The Lakers Won? Nope, the Celtics lost

For the rest of time, game 7 of the 2010 NBA Finals will be remembered as a LA Laker 83-79 victory over the Boston Celtics. The score sheet will show that Paul Gasol had a double-double, 19 points and 18 rebounds. That Ron Artest poured in 20 points. It will show that despite Kobe’s poor shooting night he was able to come through and muster a large double-double of 23 points and 15 rebounds. Even though the score sheet shows a Laker win, many of the fans who watched the game know in their heart that the Celtics lost.

Throughout last night’s game it was apparent that it was the Celtics game to lose. It’s not too often, especially in these 2010 playoffs, that you see an off night like that from Kobe Bryant. But it wasn’t just Kobe Bryant who had a poor shooting night. Only one player on the Lakers shot over 50% and that was Derek Fisher’s 4-6. I guess that’s what explains the dismal 32.5% shooting. It begs the question though of how in the world is it possible that a team can shoot 32.5% and not be beaten?

The problem for the Boston Celtics was that there were plenty of reasons why they couldn’t beat a team who shot 32.5%.

Shooting. They didn’t exactly shoot the lights out with a 40.8% rate of success from the field. But it wasn’t just poor shooting. It was the inability to get baskets when they had the opportunity to pull away from the Lakers. Time after time Ray Allen was given good looks and was not able to hit. Ever since he broke out with 8 three’s for an NBA finals record he was unable to find his stroke again. There was one instance in particular last night where Ray Allen curled off a screen for a mid-range jumper, caught the ball, but didn’t seem ready to shoot. He wasn’t looking towards the basket when he caught it, so he hesitated. To me it looked like he didn’t want to take the jumper, which is just inexcusable for a guy of his caliber, in a game of that magnitude. There are always so many “what if’s” in big game’s, but what if Ray Allen had just a normal day at the office? Not a great day, just a regular ol’ Thursday at the office.

Bench. I do realize that Rasheed Wallace is a bench player who did a good job in relief of starting center Kendrick Perkins but the fact of the matter is that the bench scored a grand total of 6 points. The only player on the Boston Celtics who got significant minutes off the bench was Glen “Big Baby” Davis who had all 6 of their bench points. I don’t like to be one to second guess a very good coach in Doc Rivers but when his starters weren’t getting it done on the offensive end it seemed like it was time for a change. Part of the problem that was even more evident last night was how compact the offensive zone was for the Celtics. A few things contributed to this. Whenever Rondo had the ball Kobe Bryrant was playing way off of him. For example when Rondo was at the top of the three point line, Kobe Bryant was guarding him at the free throw line. Also, Paul Pierce was unable to shake Ron Artest in isolation situations, which made it so the Lakers did not really have to double team Pierce. Moreover, Ray Allen did not extend the defence like he can because of his inability to make his shots over the last 3 games of the series.

The Celtics needed someone to take the pressure off of Paul Pierce who was relied upon so often, and so often was unable to make something happen. Rajon Rondo did have 14 points and 10 assists but he was pretty much non-existent when he came back into the game with 9 minutes or so left in the 4th quarter. Well, except the big 3 pointer he hit in the last minute of play. I think it would have been a good idea to stick Nate Robinson and Tony Allen to try and change the dynamic of the game. It is pretty much a given that Tony Allen is going to bring energy and toughness into the game. However, with Nate Robinson it is a toss-up but the fact that Kobe Bryant was sagging so much off of Rondo made it almost impossible for the Celtics to do anything. Nate Robinson coming in and actually given a chance to make a play would have hopefully extended the defence and open up space for other teammates.

Rebounding. In each game of these NBA finals whichever team won the rebounding battle was the team that won the game. In game 7, the Celtics weren’t just out-rebounded, they were manhandled. In total the Celtics had a -13 differential on the boards, but the key stat in this was that the Lakers had 23 offensive rebounds to the Celtics 8. Without those offensive rebounds there is no way that the Lakers’ poor shooting would have prevailed. Rasheed Wallace played great defence in the post but constantly was being out-matched on the boards. It wasn’t just the Celtics’ big men though, the smaller players were not gang rebounding. The colour guys on ABC pointed this out a number of times.

