How the Celtics Season Should have Ended (Part 4)
LBJ, Davis, and the Lakers meshed much more quickly and effectively than expected. The Lakers sat on the top of the West standings for the entire season and looked to be the better of the two LA teams (even as the Clippers managed to beat the Lakers during the season). The stars aligned quickly and another great Lakers team was born. The Lakers came into the playoffs as the 1 seed, and things played out as you’d expect for a favorite. The Lakers cruise through the playoffs, with not much to note except a moderately exciting series against the Clips that went 6. Davis, in the end, was too big and long for the Clippers to handle. Thus, to the Finals we go.
A Classic Matchup
Who doesn’t love a classic Lakers-Celtics matchup? Basketball purists love it, basketball historians, and it is good exposure for the league itself. I will note, and I am a bit biased as a Celtics fan, but a Celts/Lakers final is way more interesting than Clippers – Bucks or something like that. So, two of the most storied franchises meet again in the Finals. Will the Celtics grab banner number 18, or will the LA Lakers grab number 12?
Lebron Brings the Heat
Lebron looks like the scary 2012 version of himself in game 1 of the series. If the ghosts countless GOAT debates about MJ haunt him (MJ is better, by the way), we can’t know for sure, but he is playing like he wants to but those to rest forever. James beings a level of urgency and energy to his play that nobody on either side is ready to match. The Lakers jump out to a quick lead off a vintage Lebron half of play and are up 13 at the break. Lebron, in typical Lebron in the finals fashion, leads both teams in points, rebounds and assists at half. The King wants his crown back.
Staples Center Romp
Sensing blood, the Lakers follow Lebrons lead and put their foot on the throat of the Celtics. The third quarter opens with a 9-0 run by the Lakers, and the game is functionally over. Tatum, Brown, Kemba, and Smart have no answer for Lebron in this one. Lebron finishes with 34-12-9, in a classic performance from the basketball legend. Davis contributes 24-12, as the two Lakers superstars shine brightly in game 1, much to the elation of a star studded Staples center crowd. Kemba leads the Celtics scorers with 23, but it is not nearly enough in this Lakers win.
Celtics Wake Up
The Celtics are a young team that is mature beyond their years; that’s obvious in how they got to the Finals. Game 2 opens with both teams knowing the stakes of this game. Only 4 times in NBA history has a team come back from down 2-0 in the NBA finals and both teams are keenly aware of what a win would mean for them. After 1 quarter, Tatum has 8, Kemba has 6, and Davis has 9 as the Celtics are up by 4 points. The second quarter sees a good run of play from Theis negated with 2 bad foul calls that go the way of AD. After 2, the score is Lakers 54 and Celtics 53. AD seems to be too long and skilled for the Celtics, much like the Clippers, at this point in the series. Anthony Davis has 20 points at half.
Lakers Push for a Win
Bursting from the 3 point line, AD scores another layup over the outclassed Celtics D. He and Lebron are laughing as they job down to play defense. The Celtics can’t seem to stop the Brow, as he has 27 now with a few minutes left in the 3rd. The Celtics have played well, but cannot seem to stop AD. Brown gets a great pass on the run from Smart and attempts to dunk on Davis, but is denied.
Lakers Pull Away
The fast break leads to an open 3 from Kuzma, as the Lakers suddenly find themselves up 8 in the quarter for the first significant lead of the game. Brad calls a timeout to reset the Celtics, but it is more of the same at the defense end with Davis. Davis is feeling it tonight and will not be denied on this night. The Celtics continue to fade and the final score ends up with another Lakers win, 112-101. Davis finishes with 32 and 14, and did not play much of the fourth quarter. Kuz also has a good game, as he finishes with 22. Tatum ends with 25 points and Brown gets 23, but a Lakers star forward completely dominates the game again, and that secures the win.
Licking their wounds from what has so far been a beat down from the Lakers, the young C’s regroup. This is a time when mental toughness is needed. The Celtics show this in spades and come out firing in this one. The Lakers find themselves down early but quickly pick up the pace and at halftime the score is knotted at 60. Brown and Tatum have shown great defensive effort in this one, as the wings have held Lebron to under 10 points so far. Other Lakers have stepped up to fill this offensive void, including Dwight Howard, who makes his first finals in over a decade. Walker paces the Celtics with 15.
Celtics Finding a Way
The second half continues to be tight. The game is back and forth, at times appearing to be a Tatum vs AD show as the game tightens up and only truly elite offensive players can find a window. After 3 quarters, the score remains tied, with AD and Tatum doing much of the scoring damage in the quarter. Davis has 13 in the quarter and Tatum has 14. The game will come down to the final 12 minutes.
A Sigh of Relief
A dunk from Brown after muscling his way past Kuzma finds the Celtics up for the first time in the 4th quarter with 2 and a half minutes left. The Lakers set up a P&R with Davis and Lebron, but Davis can’t find a way to the basket and kicks it out to Kuzma. Kuz takes the end of shot clock three over Brown and it can’t find its way in. Going back the other way, Tatum shoots a mid-range fader that looks quite a bit like his late mentor, Kobe, and drains it over Lebron.
After a timeout to regroup from the Lakers, the teams exchanges layups off some impressive set plays called by the coaching staffs. As the clock tickes down to 30 seconds left and the Lakers down 3, Lebron pulls up and drains a clutch 3. Not to be out done, the Celtics take the ball up the court in the hands of Cardiac Kemba Walker. With 8 seconds left, Kemba dishes to Tatum who works on Lebron. Tatum spins and finds himself in a quick double team. He passes out to Kemba who drains a 3 at the buzzer. The Celtics escape with their first win of the series.
