The NBA Closer is written by Matt McHale, who can't decide whether he likes the fact that ginormous leads are not safe when these teams play. When he's not silently wondering what's going to happen in Game 6, he can be found staring into space with a contemplative look at Basketbawful. Enjoy!
And David Stern sighs in relief. Ever wonder why the NBA Finals — unlike any other playoff series in league History — uses a 2-3-2 format? Well, this is why. Had Game 5 been played in Boston with the Celtics holding a 3-1 lead, the series would probably be over. Instead, the Lakers' 103-98 victory ensures at least one more game, which means more primetime TV, which means more commercials sold, which means more $$ for the league ... you get the idea. But hey, who doesn't want more Lakers-Celtics, right? Uh, right? Anybody? Okay. Never mind, then.
Game 5 started out like a replay of Game 4, with L.A. taking a 17-point lead after one quarter (39-22) and Boston storming back. But like any not-quite-as-good sequel, there were some minor changes to the script. This time, for added viewing pleasure, Kobe Bryant went off for 15 first-quarter points on the strength of four three-pointers. And instead of waiting until the third quarter to mount their comeback, the Celtics outscored the Lakers 30-16 in the second — thanks to a point explosion by Paul Pierce — to cut the L.A. lead to three.
Pierce shredded the Laker "defense" all night, finishing with 38 points, 6 rebounds, 8 assists and 19 [!!] free throw attempts. But he also had a team-high 5 turnovers, the last of which was poked away by Kobe (25 points, 7 rebounds, 4 assists, 5 steals, 6 turnovers) and converted into a game-breaking dunk with 37.4 seconds left.
Said Mamba: "I was just kind of reading the play and I was able to get my hands on the ball and get out and get a dunk." If by "read" he meant "totally gambled" and by "the ball" he meant "Pierce's arm and chest," he's exactly right.
Lamar Odom lived up to his Robin role by contributing 20 points, 11 rebounds, 4 blocked shots, and several slightly maniacal grins.
The Spanish Marshmallow Pau Gasol, in addition to screaming in faux agony every time he took a shot inside, scored 19, grabbed 13 and dished 6. Derek Fisher added 15 points, Jordan Farmar scored 11 off the bench, and Sasha Douchachick improved on his 1-for-9 performance in Game 4 by shooting 2-for-10.
On the flipside, Pierce didn't get a lot of help from the rest of Boston's ménage à trois. Ray Allen scored 16 points on 4-for-13 shooting before fouling out. Meanwhile, Kevin Garnett finished with a double-double (13 points, 14 rebounds), but he had 4 turnovers (to zero assists), was limited to only 33 minutes because of foul trouble, and missed a kinda-sorta easy put back with 26 seconds left that would have cut the L.A. lead to two.
If one of those guys had played just a teensy bit better, there might have been some champagne popping in the Celtics locker room last night. As it is, the Lakers now have a sliver of hope. And Phil Jackson thinks it might be enough: "A lot of things can happen. We're young enough and dumb enough to be able to do this."
I guess we'll find out just how dumb they are on Tuesday night in Boston.