Laker haters who've had to suffer this week while memories of Game 6 of the 2002 Western Conference finals were dredged up in horrible detail, this one was for you.
The Los Angeles Lakers, who according to disgraced former referee Tim Donaghy benefited from a fix in that game so notorious for poor officiating, built a 24-point lead on their home floor against the Boston Celtics Thursday night in Game 4 of the NBA Finals. They led by 18 at the half, by 20 with seven minutes to go in the third quarter.
And they lost.
By the end of that third quarter, when P.J. Brown threw down a dunk, the Celtics had closed to within two by way of a 21-3 run that didn't look nearly as furious or frantic as the comeback the Lakers made in the fourth quarter of Game 2. That comeback, the Lakers rallying from 24 down to within two, fell short. The Celtics won going away, 97-91, and lead the series 3-1.
It was one of the greatest comebacks in NBA history, maybe the greatest considering the importance and pivotal nature of the game. It was also, correspondingly, one of the greatest choke jobs in the history of the league. And the way it happened wasn't the way these things, these greatest comebacks and most stunning choke jobs, usually happen. The Celtics didn't go crazy. The Lakers didn't melt down.
It was simply a matter of the Celtics outplaying the Lakers, one trip upcourt at a time, one trip downcourt at a time. Lamar Odom was dominant early, scoring nine points in the first six minutes, 13 in the first quarter, but he disappeared after that, scoring only six the rest of the way.
Kobe Bryant failed to make a basket in the first half as the Lakers built their big lead, then wasn't able to take over the game in crunch time, as the Lakers clearly and desperately hoped he would do. He finished with 19 points, 16 in the second half.
Paul Pierce, who's on his way to the series MVP award, asked to guard Bryant in the second half, coach Doc Rivers said. He made Bryant's life miserable, took away his post-up game and forced the Lakers to go elsewhere for the win. There was nowhere to go. The Lakers had scored 58 points in the first half. They scored 33 in the second. Everyone not named Kobe Bryant combined for 17 points after halftime.
On the offensive end, with role players James Posey and Eddie House knocking down outside shots, the Celtics were able to spread the floor for the Big Three of Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen, who combined for a tidy 55 points, none scoring more than Pierce's 20.
The inability of the Lakers defense to leave the shooters and help was never more evident than on the dagger play, when Boston spread out for Allen, who waved off a screen by Garnett, easily drove past Sasha Vujacic, then waltzed down the wide-open middle for a layup that gave the Celtics a five-point lead with 16.4 seconds to play.
The Lakers had had the building rocking and had looked like they could do no wrong in the first half. Now all they have to do is win three straight, something no team in their situation has ever done in the Finals. They'd have to win the last two in Boston.
It's hard to picture, harder to picture than a Celtics comeback was when Boston trailed by 20 in the third quarter Thursday. Even intervention from on high -- the league office -- probably wouldn't help the Lakers now, just to bring up that 2002 Game 6 one more time, Laker haters, to make what looks inevitable now all the sweeter for you.