June 09, 2010
Los Angeles Lakers 91, Boston 84; Lakers lead series, 2-1
You're likely getting sick of hearing it. I'm getting sick of hearing it, almost, but I'm certainly not getting sick of writing it.
When the Lakers do as they're supposed to, offensively and defensively, no team can match them. And although they didn't play the perfect game on Tuesday, far from it, it was certainly enough to withstand a furious Celtic rally to start Game 3, and keep Boston at bay time and time again down the stretch.
And Derek Fisher(notes), the "what about the other 24 minutes he played?"-guy, had yet another sterling performance in the fourth quarter of a game your grandparents could pick up on their rabbit ears. Fisher's tumbling 1-on-4 drive with a minute left in the game set the win in stone for Los Angeles, but the rest of his 11 fourth-quarter points were hardly of the gimmicky kind.
Fisher found holes in the Boston defense when it overplayed or over-anticipated Kobe Bryant's(notes) moves. He used Boston's aggressiveness against it, and a patient Laker attack in the second and fourth quarters allowed for a quite-good 109 points per 100 possession mark, a mark put up in spite of the team's best player shooting 10-29. Fisher was, as Doc Rivers pointed out after the contest, "the difference."
Bryant had his struggles. Phil Jackson pointed out postgame how his defenders were running up underneath him, but the only reason this was possible was because the Celtics were hedging and cutting off his chances at the mid-range game so well. As a result, Bryant had to pull up for jumper after jumper, with little success. Forcing it at times (or, most of the time), Bryant just could not find the stroke from the outside, which sort of makes sense because he was shooting shots that even he'd be lucky to make one in three times.
But once the ball started moving again, in the fourth quarter, Fisher made all the right decisions. And with the Laker defense playing absolutely perfect basketball, a win was in the offing.
Yes, the team played perfect D even with the ancient (or so we thought) Kevin Garnett(notes) dropping in 25 points. KG had to do most of that damage on a series of extremely tough reverse shots and fadeways. It was not an easy 25; though you have to admit, after a couple of rough weeks, it was incredibly cool to watch.
Garnett got the Garden crowd going early with a couple of finishes off of lobs, as Boston seemed set to roll after a hot start to the first quarter. But, just as Phil Jackson told the media before Game 3, the Lakers were prepared to meet Boston's initial enthusiasm, not get too caught up in it, and ready to play a patient and exacting game once the chaos melted a bit.
One play was telling. After Boston leapt out to a 6-0 lead, and after a couple of nasty offensive possessions for the Lakers, Bryant made a point to bring up the ball himself, and made a hand signal in the backcourt for the Lakers to run a sideline triangle set. Suddenly, the Lakers were spaced properly, and the ball was moving. Andrew Bynum(notes) missed the resulting short shot, but with the C's suddenly having to cover larger areas of ground, Ron Artest(notes) was able to sneak in and grab an offensive rebound and put it in for two. Storm weathered, run over, Lakers back.
Lots of things came back for the Lakers. Luke Walton(notes), for one. Came off the bench with Artest in foul trouble, nailed a tough early jumper, and showcased some sound chemistry with Bryant throughout. You can tell Bryant truly digs playing with Walton on the court, there is honestly an extra inch to his hops as he bounds around the court after a Walton dish (even on a broken play), and the Lakers were +13 in the 13 minutes Luke played.
Plus-14 for Lamar Odom(notes), who made all five of his shots from the field, made some solid offensive decisions, and pulled in five rebounds in nearly 28 minutes. One huge offensive rebound and put-back in the fourth quarter as well. And although Andrew Bynum missed six of his nine shots, his defensive presence was key. As was Kobe's masterful help defense, partially aided by Rajon Rondo's(notes) refusal to make himself a threat away from the ball, mostly in place due to Kobe's formidable basketball brain.
Then there's Ray Allen(notes), who missed all 13 of his shots. Missed them flat, missed shots on the interior, missed shots after dead balls, just missed it all save for two free throws. Allen was smacked in the thigh a few minutes into the game, and you could tell it hindered his play throughout, and he did look pretty beat after working just 48 hours from Game 2. But mostly it was the defensive work of Fisher and Bryant that made Allen's night so, so tough.
Garnett was fantastic, but Paul Pierce(notes) (because of foul trouble, Ron Artest, and missed makeable shots) continues to struggle; 5-12, 15 points, five fouls, little impact for Pierce, who is shooting 36 percent in the finals. And Rasheed Wallace(notes), 1-5 from the floor, is clearly struggling. Wallace continues to play brilliant defense, but his back is obviously bothering him. Tends to happen when you work out of shape for 82 regular-season games.
As it is in a series like this, little of this is to be relied on. The effort can be, as is the execution (when either team deigns to try it), but Derek Fisher's not going to take many more games over, Kobe's not going to miss 19 of 29 shots again, and Allen is not going to miss all 13 of his field-goal attempts again. It's within the realm of the possible, and we have simple reasons why these three played the way they did, but it's nothing to bank on.
Just another step in what figures to be a long, long series.