With the game on the line in the final five minutes, Kobe Bryant was tentative. Pulling up for floaters in the land when he would normally attack the rim, not contesting shots on defense. Lamar Odom was on the floor for 2:38 of the first half because he picked up three fast fouls. Ron Artest fouled out.
The same way it did to the Celtics early in Game 1, foul trouble threw the Lakers off their game Sunday, and the Boston Celtics beat the Lakers 104-93. The series is now tied 1-1 heading back for three games in Boston.
To a man, the Lakers would not say the fouls cost them the game. And to a man the Lakers were frustrated, angry and using very short answers to all questions.
“It’s all defensively,” Kobe Bryant said. “We gave them too many easy baskets and blew too many defensive assignments. That’s it.”
And the Lakers did blow defensive assignments, particularly on Ray Allen in the first half. The Celtics best shooter — one of the best pure shooters the game has ever seen — was allowed to get to his favorite spaces on the floor. The result was 27 first half points that put the Celtics ahead by six at the half when otherwise the Lakers would have pulled away.
Derek Fisher is tasked with chasing down Allen but he is not quick enough to keep up with Allen off screens. Plus, Allen is several inches taller and can shoot over the top of Fisher. The Lakers only hope is that Fisher can be physical with Allen.
"Well, you know, when (the referees) take away any bumps, when Fish is trying to make (Allen) divert his path and they don't allow him to do that, they call fouls on Fish and that really gives him the opportunity to take whatever route he wants to make off the pickers," Phil Jackson said, longing for the 1990s when anything short of a hockey check was not called. "That makes it very difficult."
The Lakers did a good job in some ways slowing Boston, it was the 11 of 16 three-point shooting that was the Celtics’ huge advantage. That and fast break points — Rajon Rondo had a triple-double for Boston because he was able to lead them in transition off the seemingly countless Lakers misses.
Despite it all, the Lakers had a three-point lead with 5:58 left. They had gotten 21 points from Andrew Bynum and 25 from Pau Gasol (on 10 shots each). The game was in their hands. And they turned it over. Kobe tried to take over the game but missed shots and had to pull up on other shots because of the five fouls. Then there was the key turnover sequence.
First was an Andrew Bynum offensive foul, followed by a Ron Artest foul and an Artest turnover swung the momentum. Artest made a few interesting plays late, like dribbling around for 10 seconds late in the game like a Harlem Globetrotter, weaving around but not shooting for a dozen seconds.
“It’s one of the more unusual sequences I’ve ever witnessed,” Jackson said, noting that was Artest trying to make up for the earlier turnover, but making things worse rather than just running the offense.
Despite it all — like the Celtics outscoring the Lakers by 10 points in the paint — it was still a game the Lakers could have won. That is what they regretted afterwards. That is what fans will regret, the chance to take the series by the throat.
Now the Lakers head to Boston where they need to win of the next three to have another game at Staples Center this year.
The Lakers, however, remain confident.
“We've got to win two in Boston, at least,” Bynum said. “That's my goal."