by: "Sporty Spice" Drewsky (wow)
GAME 3: TONIGHT
The NBA Finals kicked off full throttle with the Celtics claiming two home victories, putting enormous pressure on the Lakers. It'll be interesting to see how LA responds to this early deficit. In the NBA Finals game format of 2-3-2, only 2 teams have come back to claim victory; Detroit in '04, and more recently the 2006 matchup between the Miami Heat and Dallas Mavericks. In this series, Dallas took a commanding lead (2-0) and had a comfortable lead in the 3rd game before imploding and allowing Miami to win 4 straight to hoist the coveted Larry O'Brien trophy. However, this postseason has been disparate than most, showing such a drastic home/road divide in performance.
LA, undefeated at home this postseason (8-0), has the daunting task of needing three straight in the Staples Center. If LA were to lose any at home, the proverbial fat lady would leave the buffet and begin to warm up her vocal cords. However, if there is any team capable of winning three straight on their home surface, LA is the candidate. As we have seen throughout the playoffs, the bench/role-players on each team are more energized and effective at home, almost appearing like entirely different players. Their shots fall with much more prevalence, their close-outs, transition game, and help defense is far quicker, and the intangibles they provide are much more noticeable.
In the opening two games, we see that the Boston defense is shutting down LA's honed triangle offense. LA's cutters are always accounted for, Kobe's iso's have been far less effective than in previous series, and LA's outside shooters collectively haven't been getting many wide open shots. That team defense is absolutely stunning. Another thing we have witnessed is Pau Gasol is incredibly soft. Being an international player, usually it is difficult to transition to the physical, in-your-face mentality of American ball; as witnessed by Kevin Garnett mopping the floor with Gasol's scruffy beard and shaggy hair. Additionally, Lamar Odom has looked like a turkey in the cornfields in the first games, however he too plays more skillfully at home.
On Boston's side of the coin, there aren't many negatives in how they played (the only exception being giving up a 24-point lead with 7+ minutes remaining in the 4th quarter allowing LA to cut it to 2 with 30 seconds left). The big 3 looked solid, Rondo looked like a poised point guard capable of freakin' em with the okie doke, everyone was aggressive at taking it to the hoop, and the bench play was stellar and absolutely dominated LA's bench. It will be interesting to see if Boston's bench shows up on the road. Equally important, Boston outrebounded and out-free-throw-lined (I'm copyrighting that antic) LA for the series thus far 83-69, and 73-38, respectively. Obviously, these stats are crucial since these games were decided by 10 or less points. When LA gets defensive rebounds, they can play a transition game with the best of them, as seen in that huge comeback (LA hit an NBA Finals record of 7 3-pt field goals in one quarter, most of which in transition). The disparity in free throw attempts provoked a verbal assault from Phil Jackson on the officiating crew, and perhaps rightly so. However, credit Boston's D with this differential. LA has become complacent with contested jump shooting instead of the usual aggressive mentality. Even Kobe has gotten apprehensive about driving the lane, shooting a mere 20-49 for the series.
One thing that amazed me was Ray Allen's effect on the Celts. Before the Finals, Ray Ray looked like a complete scrub with no confidence; causing Boston to play horribly inconsistent (going to 7 games with Atlanta and Cleveland). However, with Ray Ray running on all cylinders, Boston has become a wrecking machine. Note: This is a flat-out digression, however there seems to be a correlation here.
Clearly, something must give for LA to continue their unprecedented flawless record at home. Expect Phil Jackson to light a fire under some arses and for LA to play like an actual team in their backyard.
Something I found interesting was the Boston Globe's renowned sports writer Bob Ryan claiming Paul Pierce was the franchise's most potent and prolific offensive threat. Personally, I think that is insane since I would dub the Birdmeister that label, however if the Celts are to win the series, the Boston faithful probably wouldn't mind that statement too much.
In this quintessential matchup of unstoppable force vs. the immovable object, so far the immovable object has prevailed.
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