Don’t count out Kobe & Co. yet
LOS ANGELES ” Don’t count out Kobe Bryant and the Los Angeles Lakers yet, Jerry West advises.
“Everyone wants to look at him, ‘Well, he’s not shooting very well.’ Boston is limiting his opportunities, has done a heck of a job on him,” the Hall of Famer said. “They’re making people shoot that they probably want to shoot. But this series is not over, by any stretch of the imagination.
“He provides everything for the Lakers. He provides the energy, the toughness, the heart and soul of this team. He’s carried the team this far. I wouldn’t be surprised to see him take it upon himself maybe to try to get the ball to the basket a little bit better.”
Although Bryant wasn’t able to help the Lakers pull out either of the first two games in Boston, he still averaged 31.4 points on 49.6 percent shooting.
As the finals shift to Los Angeles, West participated in a sort of welcoming ceremony for the Larry O’Brien championship trophy at the airport on Monday. With the Celtics up 2-0, the trophy may be in town for just a brief visit.
West, a member of the Lakers’ 1972 championship team, smiled at how times have changed.
After using the ground crew’s red sticks to help wave the Southwest “Dunk One” plane painted with basketballs and the NBA logo into its parking spot, West carried the trophy down the steps.
“I think this tells you how the NBA has grown, flying the trophy around. In it’s own seat, by the way,” he said.
He expects the Lakers to be quite a different team on their home court, where Game 3 will be Tuesday, Game 4 on Thursday and, if necessary, Game 5 on Sunday.
West said Boston is a very good team and “represents a unique matchup for the Lakers,” adding, “but the Lakers can play better.”
“They will be a much more aggressive, confident team (at home). But having said that, with the 2-3-2 format, I think it’s imperative that the Lakers find a way to win these three games,” he said. “If the Lakers play well, then all of a sudden, Boston has a problem.”
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“When Boston’s Kevin McHale clotheslined Kurt Rambis of the Los Angeles Lakers to the floor in Game 4 of the 1984 NBA finals, he was back on the court the next game.
That wouldn’t be the case these days.
David Stern, who was only months into his term as commissioner at the time, said the league deals with plays like that differently today.
“I think there might have been some games lost by the player involved,” Stern said. “We have, over the years, made a determination that the sport is really quite beautiful and quite graceful and quite extraordinary, and that our players are capable of inflicting great harm on each other if we don’t regulate it.”
There are two categories for flagrant fouls, with the more severe leading to an automatic ejection. The plays are then reviewed by the league office to determine what other sanctions might be warranted.
McHale’s takedown of Rambis was shown plenty of times in the days leading up to these finals as a way to show how rough the game used to be, especially when the Celtics played the Lakers. Everyone involved recognizes it’s not that way anymore.
“As a kid watching games, I enjoyed that aspect of the game. I knew it was going to be a fight when the Celtics played the Lakers. I knew somebody was going to get their (butt) whipped,” Celtics guard Sam Cassell said. “You whip somebody’s (butt) now, it’s going to cost you a lot.”
James Posey has seen a 2-0 lead evaporate in the NBA finals, so he knows the Celtics can’t relax after winning the first two games.
Posey was on the Miami team that dropped two games in Dallas to open the 2006 finals, then stormed back behind Dwyane Wade to win four straight.
So even though Boston seems in control against Los Angeles, the reserve forward knows how quickly things can change.
“Never get too comfortable, and at the same time you have to realize the things we didn’t do well and the things we did do well,” Posey said. “Once we have practice, we have to come up with another game plan so we can go out and execute and try to get a win on the road.”
Only three times in 29 chances have teams falling behind 2-0 in the finals come back to win, with the Heat the last to do it. Boston pulled it off against the Lakers in 1969, and Portland rallied to beat Philadelphia in 1977.
The Lakers still believe they can be the next one.
“We just have to go home and protect our home court,” reserve guard Sasha Vujacic said. “That’s all they did is protect their home court, so it’s going to be a different story in L.A.”