Gloom and broom
Celtics get swept away by Lakers
So much for home-court advantage. The Celtics did not receive the benefit of a couple of potential hometown calls from the officials in a 110-109 overtime loss to the Lakers last night at TD Banknorth Garden. And the combination of controversial calls and non-calls, plus the Celtics' misfiring when it counted, could have long-range implications.
The Lakers (40-9) overtook the Celtics (41-10) for the best record in the NBA, sweeping the two-game season series, which could go far in determining which team has the edge in the postseason. The Lakers snapped the Celtics' 19-game winning streak Dec. 25 and this time ended a 12-gamer, capitalizing on the disqualification of Kevin Garnett with 4:22 remaining in regulation.
"It was physical, but you have to expect that," Celtics captain Paul Pierce said. "Two of the top teams in the NBA battling for the best record in the league. All those things that have been said about the Lakers not being a physical team, you just have to expect they're going to come around and hold their chests up high. They beat us once and [last] night we had our chances, but we let it go. It's not the end of the world. We'll get another shot at them."
Lamar Odom provided the winning points with two free throws with 16 seconds remaining, just after a Glen Davis jumper had been blocked. The Celtics had chances to recover, but Pierce and Ray Allen missed on the final possession. Rajon Rondo rebounded Pierce's off-target jumper and the Celtics called time out with three seconds to go. Then Allen took a handoff from Davis and was defended by Derek Fisher, falling to the court as his shot at the buzzer fell short.
"I thought it was a hand check; he pushed him the whole way," Celtics coach Doc Rivers said. "The officials say they don't call the game different from the first quarter to the end of the game, and if that's true, Ray should have been on the free throw line. Unless the rules have changed, you can't do that. But bottom line is, with three seconds left, it's tough to get a shot off."
With Kobe Bryant (26 points) missing more often than making (10 for 29), the Lakers leaned on Pau Gasol (10 for 14), who scored 7 of his 24 points after Garnett departed.
Gasol's dunk off a Bryant-Odom passing combination made it 107-107 with 1:41 remaining in OT, then he broke the tie with a free throw off a three-on-one fast break against Allen with 1:11 left. Davis, who replaced Garnett, gave the Celtics the lead with a jumper with 1:04 to go. But Gasol blocked a Davis try and Odom hit the deciding free throws.
Davis, who was in the starting lineup the last two games while Garnett recovered from the flu, helped keep the Celtics in contention in the final seconds of regulation.
He forced a shot-clock violation by Gasol with the Lakers threatening to clinch the decision - a Gasol hook (2:04 remaining) and Bryant 3-pointer (1:30) having given LA a 101-100 edge. Davis then missed a baseline jumper but rebounded and found Pierce, whose free throw tied the score with 29.7 seconds to go. But Pierce missed the first shot, which could have won it in regulation. Bryant then missed with 7.7 seconds to go, and the Celtics' Eddie House misfired at the regulation buzzer.
The Celtics got off to a 9-2 start but trailed by 9 points early in the second quarter. House's play, plus the reinsertion of Garnett into the lineup and Tony Allen's defense against Bryant, seemed to reawaken the Celtics on the way to an 18-9 run over a 4:07 span. Garnett contested a Luke Walton drive, then dunked in transition to tie it, 44-44, with 3:28 remaining.
Rondo's hanging high archer underneath produced the Celtics' first lead since the early going, and they had a chance to extend their 52-51 edge as the Lakers threw away the inbounds pass with 1.9 seconds remaining. But Ray Allen missed an open 3-pointer, his third uncontested miss of the half. Bryant picked up in the first quarter (10 points) where he left off in previous games this week - 61- and 36-point performances at New York and Toronto - but the Celtics adjusted, limiting him to a 3-pointer in the second.
Ray Allen's 3-pointer with :03 on the shot clock concluded a 13-point Celtic run over a 3:32 period spanning the halves, providing a 59-51 advantage. But the Lakers retaliated, pulling within 67-66 on Odom's free throw 5:49 into the third. The Celtics withstood this rally thanks to a 4-point possession, Ray Allen converting a technical foul shot (for defensive three seconds) and a 3-pointer for a 67-61 edge with 7:31 left in the quarter.
The Celtics were whistled for three fouls in a 14-second stretch, including Rondo's fourth, a Fisher free throw cutting the Laker deficit to 67-65 with 6:48 remaining in the third. House's transition 3-pointer off a Bryant miss stretched the advantage to 79-71. Again, the Lakers battled back, this time on 3-pointers by Jordan Farmar and Sasha Vujacic, before Pierce's drive made it 81-77 with 2.3 seconds to play. Pierce failed to convert the chance for a 3-point play.
Both teams' starters filtered back into action, Bryant and Gasol entering after Garnett dunked off a Rondo lob for a 91-85 Celtic lead with 8:10 left. Odom cut the spread to 1 with a drive and 3-point play off his own miss before Rondo's drive and pull-up runner made it 95-90 with 5:39 remaining.
After Bryant's 3-pointer (5:25 remaining), Garnett departed, charged with his sixth foul while attempting to recover the ball on the low post against Fisher.
Frank Dell'Apa can be reached at email@example.com.