Posted by Sekou Smith
BOSTON — Win or lose these NBA Finals, the Boston Celtics did the one thing no other opponent could to the Los Angeles this postseason.
They’ve stripped away that extra layer of toughness that appeared to have grown since their 2008 Finals smackdown of the Lakers and exposed the same old tender group.
Anything the Lakers do on their home floor in the next few days should be expected. Teams always play better on their home floor.
But Ron Artest was supposed to add some muscle to the Lakers’ lineup. Pau Gasol was supposed to be over his random bouts of pout. The Lakers weren’t going to get pushed around anymore. And then in Game 5 Sunday night it all came flooding back.
— Rajon Rondo shoved Artest for knocking down Kevin Garnett and Artest didn’t even fake a response, though he did fake as if he got punched by one of the Klitschko brothers.
“It was pretty self-explanatory, really,” said Rondo, who gladly accepted his technical foul. “I felt that Artest pushed Kevin and it wasn’t just a regular foul. We weren’t going anywhere, so in Kevin’s defense I pushed him back.”
— Derek Fisher tried to bark back and forth with Ray Allen, but he just spent most of the night getting bullied by all of the Celtics on both ends of the floor.
“You can never really back down,” Allen said. “You have to push forward … every opportunity you can.”
— And Gasol, oh Gasol, Tony Allen came from 12-feet away to pin one of his layup attempts on the backboard and Garnett and Kendrick Perkins both closed in on him, one of them batted another shot attempt off the glass and Gasol just stood and watched as the play went the other way.
“Until I see the edit,” Lakers coach Phil Jackson said, “I can’t make a comment on what happened out there, whether he was tentative or whether he had good defensive plays made against him.”
Let me help you out coach, it was an even mix of both. But the tone was already set by both Rondo and Allen.
And these weren’t even the Celtics’ purported tough guys (Perkins and Garnett) doing most of the damage.
Most disappointing is the Lakers’ response to all those gestures of aggression. Passive resistance just doesn’t work this time of year. The Lakers whined to the officials a little bit and swung a lot of arms in protest, but there wasn’t any attempt to get up and shove someone back. Artest acted as if Rondo hit him so hard that he almost knocked him off his feet, a stunt Rondo laughed off afterwards.
“I’m not that strong,” Rondo said. “He did (flop) a little bit. He’s probably the strongest guy on the court in this series. I’ve been lifting a little bit, but other than that, I didn’t push him that hard.”
I’m not suggesting the Lakers should have turned the game into some cheap-shot free-for-all, but there comes a time when a team has to stand up to a more physically aggressive foe or risk getting punked in a game of epic proportions.
Celtics coach Doc Rivers doesn’t agree with me. He’s not a fan of his team’s tough guy tactics.
“I don’t like that stuff. Let’s just play,” Rivers said. “It was physical. There was a lot of pushing going on, but we kept getting the technicals. You know, and I understand you want to take up for your teammates, and that is good, but strength sometimes is walking away, and I tell our guys that all the time. If you want to show toughness, toughness is walking away from all the other stuff.”
I hear you coach. And you are doing a masterful job in these Finals, pushing all the right buttons. But we’ll have to agree to disagree on this one. Because I think the Celtics’ depth and toughness is what has the Lakers on the brink of elimination.
“It’s those small battles that go on in the game sometimes that seem like they’re necessary,” Ray Allen said. “You saw me and Fisher jawing at each other. I know Rondo got a tech for pushing Artest … you make somebody think you’re coming, that you’re going to trap them and that’s what we did early and you attack often … you know as the series progresses, there’s something that has to give.”
Something or more specifically someone.