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BILL PLASCHKE

Lakers turn Celtics back into contenders

By staggering in Game 4, they give Boston a chance to strut and hope. A series that felt finished two nights ago is now alive and tied at two games apiece.

June 10, 2010|Bill Plaschke
  • Lakers guard Kobe Bryant and Coach Phil Jackson realize their fate has been sealed in a Game 4 loss to the Celtics on Thursday night in Boston.
Lakers guard Kobe Bryant and Coach Phil Jackson realize their fate has been… (Wally Skalij / Los Angeles…)

From Boston

Geez, they've done it now.

A dozen minutes from taking a historically insurmountable lead in the NBA Finals on Thursday, the Lakers lost their legs, misplaced their brains, abandoned their guts, and gave the aging, inferior Boston Celtics the one thing they should not have given them.

The Lakers gave them hope.

Goodness, they've messed up now.

Paul Pierce is bobbing his head and yakking again. Glen Davis is shaking his butt and clowning again. Kevin Garnett is bending at the knees and barking again.

The TD Garden is rocking again. The Celtics' cheerleading routine is being drowned out by "Beat L.A." chants again. The Celtics are improbably, but undoubtedly, championship contenders again.

A series that felt finished two nights ago is now alive and tied at two games apiece after Boston outscored the Lakers by nine in the final period and stole a 96-89 victory that felt like a doubleheader sweep.

Not only does Boston avoid falling behind three games to one — no team has ever come back from that deficit in the finals — but Boston suddenly comes within a Sunday home victory of putting the Lakers on the ropes.

And the Lakers are hurting enough right now without the rope burns.

Andrew Bynum's torn right knee is so swollen and painful, he was hobbled from the opening tip and wound up playing just a dozen minutes, including zero in the fourth quarter.

After relying on his presence early in this series, can they close it out without him?

"Everything changes when he's not out there,'' said Lamar Odom. "We have to figure out how to make up for what he gives us."

Kobe Bryant appeared to tweak his injured right knee early in the game, and it seemed to affect him throughout. Despite scoring 33 points, he shot only two free throws after driving the lane and committed seven turnovers, including throwing a horrible pass that led to a clinching layup by Rajon Rondo layup with 31 seconds remaining.

Bryant says he is fine, but is their upcoming two-day rest enough time to have that knee drained again?

Said Coach Phil Jackson: "He was limping a little bit but I think it was fatigue more than anything."

Claimed Bryant: "That's just me playing like crap."

Then there were the Lakers who simple dragged while the Celtics danced, guys who seem to be growing weaker as the series goes longer, hustle guys whose inactivity is every bit as worrisome as the injuries.

There is Odom, who was so awful for the third time in four games, Jackson said, "I thought Lamar was going to kind of sit this one out."

Maybe the Lakers would have had a chance if he did. With the Lakers leading, 62-60, to begin the fourth quarter, Davis charged down the middle to score seven points in less than four minutes, running over and under and around Odom until the Celtics led by seven.

At which point Davis stalked off the court with teammate Nate Robinson hanging playfully off his back and 18,000 fans fiercely bouncing in front of their seats while Odom meekly peeled himself off the parquet.

When asked later about the Lakers' defensive strategy against Davis, the usually talkative Jackson said, "I don't want to talk about that."

Which means there wasn't a strategy other than, Odom got schooled. It was essentially the same strategy used by another struggling Laker, Ron Artest, who had four baskets while Paul Pierce had that many in the first quarter in getting the Celtics off to an important start. Artest hasn't really shown up since the finals opener, and who knows when he will show up again?

"They won this game," said Artest, shaking his head. "I mean, they won this game."

They won it by out-rebounding the Lakers by eight, by outscoring them in the paint by 20, and by out-working them from corner to corner. They won it with Robinson stripping the ball from Jordan Farmar, with Tony Allen knocking the ball from Bryant, and with dang near all of them mugging the ball from Pau Gasol.

All of that occurred in the fourth quarter, when the game's best closers watched the door to unbeatable championship momentum slammed shut … while opening it wide enough for the gasping, growling Celtics to barge through.

"They got all the energy points, the hustle points, second-chance points, points in the paint, beat us to the loose balls," said Bryant.

Some of this was about the Celtics making a last stand with veterans who will probably be playing together for the last time. That won't change. Some of that was about the Lakers adjusting to injuries and weariness. That must change.

It's a best-out-of-three series now, and even though the Lakers have home-court advantage, do they have heart and body advantage?

"They had their backs against the wall tonight and they played desperate and they got away with it," said Jackson of the Celtics.

They got away with it because the Lakers let them get away with it.

My, they've fouled this up now.

bill.plaschke@latimes.com

twitter.com/billplaschke

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