If you couldn’t hear it, you could sense it. Red Auerbach yelling along with Doc Rivers to “D up”. You could sense Red saying to Phil Jackson as he attempted to pass his record 9 NBA Championships as a coach: “not in my house, you won’t”, this after the gods of hoopdom or conspirators of Los Angeles Lakers basketball grounded the Celtics airplane for hours at LAX. Seems like something Red would have done.
So, just before midnight last night on June 17, 2008, in the final game that lasted 2 hours and 47 minutes, the Boston Celtics defeated the Los Angeles Lakers 131-92 in Boston Garden for their 17th NBA Championship with #17 Celtics great John Havlicek sitting courtside to watch. (sorry TD Banknorth but it’s the Boston Garden and will always be the Boston Garden).
In putting away the Lakers in Game 6 last night, the Celtics did not allow the Lakers to score more than 30 points in a quarter until the meaningless 4th quarter. The Lakers averaged 23 points per quarter last night while the Celtics averaged 33 points. Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen scored 26 points apiece with Allen tying an NBA record with 7 three-pointers. Rajon Rondo scored 21 points and Paul Pierce scored 17 points with 10 assists while defending Kobe Bryant.
How about this for Celtics defense: 18 steals, 6 by Rajon Rondo, and 3 each by Posey, Ray Allen and Garnett. The Celtics outrebounded the Lakers 48-29, of which the C’s had 14 offensive rebounds to the Lakers 2 offensive boards. The Celtics blocked 4 shots, the Lakers none. The Lakers led in turnovers 19-7 which means Celtics passing was crisp, mistakes few and Rondo in charge. And perhaps the most telling line of the clinching game was that Kobe Bryant was held to 22 points on 7 of 22 shooting. He didn’t exactly have a bad shooting night in that he posted for open shots and just missed. No! He tried to post, he tried to drive and, other than the 1st quarter, could never get enough space for enough time to wreak his airness-like touch.
Speaking of Kobe Bryant, I am reminded of the days in the 1980’s when Larry Bird’s Celtics would play the as-yet-to-be-throned Michael Jordan Bulls in the playoffs. It was not uncommon for Jordan to score over 60 points in a game but it never panicked Bird, Parish or McHale. He would say (paraphrasing) that he was ok with Michael scoring 60 points a game because he was the only component of their team. There was no one on the supporting cast that could score consistently and, above all, the Chicago Bulls didn’t play Championship defense. Well, through the 2008 playoffs, it seemed that a Laker’s victory or defeat was literally in the hands of Kobe Bryant. If Kobe had a good shooting night, they won. If not, the Lakers lost. And this is how it played out in the NBA Finals against the Celtics. Kobe is still, by leaps and bounds, the only consistent scorer on the Lakers. Shut down Kobe Bryant and you can win because no one else on the Lakers can score consistently against a good defense, not Sasha Vujacic, Lamar Odom, Pao Gasol or Derek Fisher. And their defense? What appeared to be decent defense through the 2008 Western Conference playoffs emerged as sub-par in the Championship series against the Celts. The Lakers were not tall enough, quick enough or most importantly, hungry enough (see Ray Allen’s drive against Sasha Vujacic in Game 4).
On the offensive side, the Celtics had consistent and reliable scoring ability up and down the bench: if Pierce scores 10, Ray Allen will score 30. If Allen is off, Garnett steps up. If Garnett is off, Pierce or Allen steps up. If all three of the members of the Boston Three Party have a bad shooting night, they will still play stifling defense with Kendrick Perkins – who was ready to have a monster defensive series until he suffered an ankle sprain and bruised shoulder – and will defer to the a deft-scoring bench such as Rajon Rondo, James Posey, Eddie House, Leon Powe or Sam Cassell.
The problem the Lakers had was that the Atlanta Hawks and Cleveland Cavaliers did not take out the Celtics in their Eastern Conference playoff series. The Celtics needed 7 games to get by Atlanta and another 7 games to eliminate Cleveland. The more the Celtics played, the better they got. Remember, this was the first time that the Celtics, as constituted, played together in the playoffs. The team concept gelled in The Finals.
2008 NBA Finals – Clinching Game 6
Boston Celtics 131
Los Angeles Lakers 92
2008 NBA Finals – Game 5
Los Angeles Lakers 103
Boston Celtics 98
2008 NBA Finals – Game 4
Boston Celtics 97
Los Angeles Lakers 91
2008 NBA Finals – Game 3
Los Angeles Lakers 87
Boston Celtics 81
2008 NBA Finals – Game 2
Boston Celtics 108
Los Angeles Lakers 102