Celtics take two game lead in NBA Finals

June 9, 2008 5:08:35 AM PDT
Keep the game close, and the Los Angeles Lakers know Kobe Bryant can win it for them.Spot the Boston Celtics 24 points, and that's too much even for the NBA's MVP to overcome.

Bryant and the Lakers ran out of time Sunday night, when a 41-point fourth quarter was ultimately futile in a 108-102 loss in Game 2 of the NBA finals, because they scored only 42 in the first half.

"I kept telling the team, we played as poorly as we could possibly play for 2½ quarters in the middle of the third quarter," Los Angeles coach Phil Jackson said. "We just can't play any worse than this."

Nor can they play much better than they did in the final 12 minutes, when they shot 64 percent from the field, going 7-of-11 from 3-point range, and cut a 24-point deficit with 7:55 left down to two points in the last minute.

The comeback couldn't help the Lakers in this game. But Bryant believes it might have purpose in the ones that remain.

"Mathematically we felt like if we cut it down to about 10 - the goal was to cut it down to 10 with about 7 minutes to go," Bryant said. "We weren't able to do that, so after that it was about slicing it and getting it to single digits and applying more and more pressure. That's what we did and I think they learned a lot tonight because we're a young team and I think that shows you're never really out of a game."

Bryant scored 13 of his 30 points in the last 7:40 during his best performance against the Celtics in four games this season.

"We noticed some things in the fourth quarter that we can do that we'll look at and see if we can't use them at Staples," he said. "We just had to make a stand a little bit. We've got to make a stand, but at the same time, you've still got to play.

"What we have to do is get to those loose balls. We've got to get timely rebounds, and we have to stop them in transition, knocking down those 3s, and we'll be fine. A free throw or two wouldn't hurt."

Only three teams have ever recovered from the 2-0 deficit Los Angeles faces to win the finals, but the teams play the next three games at Staples Center, where the Lakers are 8-0 in the postseason and have won 14 straight since last losing March 28.

"We've come too far to really sweat being down 2-0," Bryant said. "We're going to go home and handle our business."

Bryant, who shot 9-for-26 and scored 24 points in a 98-88 loss in Game 1, shot 11-for-23 Sunday night, and had five of his eight assists in the final period.

The Lakers had only themselves to blame for falling so far behind. They were within nine points before being outscored 27-12 to finish the third quarter and start the fourth, mainly because of a sieve-like defense. It was never more flagrant than when unheralded Leon Powe, who scored a career playoff-high 21 points in less than 15 minutes, cruised down the lane for a dunk early in the fourth quarter. There was simply no resistance.

Bryant appeared animated at times during timeouts. When asked what he was telling his teammates, the MVP replied: "It was beep, beep, beep, 'Eddie Murphy Raw' times 10."

The Lakers were plagued by foul problems all night, and it was reflected at the foul line, where the Celtics shot 27-for-38 while the Lakers were just 10-for-10.

"I didn't notice," Bryant said sarcastically with a slight smile.

The Lakers' bench was abysmal at times, but came alive to score 16 points in the final period including six each by Jordan Farmar and Sasha Vujacic.

"I think we played together more (down the stretch)," Farmar said. "We made the passes we were supposed to make and hit some shots."

Vujacic had a chance to bring the Lakers within one point with about 15 seconds left, but his 3-pointer was blocked by Paul Pierce.

"I had an open look, he kind of jumped out of nowhere," said Vujacic, who made two 3-pointers earlier in the fourth quarter. "I took the shot, I felt good about it. He blocked it. It could have gone in or gone out. He blocked it."

Pau Gasol disappeared offensively in the second half for the second straight game, scoring only four of his 17 points. He had just three of his 15 after halftime in the opener.

"Sometimes I just can't control where the ball goes," he said. "All I do is try to play hard, and when I get the ball, try to be aggressive and help my team. In the second half, things didn't go that well, especially in the third quarter. Like I said, I don't make the calls."

Lamar Odom picked up his fifth foul in the final seconds of the third quarter. He scored eight of his 10 points in the first half and didn't play in the final period.

"I guess we've got to play a little less physical," he said dryly, a reference to those who said the Lakers needed to be more physical after being outrebounded 46-33 in Game 1 as well as the foul situation.

Jackson said he was more struck by Powe shooting more foul shots than his entire team in limited minutes than he was about the difficulty his team had in scoring points in the first three quarters or its fourth-quarter rally.

"I've never seen a game like that in all these years I've coached in the finals. Unbelievable," Jackson said.

When asked how many of his five fouls were fouls, Odom paused before replying: "Obviously all of them, because I couldn't get back in the game.

"That's the way it is, that's the way the game was called," Odom added. "(The officials) did their jobs and we did ours. They're a tough team. That's what we expected. We expected tough games, not the losses. We expect the next game to be tough."

Trevor Ariza entered the game in the first 2 minutes when Vladimir Radmanovic picked up two early fouls and played his first meaningful minutes since breaking his right foot in practice Jan. 20. He wound up going scoreless in 7 minutes.