Lakers/Celtics Game 1 Chat

Kurt —  June 5, 2008

Let’s Get Ready To Ruuuummmmbblllleeeeee.

No need brig out Michael Buffer to get Lakers and Celtics fans pumped up for this one. I think we all know we are in for what should be a rare and exciting finals. When was the last time the best team from each conference met in an evenly-matched finals?

And yes, I said evenly matched. The more I have looked at this series, the more I think it is a pretty even matchup. Kevin Pelton made a comment over at the TrueHoop statgeek showdown I thought was a great insight — the Celtics are basically a better version of the Spurs. They play very good defense (better than the Spurs). They have a “big three” surrounded by solid to good role players. Think about it. Perkins is better than Oberto, for example. And while I though the Spurs role guys faded away the Celtics have been getting other guys to step up and make plays (Rondo some nights, PJ Brown another, and the list goes on). Yes, the Lakers beat the Spurs in five but there were a couple close games and a better version of the Spurs means a bigger and harder challenge.

The most interesting end of the floor will be the Lakers offense against the Celtics defense — the best in the league against the best in the league. Boston plays great team defense, with quick help and rotations, plus they switch a lot (on picks) and have a great defensive chemistry. But they have been torched by a motion offense — Utah did it to them back in March. That game to me is key to what the Lakers have to do to win — when the help comes the Lakers need to move without the ball to the open space and then hit the looks they get. They need to work the ball inside (a post pass to Gasol or a Kobe drive) and if either of them are single covered they need to score. And, inside, there can be no “weenie shots” because KG sends those into the fifth row.

Boston coaches have said they plan to single-cover Kobe as much as they can (which means we may see a lot of Posey). In meetings earlier this year they were able to make Kobe a volume perimeter shooter, but Darius said he doesn’t see that this time around.

I wouldn’t be worried too much about Kobe “falling in love” with the jumper. What has separated Kobe during the playoffs has been his ability to take what the defense is giving him, to play in the flow of the game, and still execute at an MVP level. Against the Spurs, he realized that he was not getting calls on his drives and he also realized that the Spurs had Duncan (most of the time) patrolling the paint and waiting for him at the rim. Hence the jump shooting. When Duncan and/or Bowen were out of the game, Kobe went to the rim as much as possible by driving around Udoka and finishing over/around Oberto/Thomas. He knows what he has to do and is prepared to do it at a high level. Some players get taken out of their game and can not get their groove back….Kobe is not one of them. In fact, I think back to the times in these playoffs where we’ve been down, and Kobe is on the bench, only to come back in cold and bury jumper after jumper and make play after play. He focuses on what needs to be accomplished and then goes out and does it… I think we all have our fears of “competive Kobe/taking it personal Kobe” trying to do too much and inadvertently having a negative impact on the game…but I think those days are gone. He’s maneuvered brilliantly through these playoffs and his performance in the last minutes of Game 6 against the Spurs has convinced me that he is in the right mind. And I think that’s going to carry over when looking at this matchup.

One other offensive note – the Lakers would benefit by running. The Celtics can run and like the Spurs they are good in transition defense, but in any close game a few easy buckets can be key. Also, if Gasol runs down and gets early post position on the block, it means Perkins will have to run with him and that will wear him out.

On the other end of the floor there are some interesting defensive matchups that the Lakers will go with early: Radman on Pierce, Gasol on KG and Odom on Perkins. In crunch time I think we can expect Radman to be on the bench, with Sasha on Ray Allen an Kobe on Pierce. If either of those last two can get the other in foul trouble it will be a big help for his side

Bill Bridges also had some thoughts on the Lakers defense, starting with what happens when the Celtics post Pau up.

Much like Pau, Garnett wants help to come so that he find open teammates – especially Perkins for a dunk. Play him straight up and cover the shooters and the defense will be much more effective.

As Kurt mentioned, the Celtics are a jump shooting team. Their effectiveness increases with open shots initiated by a pass out from a doubled Garnett.

What (KG’s man) should do is to always play Garnett to go right. Garnett has 2 prime moves: a fake left, pivot right fall away and a fake left, fake right, fake left, pivot right fall away (say that 10 time fast). Don’t bite on the fake and step to the right with arms straight up and make his J difficult.

To keep you honest, every once in a while, Garnett will face up, and drive hard into the lane for a jump hook. This is his most unstoppable move. But luckily for us, he rarely goes to it and almost never in crunch time.

When fatigued, he hangs around the perimeter and takes jump shots. If the Lakers force him to run and play defense we might see a lot of jump shots from KG.

If a goal of the defense is to make the offense uncomfortable then we might try the following.

1. Make Garnett a volume shooter. He is more likely to shoot early in the game than late and I’d rather he not get his teammates easy looks with double teams. Much like the end of game 6 against Detroit, I like the thought of KG passing up an open J in crunch time to a surprised Rondo who hadn’t shot the ball in a quarter.
2. Ray Allen can catch and shoot straight, going to his right and especially to his left. But if he has to take a dribble or two to set up a shot, it is almost always to his left. Make him put the ball on the floor to his right. (He is basically a smaller Peja or a mobile Finley). I think he is an easier cover for Sasha than Manu or even Korver (who was making catch-and-shoot fade aways over his left shoulder- something Allen can’t do)
3. Paul Pierce is one of the few right handed player who likes to shoot jumpers moving to his right and drive to his left (Most other slashers drive to the right and pull up to the left.). That he drives left is another reason why I like keeping KG occupying that spot.
4. No player other than KG and Pierce can make shots with a hand in their face. So keep a hand in their face.

Maybe the deciding factor in this series will be the bench play — the Lakers have a good deep bench but the Celtics have had different guys step up nightly. It’s a little hard to predict how the Celtics bench will fare only because it’s impossible to know what Doc River’s rotation will be. He coaches by “feel.” I’d dismiss that out of hand, noting that he felt good about Sam Cassell, save for that his feelings are right at times, and he pulled all the right strings against Detroit.

If all of those words were not enough, check out Celtics Blog with Jeff, or listen to the Hoops Addict finals preview podcast where I stumble over fewer words than normal, or check out the LA Times Lakers blog as the Brothers K rock, or watch Tyson Chandler talk about Kobe, or read about how the Lakers almost got KG, or read the Laker fans at the Wall Street Journal (seriously). Basically, anywhere you point your mouse and click today you’ll find something good.

This is not going to be an easy series for the Lakers, and to really get into Boston’s heads the Lakers need to win one of the first two, and I think Game One may be their best chance. That is why tonight is going to be big.

And a lot of fun. Enjoy the game.

Kurt

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