Heading home all even
LOS ANGELES — The young men in green honored those who came before them.
Rajon Rondo (19 points, 12 rebounds, 10 assists) was every bit as good as Bob Cousy, Ray Allen (32 points) paid homage to Sam Jones, and coach Doc Rivers had the kind of game that would have made Red Auerbach light up a Hoyo de Monterrey.
On a night when they had almost everything working against them, the Celtics defeated the Los Angeles Lakers, 103-94, last night at Staples Center, squaring the NBA Finals at one game apiece. It’s pretty impressive when you can make Rocky quit early and go home. Sylvester Stallone abandoned his $9,000 courtside seat with 33 seconds remaining.
The Celtics got only four baskets from Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett. Four Boston players had four fouls after three quarters. The Lakers had home-court advantage, a 3-point lead with 5:21 left, and the NBA’s most potent closing weapon in the person of Kobe Bryant.
Against all those odds, the Celtics prevailed. The Celtics held the Lakers to 41 percent shooting. They held foul-plagued Kobe to a pedestrian 21. Boston got big performances from bench guys Glen Davis, Rasheed Wallace, and Nate Robinson. Rivers spanked Zen master Phil Jackson.
If Game 1 was “Ishtar,’’ Game 2 was “The Godfather.’’ There were 11 ties and 22 lead changes. The Celtics led by 14 in the second quarter. The Lakers led by 3 in the fourth.
Rondo was ubiquitous. Every time a big play needed to be made, Boston’s laser-show point guard would reach out, Gumby-like, and grab a rebound or sling the ball with his gigantic hands and fool the defense.
“He was unbelievable,’’ said Rivers. “He just did a lot of things, the blocked shots, the steals. He’s our quarterback and he does a lot of stuff for us. He was special tonight.’’
“Rondo had control of the game,’’ said Lakers forward Pau Gasol (25 points).
The evening started with a beautiful tribute to legendary UCLA coach John Wooden, who died Friday at 99. Bill Walton, a Celtics world champion, father of a 21st century Laker, and one of Wooden’s most decorated players, delivered an elegant and heartfelt tribute. Without notes or prompter, Walton was downright Churchillesque in his remarks about the noble prince of Pauley Pavilion. This was a moment.
For the second straight game, the Garnett-Gasol duel was a mismatch in favor of the Lakers. Two games into the Finals, 34-year-old KG looks like an April David Ortiz. This was supposed to be the key matchup of the series. It’s now off the board — unless Garnett’s deterioration can be reversed in Big Papi fashion.
With virtually no input from Pierce and Garnett, the Celtics built a 14-point lead in the second quarter. Officials Monty McCutchen, Mike Callahan, and Ken Mauer were letting the fellows play and there was no home-court star treatment for Kobe. With Allen looking as if he were throwing oranges into an oil drum (7 of 8 on threes in the first half), Boston bolted to a 54-48 lead at intermission.
It took the Lakers less than two minutes of the third quarter to vault ahead. When Gasol’s jumper made it 57-56 in favor of the Lakers, Rivers called timeout. From there it was a war of attrition. Four Celtics had four fouls when the third ended with the score tied, 72-72.
It was tied when Kobe came back into the game with 6:16 left. At that moment, Bryant had only 13 points. And he had four fouls.
“I wasn’t happy with those foul calls,’’ Jackson said in defense of Kobe. “It really changed the complexity of this ball game.’’
Cry me a river.
The Celtics took back the night down the stretch. Boston made every big play, got every loose ball, and watched the Lakers implode in their own building. Rivers’s finest moment came when he called a timeout with one second left before the Celtics were penalized for not getting the ball over midcourt in eight seconds.
Making the timeout call, Rivers came off the bench as if he’d been shot out of a cannon.
“I’m glad they saw me,’’ he said with a laugh. “All the players were laughing at me and it allowed them to breathe a little bit and I thought that helped us.’’
It was just one of many moments in which Rivers had the edge over the man with 10 NBA championships.
“It’s a blow to us to lose home court,’’ said Jackson. “We anticipated this might happen and we just have to pick it up.’’
It’s often said that a playoff series doesn’t really start until a road team wins a game. The road-warrior Celtics won last night and come home for the first of three at the Garden tomorrow night. It’s Game On for the 2010 Finals.
Dan Shaughnessy is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.