The Lakers Storm Back
Game 4 is another back and forth affair, with huge see-saws in momentum and highlight plays leading to a 3 point Lakers lead after 3 quarters. In the fourth, the game tightens up completely, and after a few Marcus Smart hero ball bricks, and Celtics are down 9 with only 4 minutes left. The Lakers have a chance to ice the game with a thunderous Lebron dunk, but Brown adeptly strips the ball. Jaylen passes up to Tatum, who then dishes to Kemba in the corner for a huge momentum shifting three that lights the Boston crown on fire.
A few possessions later, we find young superstar JT nailing a 3 on the wing to bring the score to within 3. However, when the foul game begins, the Celtics can’t claw their way back. The Lakers find themselves one win away from a championship. Tatum finishes with a sparkling line of 32-9-5, with 2 blocks, but even as the star in this one it was not enough.
A Final Stand
The Lakers come ready to win the championship on their home court, but the Celtics don’t intend to go down easy. Instead of a tight defensive game, this one turns into an up and down game the showtime faithful have grown to love. At half, the score is Celtics 62 and Lakers 59, as both teams are finding the basket at will. The third quarter finds much of the same, but with a slower pace and Lebron controls the tempo and picks his spots. The Lebron paced game favors the Lakers, who have a few plodding bigs to clog the lane, and the Celtics are down 3 now at the end of the 3rd quarter.
The Final Quarter?
With their backs up against the wall, the Celtics turn to their bread and butter. Marcus is out there doing Marcus things, Tatum and Brown are locking up the wings, and Theis is putting in all his effort on the defensive end. Kemba Walker is also trying but he doesn’t quite have the length to do anything but an energetic nuisance. The defense of the Celtics, flying around giving everything they have, is causing the Lakers to make mistakes. After a second turnover on a possession in a row, AD yells at the ref for a foul call, and gets a technical. The defensive trio of JB, JT and Smart completely changes the tenor of the game, and they claw (Smart literally scratched Kuzma, unintentionally) back and secure a 4 point victory. After the game, the Lakers grumble about the referees.
Opening up this game with a flop call, this game goes much differently from the foul and referring perspective. Marcus picks up a quick two fouls and after getting subbed out. The C’s struggle to keep up with the Lakers without their defensive sparkplug. After 1, the Lakers are up 5 on the back of their two superstars, Lebron and AD, dictating play. Brown and Tatum both have been unable to connect on their shots, and Kemba and the rest of the Celtics have not been enough so far to keep the Celtics within a possession.
Foul trouble is making the game messy, and while it changed the game for the Celtics first, the Lakers are also affected. Lebron and AD both get dinged with fouls and have to sit temporarily in the second quarter. This reprieve from the two dominant forwards allows the Celtics to breathe. Because of this, Tatum and Kemba are able to get some points on the board. Halftime finds the Lakers up 2, with Lebron and AD both sitting with 14 points. Tatum has 13, and Kemba has 12 as the Celtics score enough without LBJ and AD on the floor to make the game close.
The Last Half
Lots of clanks off the iron to begin the third, as the game remains tight. A skilled offensive move from the stars and a good playcall here and there dot the barren scoring landscape with oasis of offensive play. Los Angeles and Boston are clawing for anything they can get at this point. AD gets the ball on the block and goes up over Theis, who gets called for his fourth foul. With Theis sitting, AD begins to go to work, and scores the last 6 points of the quarter. After 3, a hard earned 72 points from the Lake Show gives the Purple and Gold a 7 point lead going into the fourth quarter.
Lebron James Shuts the Door
The fourth quarter finds Lebron doing a super hero impression to great effect. Knowing there is not much that can stop AD at this point, Lebron runs the pick and roll relentlessly against the exhausted Celtics defense. On the other end, Lebron locks in on Tatum and doesn’t allow him any room to breathe. The offensive dynamo will find the space to score 6 in the quarter, but it will be an inauspicious end to a fantastic playoffs campaign. Tatum is a step short of being able to tangle with peak Lebron at this point. AD hammers the Celtics D over and over. On the other end Davis locks down the paint as James stifles the Celtics offensive fulcrum. Looking for find anything, Brown presses on offensive and makes some impressive plays against Kuz. Kuz has shrunk a bit as the lights have reached their brightest point.
Another Banner in LA
With 3 and a half minutes left, the Lakers are cruising up 12. The Celtics seem to have no way to score outside of some outrageous plays from Kemba. The fouls finally come to a head, as Marcus fouls out trying to steal from a driving Kuzma that results in an and-1 instead. The Celtics are out of gas. Kyle makes his free throw and the Celtics jog up the court as the Boston faithful stand and cheer for their young team. It was quite a season. The Lakers and Celtics put in their substitutes and the game winds down. The Lakers celebrate on the parquet, and the Celtics will have to try again next season. AD is named MVP even though we all know Lebron was the best player, and the NBA season ends.
Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown went toe to toe with the best the NBA had to offer in the highest pressure you can get in the NBA playoffs. While the Celtics didn’t win, the two wings have shown that they are two of the next big stars in the League. The J team paired up with Kemba and Smart as support is a great core to build around, and the Celtics will be the East favorites heading into 2021.
-Brent Buckley (@bigbucksbuckley on the twitter)