Celtics: The big lead

They let it get away in Game 2, but held on to beat the Lakers. Now they have it in the NBA Finals, but have to hit the treacherous road.

Published June 9, 2008 8:30AM (EDT)

Lakers in five? That's what it's going to take for Los Angeles now that the Boston Celtics have taken a 2-0 lead over them in the NBA Finals. And the Lakers are going to have to count on home court meaning everything, because the Celtics dominated Game 2 about as thoroughly as a game can be dominated and have the score end up 108-102.

That reasonable-sounding tally -- and the Celts did have to sweat it a bit in the last minute -- was the result of a furious fourth-quarter comeback, fueled in part by a sudden Lakers resurgence and in part by the Celtics all but lighting up victory spliffs after they'd opened up a 24-point cushion.

If the Celtics get as complacent about their 2-0 lead as they got about their 95-71 lead Sunday night, the Lakers have a chance.

Down by that 24-point margin with just under eight minutes to play and the Celtics looking like no one told them the game was still going on, the Lakers closed the gap to 102-91 with two and a half to go. Then, after an even more urgent run started by a Kobe Bryant runner and ending with two Bryant free throws, Boston clung to a 104-102 with 38 seconds left.

The Celtics, who had played with such force and confidence since taking control of the game in the second quarter, fell apart even more thoroughly than the Lakers had in the third, when Boston had let its hard-earned 16-point lead get whittled down to nine, and then the Lakers had spit the bit following a timeout, surrendering 13 unanswered points while barely letting their star, Bryant, touch the ball.

One of the few times Bryant took a shot during the stretch, he launched an air ball. All of a sudden the Lakers offense devolved to Luke Walton taking flat-footed jumpers.

Late in the fourth it was Boston's turn. Poor shots, bad passes, steals. Pierce made a couple of free throws to get the lead back to four, and then the Celtics got a stop when Sasha Vujacic, who had made two 3-pointers during the comeback, missed one.

The Celtics have had the Lakers' number in these first two games. They haven't been bothered by L.A.'s athleticism, they've kept Bryant in check by forcing him to be a passer, then stifled the rest of the Lakers' offense, and they've gotten solid contributions from their bench, most notably Leon Powe's career night Sunday -- 21 points in 15 minutes.

That's all aside from two games' worth of brilliance by Pierce, and the far quieter but no less important contributions of Kevin Garnett, who's averaging 20.5 points and 11.5 rebounds in the two games.

The Lakers have helped by playing soft, whining about the officiating, refusing or finding themselves unable to sustain the offensive aggressiveness that got them off to a good start in Game 2. That might change when they get back home, where they'll be for the next three games starting Tuesday. We've seen the Celtics look great at home and stumble on the road this playoff season.

What we haven't seen is anybody playing as well as Boston is playing in the last few days, the garbage-time meltdown Sunday notwithstanding. They'd come very close to putting this series away by winning one of three on the West Coast. They'd do well to remember the lesson they almost had to learn the hard way in Game 2: Just keep doing what you're doing.

By King Kaufman

King Kaufman is a senior writer for Salon. You can e-mail him at king at salon dot com. Facebook / Twitter / Tumblr

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