quarter, the Celtics run one of Doc Rivers’s brilliant plays: Ray Allen carries the ball twice in the same possession, and throws it away after finding his way into the lane. Thankfully, KG’s hustle is available to rescue the possession, resulting in an open jumper for the Artist Formely known as Sam Cassell.

(Moments later, James Posey cans a three, giving Boston its biggest lead of the night. Phil’s Zen then tells him to sit Kobe in this moment of crisis. I then begin the search for a window to jump out of.)

-Of course, Phil’s celebrated Bench Mob proves him to be wise by cutting into the Celtics’ lead (and me to be an idiot for not remembering what has been a season-long constant for this Lakers team.)

-Out of the timeout, Bryant rejoins the fray and promptly bricks a tough jumper with the shot clock running down. Not a great night offensively for the Mamba, so far.

-Who does Sasha Vujacic think he is, Kobe? He takes an unfathomable fadeaway that no one expected – least of all, his own teammates – and following the miss, Odom hacks Pierce in their battle for the rebound. Pierce then goes to the line, and pushes the Boston lead to eight with less than four minutes to go.

-I’ve seen the Triangle Offense, I’ve enjoyed the Triangle Offense, and this, my friends, is NOT the Triangle Offense. Bryant is getting isolated on an island and taking ridiculously tough fallaways with arms all up in his face – resulting in an ugly 9/25 from the field so far – while four other Lakers stand around the perimeter looking dumbfounded. Did Rudy Tomjanovich secretly enter the body of Phil Jackson at halftime? I’m ready to believe anything at this point.

-Both teams trade misses and turnovers as the game creeps into crunch time. One of those misses includes a biggie from Pau Gasol, as he bricks a free throw that could’ve cut the lead down to four with 2 minutes remaining.

-KG nearly blows the roof off the sucker by powering home a missed three with a minute and a half to go. On the next Boston possession, he dances his way to the rim and is fouled by D-Fish. He will not let L.A. make this game any closer than it needs to be for the C’s. That’s called taking over, kids.

-After a couple of long-distance misses from the Lakers, the final minute is nothing more than a formality, with the Celtics parading to the free throw line and putting the finishing touches on a series-opening ten point win.

-Aside from The Big Three playing up to their moniker, the Lakers lost Game One for three reasons: 1)Kobe had a terrible shooting night (prepare yourselves for two days of effusive praise for James Posey’s defense, which he deserves); 2)their vaunted bench wasn’t exactly vaunted; 3)and they got dominated on the boards.

-Add up all of the above, and you have the Lakers staring down a practically must-win situation in Game Two.