Paul Pierce has come to life in these last two games of the series and that makes his team the best in the NBA. Skip Bayless of ESPN's First Take said Pierce is the key to this Celtics team. He's right. Pierce had 27 points and his three superstar teammates, Garnett, Rondo and Ray, had 18, 18 and 12v respectively. If those four are all clicking on the same page this team is unstoppable. Garnett added 10 rebounds. But Pierce was the story overshadowing Kobe's tremendous performance of his own. Pierce had 15 in the first half and single handedly took his team on his shoulders as the Celtics took a 45-39 lead into the half. Allen was all over Kobe in the first half as Kobe struggled to get shots off. But Kobe came back in the third quarter to score 19 and finished with 38 on 13-for-27 shooting from the field, four-for-10 from trifecta and eight-for-nine from the line. The problem for the Lakers and Kobe was he had no help. Pau Gasol was next in scoring with 12 and he played a minor role in the game. Nobody else for the Lakers scored in double figures. They shot 33 percent in the first half and 39 percent for the game and that was only because Kobe was making everything he threw up. So while Kobe was amazing, he had no support. Gasol has been controlled by KG, Kendrick Perkins and Big Baby and to me that's been the key to these last two games as the Celtics have taken back the momentum in this series and are one win away from capturing their 18th NBA title. if Gasol can't score 20 and Andrew Bynum doesn't play much of a role, which he didn't last night, the Lakers don't have a very good chance regardless of what Kobe does.
But Pierce was the key to the game. He made the play of the night with 38 seconds left. The Lakers had cut the lead to 87-82 after Kobe had sank three free throws. Ron Artest had a chance to make it closer but missed two free throws and the Celtics got the board. After a 20 second timeout with the game very much up in the air, KG threw an inbounds pass from the Celtics' side of the court down to Pierce on the Lakers' end. Pierce, about to fall out of bounds on the sideline, jumped and threw an overhead pass toward Rondo. The ball hit Rondo in stride and he sank a beautiful lay up. It was the play of the series.
Two key stats that stood out to me were the fast break points: Celtics 14, Lakers 3. The Celtics love to run. You wouldn't think that since they've got some older guys, but with Rondo and very in shape veterans like Ray and Pierce love to do it. When Nate Robinson, Big Baby, 'Sheed and Tony Allen are in there they do it, too. They're a very good fast break team and that was a major advantage last night. The Lakers just don't have that ability.
Another key stat, maybe the most important, was points in the paint. Boston 46, Lakers 32. KG was huge and his and Kendrick Perkins' defense on Gasol and a limited Bynum were critical. That defense will win the series for the Celtics if it keeps up.
Game six in LA Tuesday at 8 p.m. on ABC. The Celtics have a lot of momentum and I picked'em in six so I'm going to say the Celtics win the title Tuesday Night.
(Paul Pierce goes for 27 to lead Celts to victory, photo above)