The Lakers’ countdown to capturing a second consecutive championship came to a jarring halt Sunday night.
After Los Angeles let Boston shoot 56.3 percent from the floor in a 92-86 Game 5 loss, the white board in the visitors locker room was missing the phrase “2 More,” which head coach Phil Jackson had written after Games 3 and 4 of the NBA Finals.
Even more conspicuous was the absence of the Los Angeles defense.
“The offensive part of the game kind of comes and goes,” said Kobe Bryant, who saw his 38-point night — including a masterful 19-point third quarter — go to waste because four Celtics scored in double figures, and seven of the nine Celtics who played shot better than 50 percent from the floor.
“I just thought defensively we weren’t very good at all,” Bryant seethed afterward. “We didn’t get any stops. They got layup after layup after layup, and you can’t survive a team that shoots 56 percent. We’re normally a great defensive team.”
Andrew Bynum’s benching, caused by swelling in his right knee, was cited by many as the reason the Celtics waltzed through the paint in the second half of Game 4, but Bynum played 32 minutes in Game 5 and it made no difference; Boston players routinely slashed to the rim for easy looks.
“We weren’t getting stops,” Bynum said. “[Bryant] went nuts, but we couldn’t stop them, just like the other team [couldn’t stop him]. The game comes down to being able to get stops, and we’re not doing that.”
The Lakers allowed Boston to outscore them in the paint by a margin of 14, and the Celtics racked up exactly half of their total points for the game — 46 — at the rim. The Lakers were beaten in transition as well, scoring only three fast-break points to the Celtics’ 14.
With control of the series hanging in the balance, the Lakers let the Celtics score on more than half of their field goal attempts — the first time in 21 games this postseason they’ve allowed an opponent’s final accuracy mark to land north of .500. “You never want to give up that number; we haven’t the whole year,” said Ron Artest, who had carved the word “defense” into his hair in three different languages earlier in the season.
After the game, a frustrated Jackson was left to explain what the concept of defense entails. “Basketball is a pretty simple game,” Jackson said. “You try to stay between the basket and your man.” The Lakers didn’t, and the Celtics had a field day down low.