Everyone was waiting for an explosion from Kobe Bryant. In Game 5, it finally happened. Bryant scored 23 consecutive Laker points. It didn't matter.
Behind excellent efforts from Paul Pierce, Rajon Rondo and Kevin Garnett, Boston imposed their will yet again, putting a convincing 92-86 defeat on the defending champs and sending them back to LA with a 3-2 deficit and some serious confidence issues.
So far in the series, Bryant's been relatively contained by a Celtics defense geared specifically to stop him. It's similar to Chuck Daly's old Jordan Rules but without the hard fouls. Any time Bryant attacks, there's a help defender waiting. They're daring other Lakers to beat them and tonight, it worked to perfection. Bryant put up 38 but nobody else scored more than 12. Now the Celtics are one win away from their 18th banner.
The strange thing about Bryant's eruption is that he played a really bad game. Seriously. He took ridiculously difficult shots against multiple defenders. He made a jumper from five feet beyond the arc. He hit a floater over two guys going full speed across the lane. Time and again, Bryant defiantly attacked the Prevent Kobe defense, as if to say "Your entire team can't stop me." And he was right. Kind of. The thing is, if I'm Boston, those are the shots I want him taking. What I don't want is him moving the ball and exploiting matchup problems elsewhere.
Doc Rivers had some other tricks up his sleeve, too:
-He isolated Paul Pierce at the top against Ron Artest, giving him more floor space to work with.
-On defense, Boston backed off Artest and goaded him into taking outside shots. Good strategy. Ron earned another scornful "Way off!" from Mike Breen for one particularly gruesome brick.
-Boston continues to attack Pau Gasol on both ends. When Pau has the ball, they push him off the block and pressure him into quick decisions. On offense, they're having KG face him up whenever possible. Boston obviously views Pau as the weak link.
And what strategy have the Lakers employed to counter all of Boston's adjustments? They seem content to see if Kobe can beat the Celtics by himself. In all likelihood, that's not gonna happen. Phil?
Pictured: Bryant against the world