Perkins. Now I’m not sure how much Kendrick Perkins absence actually hurt the Celtics to the extent that I thought it would, but what I am sure of is that it couldn’t have helped. Any key player on an NBA team could be the difference in a 4 point game. Another what if, but what if Kendrick Perkins had been good to go in game 7?

Free Throws. The Boston Celtics made it way too easy for the Lakers in the 4th quarter because over and over they were giving them easy buckets at the free throw line. Kobe and Pau alone combined for 28 free throw attempts, but the Lakers were shooting so terribly yesterday that those two also missed 10 freebies. Overall the Lakers shot 37 free throws, 20 more than the Boston Celtics. That’s not going to get it done in the NBA Finals.

On the other hand, it wouldn’t be fair to give the Lakers zero credit for last night’s victory. Ron Artest played outstanding defence the entire night and had to have convinced his critics of his true importance to his team. Ron Artest stood out to me, but you can’t play good defence without all 5 guys on the floor being in sync and the Laker defence was 100% in sync last night. As I somewhat alluded to earlier the Lakers, although bigger, seemed to have more fight for those 50-50 rebounds, which ultimately gave them the opportunity to win.

For all you history buffs out there the Battle of Britain would seem to be a great comparison to yesterday’s game 7. Despite all the thing’s that the British did right, the Germans ultimately lost the Battle for themselves.

This pill will be a hard one to swallow for the Boston Celtics. However, it would be much harder to swallow if they didn’t already have that most important 1st ring from 2008.

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No Perkins, Big Problem

The Big 3: Paul Pierce, Ray Allen, and Kevin Garnett. Sorry, I meant to say Big 4, add to the mix the supposed question mark of the Boston Celtics’ 2008 title run, point guard Rajon Rondo. The player people most often fail to be mention however among this elite group of players Kendrick Perkins is the unsung 5 among the star-studded Big 4.

6:30 into game 6 of the NBA Finals, Kendrick Perkins landed awkwardly on his left knee and was forced to leave the game. He did not return. Boston went on to lose the game 89-67. One of the big questions after game 6 was the health of Kendrick Perkins. Unfortunately for the Celtics, Perkins was ruled out of game 7 yesterday, which is cause for concern in bean town.

Kendrick Perkins may not be the most flashy player out there. In fact, he is a very limited player. Well, at least on the offensive end. Perkins is consistently left open for short jumpers by opposing teams and time after time he passes up exceptionally good looks. He knows his place on the Celtics, and his place is not a scorer.

Perkins is known around the NBA for his intensity and most notably the look of anger that doesn’t seem to ever go away. Throughout the 2010 NBA playoffs Kendrick Perkins has been asked to face some enourmous challenges. In the Eastern Conference Finals he was asked to guard the taller, longer, more athletic Dwight Howard and for much of that series held him in check. In the NBA Finals he has been asked to guard the also longer, taller Andrew Bynum Bynum has been ineffective through much of the series. Although that is partly due to his injured knee.

Now the Boston Celtics have to deal with life without Kendrick Perkins. People may say that Kevin Garnett is the glue that holds everything together. That may be partially true, but Kendrick Perkins is no slouch. Perkins does not get the recognition that the other stars on the Celtics do, but he still goes out every night and plays his behind off. Without the Celtics 5th man, they will have to rely mostly on Rasheed Wallace and Glen “Big Baby/Shrek” Davis to carry the load at center.

Glen Davis has had his moments during these playoffs but since he and Nate Robinson broke out in Game 4 he has been virtually invisible. Despite having 9 rebounds in game 6, Big Baby didn’t have a single point in 27 minutes. Rasheed Wallace was also held off the scoresheet in game 6 going 0-6 from 3 and 0-7 from the field in 17 minutes.

You wonder if the added minutes for Big Baby are just too much for him to handle. I don’t think that he is mentally bothered by the pressure, but physically it could take a major toll on him. Coming out of LSU Glen Davis has had weight issues, but in the NBA he has gotten it all together. But for a guy like that can you be confident that he can play added minutes? Glen Davis relies on pure energy and hustle to make up for his lack of athletic ability and size compared to other big men. Added minutes means less just a smidgen less energy per play, which means that he probably can’t make up for his physical disadvantages to as great an extent.

