If you didn’t know Leon Powe before Sunday night, I’m pretty sure you know him now. Boston’s second-year forward from Cal destroyed the Lakers in last night’s 108-102 Celtics’ Game 2 win. Powe scored 21 points on 6-for-7 shooting in just 15 minutes. At one point the guy had 18 points on 5-for-5 shooting in 12 minutes. Good thing ABC chose Powe for that heart wrenching halftime story about him once being homeless.
Powe’s game characterized the kind of night the Lakers had. Powe and the Celtics outhustled and outworked the Lakers on both ends for 3 1/2 quarters. Every time I looked up the Celtics were beating the Lakers to loose balls and offensive rebounds. The final rebound numbers (Boston 37 , L.A. 36) don’t begin to tell the story of how Boston came up with one offensive rebound after another during pivotal stretches of the game and used those second chances to keep the Lakers at bay.
What I took away from Game 2 is that the Lakers let another winnable road game slip away, and Boston showed again that they aren’t very good in closing out games the way they should. There is no excuse for Boston blowing a 22-point, fourth-quarter lead. As I wrote in my last post, I still think that ineffectiveness will hurt them in the end and Boston is extremely lucky L.A. couldn’t finish off that comeback last night. Instead of L.A. in six as I originally predicted, however, I’m now leaning toward L.A. in seven. I highly doubt the Lakers will win four straight games to take it in six, although it’s not unprecedented. The Heat did just that against Dallas in 2006.
The most important thing to take away from these first two games is the Lakers’ bench is awful. I said going into the series that I thought L.A. had the better bench. Boston’s bench, I figured, was too old and too one-dimensional. But Powe, P.J. Brown and James Posey have been fantastic and are proving they’re they better unit. Their one dimensions are proving to be perfect complements to the skills of Boston’s big three. The one guy who hasn’t shown up in the series yet is Sam Cassell. He played only six minutes last night and was essentially a non-factor. I think he’ll have a breakout game at some point. He always does.
The other significant thing I’ve noticed is L.A. doesn’t have an answer for Paul Pierce. Kobe Bryant is the best defender the Lakers can throw at him, but Bryant can’t dedicate too much energy on Pierce because of what the Lakers need him to do offensively. We did a podcast last week before the start of the series and one of the questions was, outside of Kobe and Kevin Garnett, who would have the biggest impact on the outcome of the Finals? I said Lamar Odom. I was wrong. Odom’s been held in check and Pierce has emerged as the Finals MVP through two games. The guy scores from anywhere on the court and is a matchup nightmare. No matter what happens the rest of the way, the Lakers have found out their biggest off-season need is a defensive stopper such as Tayshaun Prince, Bruce Bowen or Ron Artest. Not saying they’ll get any of those guys, but someone in that mold would be a great fit in L.A.
But it wasn’t just Pierce for Boston, KG, Ray Allen, Powe and Rajon Rondo all did whatever they wanted to do. The Lakers need to play better team defense. That’s the bottom line. Boston shot 53 percent! The free throw discrepancy was bad, 19-2 at the half and 38-10 for the game. But the Lakers first need to look themselves in the mirror and shore up their rickety defense before pointing to the officiating.
Lastly, I’m expecting a completely different series in L.A. The Lakers were 30-11 at home in the regular season, and we’ve seen the impact playing at home has had on these playoffs. The Celtics have also struggled on the road in the playoffs. That, coupled with the fact that role players typically play better at home than on the road, makes me think L.A. is fully capable of winning the next three games.