It's said to win any NBA Finals series you have to know how to win on the road and that's exactly what the Boston Celtics did as they shocked the Los Angeles Lakers, 103-94, this evening at Staples Center to even the best-of-seven series at 1-1.
Game 3 is set for Tuesday in Boston, where Games 4 and 5 will also be played in the Finals' 2-3-2 format.
The Celtics took final control when they claimed a five-point lead with less than two minutes to play on a 20-foot jumper by Rajon Rondo, his eighth point of the quarter. In fact, the Celtics were on an 11-0 run until Kobe Bryant hit a three-pointer to cut the lead to five with 52 seconds to play. But by then it was in the books for the Celtics.
The win should have come more easily for the Celtics, especially after Ray Allen put up 17 points in the second quarter as the Celtics rode his three-point shooting to a 14-point lead. But, as the game progessed the Lakers got back into it, eventually grabbing a three-point lead with five minutes to play.
Allen was the game's leading scorer with 32 points, 27 in the first half. He set a NBA Finals record with eight three-pointers.
"(Allen) makes me a better coach," said Boston's Doc Rivers. "He's a perfectionist. The last two days he took a million shots and it's no coincidence why great shooters are great shooters. . . . It's amazing we had a player that had 27 points in the first half and we're only up six. It's going to be that kind of series."
But if the first half belonged to Allen, the second easily belonged to Rondo. He finished with a triple-double (19 points, 12 rebounds and 10 assists.)
"Tonight he was unbelieveable," Rivers added. "He made the big shot. He just did a lot of things. The blocked shots, the steals. He's our quarterback."
Even Lakers Coach Phil Jackson couldn't deny that assessment.
"Rondo's offensive rebounds were a difference-maker in the second half," Jackson said. "In the first half it was Ray's shooting. But Rondo had some key plays that changed the course of the game."
If there was any good news for the Lakers it was the play of Andrew Bynum, whose name was heretofore only connected to discussions of his ailing knee. Bynum finished with 21 points.
The Lakers needed help from someone other than Bryant, who had to alter his aggressive play when he kept picking up fouls. Jackson even elected to keep Bryant in the game when he picked up his fifth foul with 11 minutes to play in the fourth quarter. Bryant finished with 21 points.
"I wasn't happy with those foul calls," Jackson said risking yet another fine from the NBA. "He tried to play aggressively and got called for it. It changed the complexity of the ball game."
Pau Gasol was the high scorer for the Lakers with 25.
"Our big guys played great -- Bynum and Gasol -- but we didn't get the ball into them enough," Jackson said.
It was pretty clear from the start that the Celtics were a different team than the one that was dominated in Game 1.
In fact, even before tipoff, you knew it was going to be a night of stark contrasts when a very heartfelt tribute to the late UCLA basketball coach John Wooden by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Bill Walton (in with the old) was followed by an incredibly average rendition of the nathional anthem by American Idol winner Lee DeWyze (out with the new).
The Lakers' early strategy was to win the game in the paint with Gasol and Bynum. In fact, Bryant only scored two points in the first quarter, settling for five first-quarter assists. But, when they fell behind by 14 points in the second quarter the strategy changed until Bryant got in foul trouble.
The second quarter is when Allen took over the game. He hit five three-pointers to open the quarter and finally missed on his eighth attempt of the game. (He was two for two on threes in the first quarter.)
The Lakers were able to close their halftime deficit to six points, and with less than two minutes gone in the third quarter the Lakers had regained the lead, 57-56. And from there it was the kind of NBA championship game you would expect down the stretch.
"It's a blow to us to lose the home court," Jackson said. "But we anticipated it and we'll just go on from there."
And there is across the country with the momentum squarely in Boston's favor.