by Hayden Alfano
Big comebacks in basketball are a funny thing. The team trailing expends so much energy making up their deficit that they often don’t have enough left to get over the hump and win the game.
It happened to the Los Angeles Lakers in Game 2 of the National Basketball Association (NBA) Finals on Sunday night. Down 24 points with under eight minutes to go, L.A. launched an improbable rally, pulling to within a basket before the Boston Celtics’ Paul Pierce sealed the game by driving the lane, getting fouled, and making two free throws. The Lakers' effort was wasted in a 108-102 defeat.
In Game 4 on Thursday night (June 12), Boston found itself in a similar position. After a horrendous first half of basketball, Boston found itself down 21 points at the end of the first quarter — an NBA Finals record for a deficit after 12 minutes — 24 early in the second quarter, and 18 at halftime. But a surprising 21-3 run to close the third had them trailing just 73-71 heading into the fourth.
Would the Celtics fall short like their opponents had four days earlier, or would they finish the biggest comeback in Finals history?
Leon Powe’s basket in the lane was the first step, tying the score for the first time since the teams traded buckets on the initial two possessions of the game. That was psychologically significant for Boston, even though they then missed no fewer than three very good opportunities to take their first lead of the game over the next couple of minutes. But they hung tough, even when the Lakers’ Kobe Bryant stretched the lead to four on a slam dunk with 5:48 to play. Celtics coach Glenn “Doc” Rivers took a timeout to rally the troops.
From that moment on, Boston played near-perfect basketball. They had the ball on offense ten times, and scored on each possession. Every Celtic on the floor scored during that stretch: starting with James Posey’s three-pointer (the first of two he’d hit in the clutch); highlighted by an Eddie House jumper that gave the Celtics their first lead of the game (one which they’d never relinquish); and punctuated by a Ray Allen drive and reverse layup that sealed the game with 16 seconds left.
For large periods of these playoffs, the Celtics have hardly looked like a team ready to win the title. They haven’t been as consistent as most championship-caliber teams. They have, however, played their best when the situation absolutely demanded it, and their best is, it’s safe to say at this point, better than what the Lakers can bring.
And that’s why they’re one win away from their 17th NBA championship.
The Celtics and Lakers will resume the Finals for Game 5 on Sunday, June 15 at 9 p.m. EDT on ABC.
(To see highlights of Game 4 of the Celtics-Lakers Finals from the NBA, please check below.)
Los Angeles Lakers
Glenn Doc Rivers
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by Hayden Alfano