June 15, 2010
The Celtics have set the stage with hard work, execution, trust and talent. And though the team is just one win away from its second championship in three years, it still has quite the task ahead of it.
Close it out in Los Angeles, against a fantastic team like the Lakers, with L.A. playing the cornered animal routine on its home court. That can't be easy. And though the odds would seem to be in Boston's favor, if you listen to Las Vegas, this is still Los Angeles' series to lose.
So here are five ways Boston can make this Los Angeles' series to lose.
Despite how pitiful he looked offensively earlier in this series, K.G. is still a man who can't help but work his way toward points.
Regardless of his age, Garnett is still 7 feet tall, he still has long arms and he still has touch for days. And against Pau Gasol(notes), Garnett has had an edge working that turnaround jumper. It's a shot he can make even in the face of perfect defense, as we saw earlier in this series, and it's a move Boston has to go to. Because when the offense is fading, Paul Pierce(notes) looks 132 years old again, Rajon Rondo(notes) can barely find the rim and Ray Allen(notes) can't even get to the ball, having a 7-footer with skills to dump it to is about as nice as fallback options go.
Even if K.G. misses, he also draws attention. From the guards and (if he gets a step on Gasol) from Andrew Bynum(notes). This allows for offensive rebound opportunities. The Celtics are pretty poor in that area, but every available carom on that end counts. It's what won them Game 4, and it's what could put Los Angeles away on Tuesday night.
2. Find spacing for Paul Pierce.
Pierce didn't have great looks to start this series, but he did have a series of makeable jumpers that he usually makes a better percentage of. He wasn't crossing over or whipping his way around Ron Artest(notes), even as the misses piled up, but he was creating enough separation to get off a passable short jumper. In Game 5, he went off, tossing in 12 of 21 looks on his way toward 27 points. Plenty of great looks in that one.
In Game 6, and possibly beyond, the Lakers will look to crowd Pierce off his hot spots. Namely that right elbow extended. Boston's new role will not only be trying to find Pierce space to get his shot off, but to also create spacing in a way that allows Los Angeles' aggressiveness to be used against the itself.
Pierce isn't an expert passer, but he's used to dishing his way out of double-teams. If there are obvious answers — Ray Allen in a pin-down situation, Garnett curling to the other elbow for a jumper off a Kendrick Perkins(notes) screen, Rondo loitering around the rim for the lay-up — then Boston can win this.
3. Tough shots have to fall.
Glen Davis(notes) can hit a jumper from 19 feet. He practices it all the time, and three different times after timeouts Boston coach Doc Rivers has called for a play for Big Baby to hit that shot. It's in his wheelhouse, sure, but it's still a tough shot.
Rajon Rondo has the sort of hands that planted and seeded the entire North American Northwest. His family crest is a picture of a barracuda eating Neil Armstrong. He can score on all manners of flip shots and quick tossers around the rim, trying to get the ball up before the Lakers realize he's shooting 4 for 15 from the free-throw line in this series. Doesn't matter how close to the rim they are, though, because these are still tough shots.
Ray Allen, even, in the corner? As pretty as it is, it's still a 23-footer he has to release in a split-second. Tough.
Tough shots, but fair shots. Shots the Celtics can make, and shots the Celtics will have to make at a sound-enough rate if the team wants to end it Tuesday night. Or pull off the clincher on Thursday.
4. The defense has to sustain.
You've by now likely noticed that I've mentioned just about every member of the Boston rotation and what it can do to help the team offensively. That's because my faith in this team's defense is so strong.
It trusts each other, it works to cover all angles and it listens to its coaching staff. The Celtics are here because of their defense, and if they win it all this week, it will be because of this team's defense.
Of course, every team is allowed a night off or two. It's only natural. And if Boston wants to take the ring, those nights will have to wait until next fall.
5. The turnovers have to go bye-bye.
This has been Boston's Achilles heel for three years now. The team's offense is good enough on its own, though never a real knockout. But the team's copious miscues often drag the overall production down to the ranks of the just-above-mediocre. This cannot happen this week.
Boston needs to cherish that ball. It has to limit the chance-taking, anticipate mistakes from its teammates (while retaining trust), and keep the miscues below 15. Because 15, in a low-possession finals game, is about all Boston can handle, especially with Ray Allen's recent issues from long range and the team's inability to pile up the points at the line.
Mistakes will happen and plays will go wrong. But Boston has to stay focused, and it has to set the terms of engagement. The Celtics, especially Rondo, cannot let this game happen to them. And this starts by making these possessions count, and giving this offense a chance to succeed.
Play as if you're in charge and you've just won yourself a title.