|Rajon Rondo (1 point in four first-half minutes) battles the Lakers' Lamar Odom for a loose ball. (Jim Davis/Globe Staff)|
LOS ANGELES - Comparing the Lakers and Celtics benches, pundits predicted youth, not experience, would be served in the Finals. The Celtics were all about the "Big Three." The Lakers were all about Kobe Bryant and his supporting cast.
Entering the series, the Lakers' bench was largely viewed as the better bunch of substitutes with the opportunity to have a big impact. The Lakers "bench mob" of Sasha Vujacic, Luke Walton, Jordan Farmar, and Ronny Turiaf had youth and energy on its side.
The Celtics subs boasted playoff experience with Sam Cassell (NBA titles in 1994 and '95 with the Rockets), James Posey (a title with the Heat in 2006), Eddie House (2006 Western Conference finals with the Suns), and P.J. Brown (100 playoff games).
But it was the Boston bench that deserved credit for helping the Green build a 3-1 series lead and it outscored its Laker counterparts in Game 5 last night, 28-17, even as LA won, 103-98, to send the series back to Boston. The Celtics reserves have outscored the Lakers bench players, 136-99, in the series. Additionally, Boston substitutes such as Leon Powe, House, and Posey had come through with big games, while only Vujacic (in Game 3) and Farmar (11 points last night) had done much for the Lakers.
"I don't know if we need a breakout game," said Vujacic, who struggled again last night by hitting only 2 of 10 shots and all five 3-point tries. "We just need a smart game from the bench and from the starters. We need to connect the first half to the second half. But there's no pointing fingers, whose fault it is or who's being outplayed, or who's not being outplayed. We lose together. We win together. Everybody has to step up and do their part."
Added Farmar: "[The bench players] have played well for the most part. We haven't really all played together for a long period of time [in the Finals], like we do in the regular season and throughout the playoffs. We haven't all gotten the chance to be out there and be comfortable as a unit. We've all been there scattered with the starters and subbed in randomly. But not as our bench unit that we've been playing with all year.
"We should be able to get it done either way, be successful playing with those guys [starters] or playing with each other. We're all on the same team."
The LA starters have not lost faith in their backups. But it's been hard to miss how Boston reserves have stepped up and made a difference.
"Those guys came in and made some big shots when they needed it," said starter Vladimir Radmanovic. "Obviously, Ray Allen, Paul Pierce, and Kevin Garnett are going to score their points. But you can't let guys coming off the bench score double digits. We still believe in our bench. I don't think they're doing anything wrong. We just don't move the ball at certain points of the game and that's costing us big-time right now."
Bavetta gets call
Just when it looked like the NBA would in enjoy a Tim Donaghy-free game night, the list of officials assigned to Game 5 became public. The name Dick Bavetta caught everyone's attention. The respected veteran official's name has become embroiled in the Donaghy scandal. Investigators had questioned other referees about they way Bavetta called games.
With Bavetta assigned to the game along with Ken Mauer and Scott Foster, it seemed the NBA was giving Bavetta a vote of confidence and showing it would not change its ways in the face of game-fixing allegations by Donaghy.
Asked about the referee scandal and Bavetta making calls last night, Lakers coach Phil Jackson said, "Well, I thought it had receded, but now you've brought it up again. I think it's something best settled for the summer. The offseason and the preseason next year, the NBA will have a chance to really discuss it and talk about it."
Jackson mentioned that before this season started, the NBA asked teams to suggest ways in which officiating could improve. The coach said he spent a few hours brainstorming and added that while he was sure the league received plenty of interesting ideas, he didn't know if any were implemented.
"We hope that the summer brings some things around that will just cool this off," said Jackson. "And we can have some confidence again with the public about our refereeing situation."
Stop the madness
Before the game, the video screen in the Lakers' locker room replayed Game 4. Not the highlights or lowlights, but the entire contest, from the beginning. It is not unusual for a team's previous game to be replayed in the locker room. But given the Lakers' historic collapse in Game 4, the video provided an awkward backdrop, especially as player after player repeated how much they wanted to forget the loss. "I'm thinking about Game 5 right now," said Vujacic, somewhat testily, with the video screen in full view. "I don't want to talk about what happened, or the past. I can only have influence on the present and the future." He sounded ready to search for the stop button . . . Jackson was asked if he ever would figure out why Lamar Odom was so inconsistent. The coach smiled and said, "No." . . . No sooner had the Lakers lost their first home game of this season's playoffs than there was public questioning about the Staples Center crowd. Jackson dismissed it. "The crowd is not going to make any shots for us," he said. "But you could hear the crowd get tense and worried when you're there. There was a sense at some point at the end of the third quarter that, 'Gee, this is slipping away,' and you could hear the crowd. We know how to play in front of an LA crowd, so that's not something that we need or felt like we lost the support of the crowd."