This photo says it all.
Paul Pierce has effectively shut down the Kobe scoring machine.
How many times during The Finals have we seen Kobe at the top of the key, dribbling like a possessed Rucker Park refugee, looking pretty but going nowhere quickly, only to turn the ball over or miss a deep jump shot taken in desperation as the shot clock winds down?
Yes, the Lakers won last night.
Yes, Kobe scored 25 points.
But it was anything but a convincing win. Kobe went 8-21 from the field. That's just about 36%. In case you're keeping score Kobe is shooting 49% from the field for the entire playoffs and shot 46% during the regular season.
In the conference finals he shot 53%! And that was against Manu Ginobili and the Spurs!
But for this series he's shooting 42% from the floor and 77% from the free throw line, when he shot 90% from the line in the conference finals.
So clearly something has changed. And that thing is the smothering defense Paul Pierce has played against Kobe.
All season long Kobe has faced every team's best defender, and all season long he burned those defenders on his way to averaging better than 28 points per game while playing in all 82 regular season games.
Is he tired? Maybe. But I doubt it. I just think Doc Rivers and his assistants have scouted Kobe better than anybody else and had Pierce and the rest of the Celtics more than ready and that preparation has paid off big time, even if they lost last night.
And while I had my doubts about Doc Rivers' coaching ability, those doubts are no longer, as he has for all intents and purposes out-coached Phil Jackson.
But it still comes down to personnel, and while the Lakers are much better with Gasol than without him, they are still missing Andrew Bynum more than they care to admit. Until Gasol learns how to finish in traffic while being fouled this Lakers team will only go so far.
I know that's easy to say with the Lakers down 3 games to 2 with the last two games being played in Boston, but there is still time to turn it around. There is time for someone to get in Gasol's face and force him to grow some balls. The question is if Gasol will listen, as well as learn. Seems doubtful.
The Lakers may very well win the next game but Boston's championship is inevitable. Thanks in large part to Paul Pierce.