Kobe Bryant is notably grouchy at this point of the season. So perhaps Chris Rock got off easy during Game 1 of the NBA Finals when all Kobe did was ignore him as Rock, seated next to the Lakers' bench, tried to engage in an in-game conversation.
But Bryant is expected to be more moody than ever Tuesday night in Game 3 at TD Garden in Boston because he was handcuffed with foul trouble throughout Sunday's 103-94 loss to the Celtics in Game 2 that tied the series at 1-1.
"It's a series," Bryant said in his terse postgame address after scoring 21 points in 34 minutes. "You try to stay even keel and not get too high or too low after a win or loss. You just move on to the next one. Take care of business."
The Lakers will have to do that in the next three games in Boston, where their 2008 run to the Finals ended with a 39-point blowout loss in Game 6 that still resonates in the hyper-intense Bryant's mind.
Just as much as Doc Rivers thought effort was the determining factor in the Celtics' Game 1 loss, Bryant suggested the same was the cause of the Lakers' woes in Game 2.
"It has nothing to do with scoring, nothing," Bryant said. "It's all defensively. We gave them too many easy baskets and blew too many defensive assignments. That's it."
The backcourt matchup was the most troubling issue for the Lakers. Ray Allen torched the Lakers with 32 points (and an NBA-record eight three-pointers) and Rajon Rondo recorded his second triple-double of the playoffs.
Bryant's limitations because of foul trouble played a major role in allowing both players to get off without having too much to handle at the other end of the floor.
Phil Jackson took a gamble late in the second quarter when he put Bryant, with three fouls, back in the game with 23.6 seconds left. Bryant drilled a three-pointer (then stole an inbounds pass and almost nailed another three before the final buzzer) to bring the Lakers to within 54-48 at halftime after they had trailed by as many as 11 points midway through the quarter.
Bryant picked up his fourth foul in the third quarter; the fifth came 45 seconds into the fourth with the score tied at 72.
The calls in this game were tight, for sure, and there were questionable whistles for both teams. Note that Kevin Garnett, who has had a sluggish first two games, also wound up with five fouls.
"You gotta play, you gotta play your game," said Bryant, who hasn't fouled out of a playoff game in eight years. "Let the whistles sort themselves out."
And figure that it's highly unlikely that this will be a trend in this series.