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It certainly wasn’t pretty, but it was exciting. It was chippy. It was physical. It was hard-fought. It was a huge win for the Boston Celtics, who evened their best-of-seven NBA Finals series with the Los Angeles Lakers at two games a piece, with a 96-89 victory at TD Garden in Boston on Thursday night.
The term “must-win” is used lightly at times and thrown around too freely, but the Celtics came into this game knowing that no team in the history of the Finals had ever come back from a 3-1 series deficit. And that was a hole that they would not let themselves fall into. And after a substantial victory (the emphasis here is on “sub”, what a showing from the bench) not in points but in sheer will and heart, the Celtics have now positioned themselves to try and take two out of three at home, and head back to L.A. with two chances to close out the 18th championship in franchise history.
Forgive the alliteration, but the boards, Big Baby and the bench were key to this game. More than anything else, the main topic of discussion throughout this series so far (besides the officiating, of course) was the length of the Lakers. Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum have fortified a great overall defensive showing by the Lakers in this series up to now, which had overshadowed the fine work done by the less-athletic Celtics defense. The story of this series has been the tale of these two defenses, but also the gritty, physical play, which has forced each team to work hard for grind-out victories to the end. Game 4 was no different.
After a first half that left something to be desired for both teams, the Celtics had to thank their lucky stars that they were only down three points. They were stagnant and completely inept at times on the offensive end (34% from the field in the first half), missing point blank shots and easy layups, and after a first quarter that saw Paul Pierce score 10 points and bring him somewhat back to life in this series, he was inexplicably left out of the offensive flow for most of the rest of the game. With Kobe Bryant finally showing up with somewhat of a Kobe-esque game in which he shot 6-11 from beyond the arch and scored 33 points, this would have seemed to be a recipe for disaster.
But, enter Big Baby and the bench. After the third quarter was mired in much of the same sloppiness and inconsistency for both teams, the fourth quarter would bring a seismic shift in both the momentum of the game as well as the Celtics’ lineup. This was a final quarter that would see Boston’s starters cheering rabidly from the bench for most of it. Glen Davis led the Celtics’ reserves with huge energy and outstanding athleticism, overcoming a big disadvantage in size as he has had to do since he came to The Association. Davis finished with 18 points and five rebounds, with all but one of those rebounds once again coming on the offensive end. Nate Robinson added emotion (too much at one time resulting in a technical) and 12 points of his own, and Tony Allen, while always ever-maddening on the offensive end, played inspired defense on Kobe and worked as well as he could to keep the ball out of Bryant’s hands. The Celtics were able to outscore the Lakers by the largest margin of the evening in the fourth quarter, while also doubling up Los Angeles on offensive rebounds 16-8 for the game, which brought about huge opportunities for second chance points on a night where the Celtics offense was not on their A-game.
So the series will shift back to Los Angeles for a Game 6 at least. It cannot be ignored that Bynum was only able to go 12 minutes in this game, and his presence being a question mark is a boost to the Celtics in many ways. While Gasol has arguably been the MVP of this series so far, he was shown to be a little exposed on the defensive side in Game 4 without Bynum at his side. After Lamar Odom was M.I.A. in the first two games, he has and will continue to fill in admirably, but will that be enough?
After the Celtics were able to claw this game away from Los Angeles, you have to like their chances heading into Game 5. The only question now is can they BEAT L.A. just one more time on their home floor.