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Breaking down the last five minutes of Game 2

Things seemed set up well for the Lakers, right? Three-point lead on their home floor, with just over five minutes to play? Kobe Bryant on the floor, ready to do his closer thing? Fire up the charter, the purple and gold are heading to Boston with a commanding 2-0 lead!

Or... maybe not.

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The dominant figure of the final five minutes of Game 2: Rajon Rondo.

As I noted in last night's postgame breakdown, what looked so promising turned into a fairly unmitigated disaster. The Celtics were 12 points better over the final 5:20, and now the series is tied with three games coming up in Beantown.

To take a closer look at what went wrong, I woke early this morning and fired up the ol' DVR machine to take a look. Here's the breakdown:

5:15- Rajon Rondo takes the ball on the left wing, with Kobe sagging well off him, looking not only do deny penetration and force Rondo to shoot, but also hedging against picking up his sixth foul. Bryant hangs down with Pau Gasol and Kevin Garnett around the free throw line. Garnett keeps moving near the elbow until he gets himself set underneath Gasol and Bryant, allowing him to set an effective screen on both as Rondo blows by for the layup. Great patience from Rondo and KG, but if Kobe has three fouls, undoubtedly he's playing Rondo more straight up on the perimeter. 90-89, Lakers.

5:00- Derek Fisher holds on the left wing, looking for Bynum in the block. Not there. He hits Artest at the top of the arc, who swings back to Fish. This time, Fish makes the entry to Bynum, who sizes up Perkins inside, then kicks to Artest, now standing about where Fisher was moments ago, and goes to set a screen for him. An illegal one, unfortunately. Turnover.

4:30- Rondo at the top of the key, again Kobe hanging well off him. The Lakers, and Bynum particularly, do a good job switching on the interior as Ray Allen runs Fisher through a maze of screens. Bynum pops out on Allen at the right wing and forces Allen into an airball. Excellent effort and recognition from Bynum.

4:15- Artest on the left wing to Kobe at the top of the arc, guarded by Allen. Kobe, isolating on Allen, dribbles left into the mid-post, spins right into the lane, but misses the floater. A shot he'll often make, but doesn't here.

3:41- Pierce drives right from the wing on Artest, and draws a non-shooting foul. Only seconds later, he draws another on Artest, spinning into him as Pierce probes along the perimeter. Artest joins Bryant in the five foul club. Quick aside: I'm not a habitual slagger of refs, but when people gripe about the officiating through the first two games, here's where they have a point. Artest was in good position, and absorbed contact from Pierce. That far away from the basket, guys have to be able to play a little. There were too many ticky-tack calls of this type against both teams.

But I digress..

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Pau Gasol again had his way with Kevin Garnett in Game 2, but didn't touch the ball down the stretch.

There are times the ball just doesn't bounce the right direction. Here's one, from L.A.'s perspective: The Lakers trap Pierce on the left wing, who finds Garnett along the baseline. He feeds Kendrick Perkins under the basket. It looks like an easy layup, but Gasol rotates nicely and picks up his sixth block of the night. As Perkins and Gasol compete for the ball, it's tapped straight to Rondo, who did a nice job following the play, then quickly lays it in. Boston 91, Lakers 90.

3:05- KG picks up his fifth jostling with Pau on the left block, and on the restart Gasol pops out high on the left wing to accept a pass from Artest, who had picked up his dribble about an hour before. Despite Pierce shading the pass and Garnett camping out on Gasol's high side, Artest still tries to force the ball to Pau instead of swinging back to Kobe at the top of the arc. Back in my teaching days, there was a moment I looked at my class of seventh graders and saw one boy leaning over the chair in front of him, yanking out the seat's padding through a small hole. I suspect my expression of confusion and disappointment was similar to the one displayed by Phil Jackson on the TV broadcast.

2:50- Rondo moves along the right wing off a Pierce screen. Artest switches nicely, cutting off penetration. Rondo gets another screen, this time from Garnett, leaving him on Gasol with Artest in the high post against KG. Rondo makes the pass inside, and Garnett rises over the shorter, earthbound Artest for only his second field goal of the night, the shot leaving his hand just before Gasol arrives with the block attempt. Boston, 93-90.

2:30- Kobe isolates against Allen in the right corner, as the rest of the Lakers clear out to the left side of the floor. It's a set the Lakers have used effectively all season. Kobe makes some space against Allen, then penetrates, drawing the D. Kobe skips to Artest in the corner, who thinks about shooting but Pierce closes quickly. Artest swings to Fish high on the left wing as the Staples crowd briefly exhales in relief. With the shot clock winding down, Fish pumps to let Rondo fly by, then rises for the three... except Rondo, this year's first team point guard on the All-Defensive squad, stops on a dime and as Fish steps into his shot, recovers to make the backside block.

