LOS ANGELES -- The Los Angeles Lakers were up by three points and sat just five minutes from securing a vice-grip-like 2-0 Finals lead over the Boston Celtics when the team with the game's undisputed best closer closed out the game like a golfer with the yips putting for the win on the 18th hole.
Eight missed shots and three turnovers by the Lakers later, and the Celtics had a 103-94 win, a 1-1 series tie and an inviting slate of three straight games at home coming up on the schedule.
"I thought we gave them life in our building," said Ron Artest, who spent most of Sunday's game squeezing the life out of the Lakers' offense, going 1-for-10 from the floor overall and 1-for-6 on 3-pointers with three turnovers before fouling out with 47 seconds left.
Artest's missed 21 footer with 56.9 seconds left -- a long 2 with his foot on the 3-point line, also known in coaching circles as "the worst shot in basketball" -- summed up L.A.'s ineptitude down the stretch, as Artest dribbled out most of the shot clock in the possession before launching the long shot out of desperation.
"It's one of the more unusual sequences I've ever witnessed," Lakers coach Phil Jackson said of Artest's possession after the game.
And the final five minutes of the game were unusual as a whole for a team that was 9-0 at home in the playoffs and yet suddenly played as if it didn't understand the urgency of the situation.
The Lakers dug themselves a hole, falling down by 14 points in the second quarter because of the hot-shooting hand of Ray Allen, who would go on to set a Finals record for 3-pointers in a game with eight en route to his game-high 32 points.
But a strong end to the half, punctuated by a Kobe Bryant steal and 3-pointer with 0.2 seconds left, and an even stronger third quarter that saw Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum score 16 points to the Celtics' 18 as a team got L.A. back into it.
"We fought pretty hard to get back in the game and then we let the game slip away," Bryant said.
Assessing the final slippage shows a 16-4 Boston run to finish the game, with the Celtics shooting 5-for-9 from the floor with zero turnovers compared to just 1-for-9 for the Lakers with three costly possessions on which they coughed up the ball to the C's.
"We had a little lead right at the end and we didn't do our job; they did," Jackson said.
It wasted a stellar 21-point, six-rebound, seven-block performance by Bynum, who pushed his right knee through 39 grueling minutes. It negated another game by Gasol (25 points, eight rebounds and six blocks) in which he made Kevin Garnett (six points, four rebounds and zero blocks) look about as explosive as a cap gun. It made the Lakers' Finals-record 14 blocked shots as a team about as relevant as Glenn Frey, the former Eagles front man whom nobody in L.A. remembers when he is shown on the giant video screen.
After controlling the glass and the paint in Game 1, the Lakers were outrebounded by five and outscored by 10 in the key. Boston also had 13 points to L.A.'s 16 in second-chance opportunities after the Lakers dominated that category 16-0 on Thursday, that stat alone literally giving the Celtics a second chance to steal the Lakers' home-court advantage.
The crowd left the game in a state of semishock. The last time Staples Center was so silent was after Game 4 of the 2008 Finals, when the Celtics pulled off a jaw-dropping (and Sasha Vujacic ankles-breaking) comeback to go up 3-1 in the series.
It begs the question: What's worse, losing in 29 minutes a 24-point lead you spent only 19 minutes in a single game building, or losing in five minutes the home-court advantage you spent six months and 82 games building?
"We played bad basketball down the stretch of that game, and it really, really, really hurt us," Bynum said.
But Bynum also said the Lakers won't know whether they lost home-court advantage until after Game 3. If they can steal the first game in Boston, it will be as if the loss in the second game in L.A. never happened.
"It's the most important game," Bryant said about Game 3. "Game 1 was the most important, Game 2 was the most important, now it's Game 3."
If any game in the series is just as important as any other, the same reasoning suggests any minute in a single game is just as important as any other minute.
But those five minutes to end the game for L.A. didn't feel like just any five minutes. They felt like a meltdown.
Dave McMenamin covers the Lakers for ESPNLosAngeles.com.