Lakers Suffer First Playoff Loss at Staples, Celtics Tie Finals at 1-1

| by Alex Groberman

Hopefully the Los Angeles Lakers weren’t counting on homecourt advantage being a key to their success in the NBA Finals, because they gave it back to the Boston Celtics in Game 2’s 103-94 loss Sunday night.

After an almost pathetic display in the first game of the series, the Celtics came in like a team possessed. They hustled for every rebound and loose ball. They were aggressive on both ends of the floor, and they showed -- for what feels like the millionth time in this year’s playoffs -- they are not too old to compete.

Celtics’ guard Ray Allen hit an NBA Finals record eight 3-pointers en route to 32 points for the night. Considered by many to be the greatest shooter in league history, Allen put on a clinic for fans in attendance as he finished off the first half with 27 points.

“I didn’t think it was easy, getting the 3’s up in the air,” Allen said. “You look up and everybody is probably thinking, ‘How did this guy get open?’ But there’s so much going on there—big screens, misdirection plays. I thought they did everything they could to keep me from shooting 3’s, (but we) worked tirelessly.”

As Allen cooled down in the third and fourth quarters, Rajon Rondo took over, getting his fifth triple-double of this year’s playoffs. The young point guard was careful to spread the credit around, though, despite being instrumental to the victory with 19 points, 12 rebounds and 10 assists.

“An entire team effort,” Rondo said. “Ray carried us through the first half. Second half, we got in a little slump but we stuck with it, stayed together and got a victory."

Later, Celtics coach Doc Rivers had this to say about Rondo’s effort:

“He just did a lot of things—the blocked shots, the steals,” Boston coach Doc Rivers said. “He’s our quarterback, and he does a lot of stuff for us. He was special tonight.”

In what seemed like a reverse of fortunes, it was Lakers’ superstar Kobe Bryant who battled foul trouble for most of the night. Unable to really hang with either Allen or Rondo, Bryant found his playing time and effectiveness limited by a tightly called game on the part of the refs. He finished the night with a quiet 21 points on 8-20 shooting.

The lone bright spots for the Lakers on the evening were their two big men, Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum. Gasol had 25 points and 8 rebounds in another impressive effort against Kevin Garnett, while Bynum pitched in his best game of the playoffs with 21 points and six rebounds.

It was the interior game of the Lakers that really kept them in the running despite Allen’s monster night. They ended up getting 41 free throws at the line, 15 more than Boston.

“Our big guys played great,” Lakers coach Phil Jackson said. “We didn’t get the ball often enough to them, or in a good enough position many times, and a lot of our outside shooting was not that (good) … In a sequence like this, there’s no doubt it’s a blow to us to lose the homecourt, but we anticipated this might happen, and we’re just going to have to go pick it up.”

After seemingly turning over a new leaf in the previous game, Artest returned to his usual unimpressive form with a 1-10, 3 turnovers-before-fouling-out effort.

If the Lakers hope to steal a game in Boston, they will have to figure out how to stop the "two man show" that is Rondo and Allen. While odds are that Allen will not be able to put up a record-breaking eight 3-pointers again in the series, the Lakers may have woken up a sleeping giant.

Equally troubling, is the fact that throughout the entire NBA Playoffs, Bryant’s defense has been the Lakers’ trump card. Tonight, however, he could not lock down either of the Celtics’ leading scorers.

The Lakers will have a chance to bounce back from their first home loss of this year’s playoffs in Game 3, Tuesday in Boston.