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Kelly Dwyer

Game to pay attention to: Game 4, Lakers looking to pull away



Los Angeles Lakers at Boston
; Los Angeles Lakers lead series 2-1

Maybe I'm just too involved. This must be how coaches sometimes feel, between games.

I don't know how the Boston Celtics are ever going to win a game in this series.

Of course the team is going to win again. It might even win three more games, because I would still warn against betting on anything in this series. But so much has to go right. So much has to work in Boston's favor (I'm not even touching the referee situation), and so much has to fall apart for the Lakers to lose.

Here's where I talk myself into a good game, tonight. The Lakers have fallen apart, quite a lot, this season. They did it in Game 2, which was just four days ago. The Lakers feature a starting center who can barely walk, a starting small forward who does crazy things with the ball, and a sixth man who thinks that there are pictures in the dictionary.

But even with all that, so much has to work for Boston. It has to run the Orlando rule, stopped sometime last month, of playing every possession as accurately as it possibly can. Save for the Kendrick Perkins(notes) moving screen or the Tony Allen(notes) two-turnovers-in-four-minutes run, the C's win when they take care of the ball, hit long jump shots, and fall back on that expert defense.

When that defense gives up offensive rebounds? When it's made to look silly by expert spacing? When the Lakers are playing as they should? Boston is in trouble.

And when Boston's offense goes flat? Boston is done.

In Game 3, the offense went flat. Ron Artest(notes) has done a terrific job working on Paul Pierce(notes) in this series, but six of Pierce's seven misses in Game 3 were with either Luke Walton(notes) (mostly), Lamar Odom(notes), or Kobe Bryant(notes) guarding him. Ray Allen(notes) won't shoot 0-13 again, but this is a man who makes his living shooting 25-footers. Bad nights are going to happen when you make this your biggest contributing factor.

Rajon Rondo(notes) is relying on a half-second's confusion from Kobe Bryant in the open court to do his damage. Kevin Garnett(notes) was masterful in Game 3, taking it to Pau Gasol(notes) time and time again on his way toward 25 points, but by and large Gasol played him pretty well, and Garnett was forced into tough, tough makes.

Kevin Garnett, shooting reverses and lofting shots while falling out of bounds, was the only reason Boston wasn't blown out. Think about that.

Also, Glen Davis(notes) and Nate Robinson(notes) are, relatively, short.

And above all, the Celtics are relying on their opponent to fall short, mentally. They're working their tails off defensively to make it so the Lakers want to relent, want to give up on the offense, and take poor shots. Those poor shots lead to decreased offensive rebound chances for the Lakers, because it's likely poor spacing that led to the poor shots, which allows the Celtics to corral the caroms, run, and grab easy buckets.

That's quite a bit to rely on. The other team screwing up. A guy who looks like he can barely jump, dropping 25. Someone hitting an ungodly amount of 25 footers. A guy that's two days removed from being unable to score on Luke Walton, suddenly scoring on Walton and Ron Artest.

And yet, we fall back on what we know.

No team is going to win three of three, in the middle three of a 2-3-2 format; unless something has gone drastically wrong. And as surprising as Ray Allen's ohfer 13 was on Tuesday, that's not holding up, and the Lakers aren't taking all three. Why? Well, there's no rhyme or reason to it, because if the same equations keep scrolling, and everyone comes back to the mean, then the Lakers should take all three in close contests.

They won't, though. Because Boston is just too good. Too great, really, and the Lakers (superior though they are) lose concentration.

I just want you to know, in case Boston wins tonight, or even if they take the series, how impressive an accomplishment it will have to be. How it will come not just because the team is hitting shots or concentrating on the glass, but because the team played truly, truly focused basketball. Few missteps, and forced missteps for the other team born out of effort, trust, and talent.

The nitty gritty?

Boston needs to find a way to create better spacing for Paul Pierce, but he also has to start hitting shots. I'm not going to tell you that his misses have been off of great or good looks, but he's had too many makeable looks go awry. He has to toss in a better percentage of those makeable looks.

The Celtics need to anticipate Los Angeles' split-second decision making better when it comes to how Los Angeles is going to help on Ray Allen once Allen frees himself up long enough to gather a pass. The team can't stand around, and Allen can't take his time gathering himself for a shot. You're Ray Allen. Shoot it.

Rajon Rondo has to make himself a threat in the half court. He has to keep Kobe occupied.

The Celtics have to pay more attention on the offensive glass. I understand that it's difficult to ably box out on a team that is spaced as well as the Lakers were in Game 3, the fear that your man can worm around you is always there, but that doesn't mean you spend the whole night jumping at rebounds, and ignoring defensive principles.

Kevin Garnett needs to keep going at Pau Gasol. Not that Gasol can be taken advantage of, but because KG has the touch and the fundamentals to make expertly-guarded shots go in at a good rate.

Glen Davis needs to consider an offensive rebound or loose ball grab its own reward, and dish it out of the paint unless he has a clear, makeable look. Those dishes can either lead to quick three-pointers, or an eventual open shot two passes later as the defense tries to rotate. It shouldn't lead to a desperate attempt at putting in a bouncer over two 7-footers plus Lamar Odom.

The Lakers? You need to run your offense.

You're going to go into a play not knowing where the ball is going to end up, and who is going to be shooting, and I know that's not easy. I understand that goes against your instincts, even if you've been running this offense all season, or for most of your pro career. Doesn't matter. You run that offense, and dozens of good things open up.

Spacing. Ball movement. Free throws. Offensive rebounds. Kobe Bryant acting as a dominant force even if he doesn't register a score, or an assist. Lamar Odom's multifold abilities. Andrew Bynum's(notes) easy gathers and put-backs. A Finals MVP trophy for Pau Gasol. A win.

Since October, that's been your struggle. It could be worse. The Celtics have a long list to check off. You have one thing to work through, and it's an ideal more than a series of executed events. Embrace that.

Hopefully we should get another close one. Have fun with it.

We'll be around a little before gametime for a live blog, starting around 9 p.m., Eastern time.

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