Boston goes the other way, with Ray Allen trailing and Kobe the only defender back for the Lakers. Bryant risks his sixth foul to contest, and Allen misses. The ball rattles around off the glass, eventually going out of bounds, last touched by Bryant.

2:07- Restarting with a fresh 24 seconds on the clock, Rondo ends up with the ball at the top of the key. Allen comes off a baseline curl and Rondo hits him for the catch-and-shoot at the left elbow. No good. Ball out of bounds off... well, they're not sure. On the replay, it looks like the ball last touches the right hand of Garnett, with Gasol's left hand behind KG's. One thing for sure: It didn't go off Garnett's left hand, which had a tight grip on Gasol's right arm, preventing Pau from going up with both hands for the ball.

The officials give the ball to Boston, even after looking at the replay.

1:57- Off the inbound, Rondo takes the ball to the top of the key. Kobe, no surprise, sags down to about the free throw line. Rondo passes to Allen, coming off another curl along the right side. Allen penetrates near the free throw line where Kobe awaits, and kicks to Rondo on the left wing. Kobe doesn't try to close, nor does Artest leave Pierce to contest. The Lakers concede the open jumper to Rondo, as they have countless times before, but this time he makes them pay. About 40 seconds after his block, Rondo finally gets his team points for his trouble. Probably the critical sequence in the last five minutes. Celtics, 95-90.

1:45- The Lakers work the ball around the perimeter, eventually getting Kobe free for a decent enough look for three on the right wing. With 11 seconds left on the shot clock, there was probably time to find something better. There was also a lane for Kobe to penetrate, but perhaps fearing a charge, the five fouls had kept Kobe on the perimeter for almost the entire fourth quarter. Allen secures the rebound, and goes to Perkins, who is trapped along the baseline and feeds Rondo.

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Lakers fans have grown accustomed to supernatural play from Kobe Bryant this postseason. Sunday, he wasn't able to carry the day.

Just before the eight second violation, Doc Rivers explodes onto the court to call timeout. He's then hugged in congratulations for his spot-on coaching by Brian Scalabrine, dressed in a black suit/black shirt combo like either a mobster or Johnny Cash in formal wear. Very likely, it marks the only point this series the former Trojan will be on the court during a game.

1:26- Out of the timeout, the Celtics advance the ball on the inbound across halfcourt, Rondo to Allen. The Lakers try to trap, but Allen quickly gets the ball to Garnett, who finds Perkins cutting to the bucket for a layup. Boston, 97-90, and on a 10-0 run.

1:20- Kobe goes coast-to-coast, penetrates against Allen and tries to draw contact inside. No dice. His wild shot misses, and on the rebound Gasol fouls Perkins, sending him to the line.

From here, Perk would make one of two, giving Boston an eight-point lead. Needing a bucket with only a minute to play, Artest, in what Jackson later called "one of the more unusual sequences I've ever witnessed," used over ten seconds of clock crossing the floor on the dribble from right to left before hoisting a nightmare of a shot. Off the ORB, Kobe hit the deep three, pulling L.A. back to five. But at this point, it was basically academic. The game was over.

Some thoughts:

  • Given how well the Lakers have stepped up through the playoffs in these do-or-die, cinco-manos-y-cinco-manos moments, it was strange to see them show so little composure down the stretch.

  • In five minutes, the only time Pau Gasol's name pops up on an offensive possession was when Artest missed him with a pass. That ain't good. No post touches, no high pick and roll with Kobe. In the key moments, a team's best players have to be the guys with the ball, and for the Lakers it didn't happen.

  • The foul situation had a serious impact on the game. If Kobe has three fouls instead of five, the way in which the Lakers defend down the stretch. He's up tight on Rondo, as opposed to sagging so far off he might as well have been downing Sunday night's special up the block at The Pantry. If Lamar Odom isn't strapped to the bench for all but 14:38 of the game, what the Lakers do on both sides of the ball changes, even if Odom himself isn't playing well. As Jackson said after the game, Lamar's presence allows Kobe and Gasol to shift their spots on the floor, opening up more options. Whistles matter. Criticize the officials if you'd like, but the Lakers need to do a better job of understanding how a game is being called, and do whatever they can to stay out of the bind they found themselves in last night.

  • The game demonstrates how quickly things can get away, particularly against a good team. The margin for error is very small, and only shrinks more heading into Boston for the next three games.

What happens Tuesday night is obviously an open question, but for the first time this postseason they've been put on their heels in front of a game on another team's floor. I'm totally intrigued by the prospect of how they'll respond.