LOS ANGELES -- Three times Kevin Garnett rose for a dunk. One of those times, he even scored.
The other times? Not so much. Garnett was blocked both times. They were clean blocks, too. No foul. No chance of foul. How can I be so sure?
Because it was like this: Garnett was blocked by the rim. Both times.
That's the microcosm for Game 1 of the NBA Finals. That's the snap shot, or three snap shots, for the Lakers' 102-89 victory against the Celtics. Three times Garnett tried to dunk on an uncontested rim. Twice he failed. Why? Because he's old, I guess. Because he didn't eat enough carbs before the game. Because he was wearing ankle weights? Hell, I don't know why Garnett couldn't convert all three dunks, or even two of his three dunks. He's 6-foot-11. He's a professional basketball player. Obviously he should be converting those dunks.
But Garnett was missing dunks on one end, and getting dunked on at the other end by Pau Gasol, and that was the difference in the game. No, I'm serious. That was it. Garnett vs. Gasol.
Game 1: Lakers 102, Celtics 89
Notes: Rivers expects Daniels back
|Schedule and Results|
Game 1: Lakers 102, Celtics 89
Game 2: 8 p.m. ET - Sunday, June 6 (L.A.)
Game 3: 9 p.m. ET - Tuesday, June 8 (Boston)
Game 4: 9 p.m. ET - Thursday, June 10 (Boston)
*Game 5: 8 p.m. ET - Sunday, June 13 (Boston)
*Game 6: 9 p.m. ET - Tuesday, June 15 (L.A.)
*Game 7: 9 p.m. ET - Thursday, June 17 (L.A.)
Yes I know, Kobe Bryant scored 30 points. But Kobe always scores 30. If the Lakers are going to win every game that Kobe scores 30, then let's save some time and money and call this series over. Because Kobe's going to score 30 at least four times in seven games, assuming these NBA Finals go seven games. And that's a major assumption at this point, because the Boston team I saw on Thursday night can't beat Los Angeles three times in the next five games.
Not with the Kevin Garnett I saw on Thursday night. Not if Garnett is going to be dunking on the bottom side of the rim on offense and getting schooled by Gasol on defense.
The weird thing is, the day before Game 1, Lakers coach Phil Jackson had called the matchup of Gasol and Garnett the one that intrigued him most of all. Not Lakers defensive stopper Ron Artest vs. Celtics scoring machine Paul Pierce. Not All-NBA defender Kobe Bryant vs. all-hype point guard Rajon Rondo. Nope. Jackson was curious about Garnett and Gasol. Maybe because he knew what would happen. Don't know why, but this is what Jackson had said before Game 1:
"Kevin is like the force of the defense -- he's really the glue that kind of holds their defense together out there," Jackson had said. "Pau is the guy that [has] to be part of the scoring combo with Kobe. So he has to provide some of that for us in this series against probably one of the top defenders in the game."
And did he? Let's listen to the other coach, Boston's Doc Rivers. This is what Rivers said after Game 1:
"I thought he was the best player on the floor," Rivers said.
He wasn't talking about Garnett. He was talking about Gasol. But he might as well have been talking about Garnett, because that's as much an indictment of Garnett as you're going to hear from someone in green. Pau Gasol was the best player on the floor? That's on Garnett, because he spent almost every one of his 35 minutes on Gasol. And to little effect. Gasol went 8 for 14 from the floor, went to the foul line 10 times, scored 23 points. Wait, because I'm not finished. Gasol led both teams with 14 rebounds, and hang on, because I'm still not finished. Gasol also had three blocked shots. And three assists. Kobe Bryant scored 30, but you know what? Rivers was right. Pau Gasol was the best player on the floor Thursday night.
|The wear and tear of a 15-year career has taken its toll on Kevin Garnett. (AP)|
So was this, when Tony Allen told me in the Boston locker room, "Defensively, some things stick out to me. We'll have to watch the film and see, but why is Gasol getting those easy buckets?"
Great question. Answer? It was Garnett's fault. Gasol grabbed eight offensive rebounds -- Garnett had only four rebounds, total -- which led to a handful of easy baskets. Garnett didn't play with the chest-pounding verve he normally has, verve that's grating but better than the apathetic alternative of Thursday night, when Garnett was ineffective on either end. Never mind that he scored 16 points. They were a quiet 16 points. They were an ineffective 16 points, considering not just the final score but also considering Garnett scored eight in the third quarter alone, when the Lakers turned a nine-point game into a 20-point blowout. And they were an inefficient 16 points, considering Garnett needed 16 shots to get them. Only one player (Bryant) took more shots than Garnett on Thursday, but three players (Bryant, Gasol and Pierce) scored more points, and Artest nearly matched Garnett with 15.
Otherwise, hey, Garnett had 16 points. Let's throw a party!
But let's not show video of the fourth quarter, when Garnett was dunking into the rim like a high school kid fooling around in gym class. The first time might have been a fluke. Nate Robinson missed a long jumper, and when the shot popped softly off the rim toward Garnett alone under the basket, Garnett jumped for the stick-back slam. Didn't work. He was denied by the rim. Embarrassing, really.
And then it happened again. Minutes later, Garnett had the ball under the basket and rose for a dunk and simply didn't get high enough. The rim shoved the ball back into his face. Garnett grabbed the rebound, and determined to show that rim who was boss, he tried a layup. Nope. Clang. No good.
Maybe that's why Garnett bolted out of the locker room without more than a few sentences of commentary for the media. He grabbed his clothes and changed in the trainer's room, leaving Tony Allen, Nate Robinson, Kendrick Perkins and Glen Davis to deal mostly with the media.
Wily, veteran move right there by Kevin Garnett. His only one of the night.