Rasheed Wallace on the other hand has been an enigma this entire season for the Celtics. For him, it’s not lack of physical strength or athletic ability it’s more an intensity issue. Wallace is a proven winner but also a guy who decides for himself when he wants to play. Wallace is a guy I would have put money on to have a big game for my team in his younger days. However, now that he is 36 he is not the player he once was. The Boston Celtics obviously can’t rely on him like the Detroit Pistons could in big games.

Almost everyone had counted out the Boston Celtics during the regular season, and almost everyone is now. To me I can’t find a real reason to pick the Celtics to win tonight. Defence is a big part of what defines the Boston Celtics, and Kendrick Perkins is a big part of that defence. It showed last game. The Celtics have shown that never say die attitude throughout the playoffs and it will be there tonight. In the end, I just don’t think it will be enough to handle Kobe Bryant and the LA Lakers.

Put me in Coach, I’m ready to play

The Phoenix Suns pulled off the improbable today, coming back from a 2-0 deficit in their series with the Lakers. After the first two games in LA it seemed that all the match-up problems that the Lakers posed to the Suns were for real and that the Suns were not going to be able to handle them. However, everything changed early in the 2nd quarter of game 3 when Alvin Gentry decided to go to a 2-3 zone defence that stymied the LA offence and eventually allow Phoenix to take the game 118-109. In game 4 Alvin Gentry stuck to his guns and played most of the game with a zone defence. Added onto that, some timely 3 point shooting that the Suns had been lacking throughout the series, especially from Channing Frye, allowed them to pull off another big upset. The big story though wasn’t just the defence and the massive amount of zone played in the game.

The bench, led by second year point guard Goran Dragic, out played not just the Lakers bench, but their starters as well. Throughout the season coach Alvin Gentry has showed confidence in his bench and allowed them to play through their mistakes. In the 2010 playoffs it has definitely paid off. The Suns bench played so well during the 4th quarter in game 4 that Alvin Gentry didn’t take them off until just inside the 4 minute mark of the period. The bench came out in the 4th quarter and nailed 3 consecutive three’s to put the Suns up by 9 and the Lakers were unable to dig out of that hole. Despite the fact that Phil Jackson put out his starters, Alvin Gentry stuck with his bench and they rewarded his confidence. The highlight for the bench was by Goran Dragic who made a beautiful cross over then spin move in the lane and finished it with his off right hand.

Overall the bench shot 20-32 (62.5%) from the field, and 9-20 (45%) from beyond the arc. Channing Frye finally broke out of his slump hitting 4 three pointers after missing 17 field goals in a row. Goran Dragic contributed 8 assists in almost 18 minutes, and Jared Dudley continued his hot shooting making 3 of 6 from downtown. All in all the Suns bench outscored the Lakers bench 54-20.

Having the series tied up 2-2 going back to LA is not the only effect that the impressive play that the bench has on this series. Their ability to play well also allows the starters, most notably Steve Nash to have more than adequate rest. Steve Nash and the rest of the Phoenix Suns starters will now be fresh going into game 5 and not nearly as worn down as the series goes on.

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Kobe Bryant is unstoppable. During the regular season I had finally thought that Lebron James had dethroned Kobe Bryant as the best player in the NBA. I’m sorry I ever doubted you Kobe. We all saw Lebron…well choke in the last two games of their series against the Boston Celtics. I don’t care that his teammates didn’t step up and that Antawn Jamison, the supposed side kick for Lebron, didn’t do his part. Lebron obviously doesn’t have the same mental make up of Kobe to be able to take his team on his back when it matters the most. At least not yet. On the other hand, Kobe Bryant has shown that he can still do it when it matters. In 8 of the last 9 playoff games Kobe has scored over 30 points, silencing his critics (including me) that the nagging injuries were finally getting to him and that all the extra playoff and international games had pushed him over the hill.

Kobe once again tried to put his team on his back tonight going 15-22 from the field, hitting 6 three’s for 38 points. Oh yeah, he also finished with 10 assists for his 3rd straight double-double. The rest of his teammates once again couldn’t crack the zone defence of the Suns. Besides Kobe’s 6-9 from beyond the arc, the rest of the Laker squad shot a dismal 3 for 19 (16%).

I thought Phil Jackson would have figured out a way to break the Sun’s zone, but it seems as though the Lakers are just going to have to shoot better from the outside. I still think Phil Jackson and the Lakers will figure it out for Game 5 but until then let the speculation begin. Hopefully we’re in store for another thrilling game!

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