Improbable? Yes. Unlikely? Yes. And YES. Unprecedented? Definitely. But the Celtics come-from-behind victory, on the road in L.A., down by 18 at the half was also historic, monumental, and down right awesome.
After the 3rd quarter and the start of the Celtics destined victory, I wrote the following:
So glad I stayed awake because the Celtics are about to show if they have what it takes to finish this series as champions. The reason the Celtics started playing well is three-fold... 1) they finally (FINALLY) started posting up KG against inferior defenders in Gasol and Odom. 2) They used the KG post up game to work inside out and 3) they actually started hitting their shots. P.S. If Paul Pierce works as hard the rest of the series as he did in the 3rd quarter, he'll be Finals MVP.
While I still think Paul Pierce cemented his Finals MVP selection with a 4th quarter as impressive as his 3rd quarter, I had more time to think about why the Celtics pulled off this win. And while I still believe my above points hold true (post game and hitting shots off the KG interior kick outs not to mention spreading the floor with shooters), I do not think they are the reason the Lakers could not close the deal.
Blame Kobe Bryant.
The "New Kobe" stuck around too long. You know, the unselfish Kobe, who, in the 1st half, despite only putting up 3 points (on 3 of 4 FT), managed to have his team up by 18 at the half because he did what championship-caliber superstars do when the opponents' total game plan revolves around the superstar- he drew double teams, passed out to open shooters, and played great defense. But then the 2nd half started, and you know what? The "New Kobe" stuck around too long. The problem was "New Kobe" did not have the same teammates around him in the 3rd and 4th quarters that stretched the floor and hit every open jumper in the 1st half. Kobe was once again joined by merely average teammates on the floor- ones capable of giving away a commanding lead in the game and, more importantly, tying this series at 2 games apiece.
When that starts to happen, when the roof starts caving in on a team, championship-caliber superstars take the game into their own hands and stave off a worst-case-scenario defeat. They become the game. They become super-DUPER-stars. They become heroic, when they are needed most. (Ironically, this NBA Finals has been promoted gratuitously and tied into the move "Hancock" with Will Smith in the lead as a reluctant superhero who first has to be nearly belligerent before he finds the value in championing for the good.) Wow, if that's not a parallel to Kobe Bryant, I do not know what is.
Anyway, back to the game. Where was "Old Kobe" when the Lakers needed him? The poltergeist that possessed Lamar Odom's body and made it shoot 7-for-7, in the 1st half and net 15 points decided L.O.'s body was just too damn useless in the 2nd half to stick around.
And Pau Gasol? Has this guy even shown up in this series? I mean, I know there was a guy who's 7 feet tall standing on the court, but for all I know it could have been some stilts-walker from 1 of the 9,999,961 versions of Cirque du Soleil playing in Vegas in town to catch the game. The only time I saw Gasol break to the basket was to hop- seriously, he did not even jump- over Ray Allen once and another time happened to be moving forward and I think at the last minute realized he was actually moving faster than he anticipated and ran into the paint where, through no fault of his own, received a pass from (who else?) Kobe for an easy jam. Again, "New Kobe" relying on his teammates not to f**k things up.
So then "New Kobe" could not gear it up and morph into "Old Kobe" when his team needed him most- the 4th quarter. "Old Kobe" was powerless to stop the onslaught of the Celtics' shooters and KG posting up. He had no help and no rhythm to his shooting. You can blame 0-3 shooting in the first half leading to his poor 6-19 night for 17 points, but the switch to Paul Pierce on Bryant in the second half was a real difference maker. Perhaps it was this defensive assignment that handcuffed "Old Kobe" long enough from shedding the poor shooting to ensure Boston doing what the Lakers could not in Game 2- closing the gap of a large deficit (22 points in the case of the Lakers), taking the lead, and hanging onto said lead to close the game.
Whatever the factors, this game was as much about Kobe Bryant being "un-Kobe-like" in the 4th quarter. And that means the Celtics just put themselves up 3-1 in this NBA Finals. Teams up 3-1 in the NBA Finals are 28-0 all-time in NBA history. And regardless of how many more games it takes for the C's to claim a statistically-proven-yet-not-guaranteed (my attempt not to jinx this) 17th title, Pierce should be MVP simply because he didn't let "Old Kobe" show up in Game 4.
So give credit to Paul Pierce and the Celtics for an amazing win. But do not let Kobe- old or new- off the hook. Last night, he was merely another citizen when a city needed its hero.