Before this game started, we spoke about the urgency that the Celtics would play with knowing that an 0-2 deficit would essentially be a death knell to their hope of winning their 2nd title in 3 seasons. Well tonight, the Celtics showed that urgency and rode the hot shooting of Ray Allen and the all around game of Rajon Rondo to pull out game 2 over the Lakers 103-94. So, the Lakers now fly to Boston in the wake of their first home loss of these playoffs and enter a hostile environment of the new Garden with the very real scenario that they may trail a playoff series for the first second time in two seasons. Needless to say, this is not what the Lakers nor us fans would want after two games. But, here we are.
And we got to this point because the Lakers struggled with an improved Boston defense from what they showed in game 1. Gone were the easy driving lanes. And when the Lakers did beat an initial defender, the help arrived quickly and with authority. The pick and roll action that the Lakers ran with so much effectiveness in game 1 was stifled. Overall, everything the Lakers tried to do on offense was met with a defense that was more prepared and intent on making the Lakers lives harder than what it was in the last game.
And the Lakers didn’t help themselves with the way that they decided to attack the Boston defense. Rather than relying on quick passes and ball movement, the Lakers instead tried to attack the Celtics off the dribble – playing right into the hands of the overloaded schemes that Boston loves to throw at teams. This approach was especially frustrating considering the success that the Lakers big men were having against the Celtics. Pau Gasol and Adrew Bynum combined for 46 of the Lakers 94 points and were just having their way on the inside. Doing their damage on only 20 FGA’s (and a combined 20-25 from the FT line), the Lakers bigs were the rock that needed to be leaned on more in this contest than they were, but instead were relatively forgotten men in the closing minutes where their presence and production really could have made a difference. I wish I had an answer on why this occurred, but alas I do not.
And If the Lakers suspect execution on offense were not enough, they also didn’t do their due diligence on the defensive side of the ball. Before this series started, we talked about how Ray Allen was really the key to the Celtics offense. Sure, Rondo’s penetration is key and Paul Pierce is this team’s leading scorer, but a lot of the Celtics’ offensive success is predicated off of Ray Allen’s ability to shoot the ball coming off screens. Because when Ray is hot, he can change the momentum of any contest and then force big men to help on screens and the dominos start to fall in favor of the Celtics getting the types of shots that they want. And tonight, Ray Allen simply had it going. Allen made 7 threes in the first half alone (ending the night making an NBA Finals record 8 threes out of his 11 attempts) and scored a game high 32 points on a variety of jumpers that the Lakers plain defended poorly. Too many times they cheated on screens and allowed Ray to make clean catches that led to open jumpers. On other occasions the Lakers defenders (I’m looking at you Shannon Brown) simply lost Allen by turning their heads or needlessly helping which led to him moving into open space and giving him that split second he needed to get his shot off. Don’t get me wrong, Ray had a tremendous shooting night that should not be played down as only the result of poor D. But, he was too open on too many occasions and that was the result of the Lakers not playing with enough discipline on the player that requires the most when he’s your defensive assignment.
But it wasn’t only Ray Allen that killed the Lakers, it was Rajon Rondo as well. Ending the night with a triple-double (19 points, 12 rebounds, 10 assists), Rondo wreaked havoc in the open court by grabbing defensive rebounds and simply ramming the ball down the Lakers throats. When the Celtics took their big lead in the first half it was entirely on the back of Allen’s shooting and Rondo’s pushing of the pace where he got lay ups and set up his mates for other good shots either at the basket or behind the arc when the Lakers defense went scrambling. Then, in the second half, when the Lakers needed to secure stops to keep pace with the points that the Celtics had put on the board it was Rondo that grabbed offensive rebounds that gave his team the extra possessions that they’d need to ice this game. Just a fantastic performance from the C’s young point guard.
But all is not lost for the Lakers nor is this series now “over” just because the Celtics won a game on the road. The Lakers are one of the better road playoff teams and have won clinching games on the road in their last 5 playoff series. If there is any team capable of going into a hostile environment and taking control back in this series it’s the Lakers. And while this game was disappointing and frustrating for all the things that the Lakers did poorly, it should also be encouraging for some of the things that the Lakers did well. We now have a series on our hands and that’s a position that the Lakers have proven themselves to be comfortable in over the last few years. It will take smarter and more disciplined play, but the Lakers are capable of just that. Game three is only two days away and when it arrives we will see what both of these teams are made of.
Some other notes on this game:
*Many will point to a couple of the questionable calls that were made against Kobe Bryant (the offensive foul committed against Ray Allen and the force out play against Rondo) and complain. I agree, those were tough calls and set up a situation where the charge call that Big Baby drew on him essentially neutered his aggressiveness. However, Kobe also picked up a couple of bad fouls (most notably his body foul on Ray Allen defending 35 feet from the basket) that was needless and bad judgement on Kobe’s part. And, just like with Ray Allen in game 1, Kobe saw how needing to play a bit smarter with fouls is a necessity when you’re a catalyst for your team’s offensive success. Tonight, bad calls and all, I thought Kobe could have played a bit better. And if asked about it, I have a feeling he’d say the same.
*Ron Artest was awful on offense tonight. He ended the night 1-10 from the field and had some questionable plays in the closing minutes (most notably his forced post entry to Gasol that led to a turnover and his dribble around and force a jumper “thing” that I can’t adequately describe). But guess what? – he was just as good on defense. Did you look at Paul Pierces stat line? Pierce went 2-11 from the floor with Ron essentially living in his jersey. Remember, Pierce is one of the more important offensive players for the C’s and it will be tough for them to win games if Ron continues to play him as well as he is defensively. Sure, Ron will need to be better on offense in future games. But to call him out or scapegoat him is unfair and completely one sided. Ron’s doing some really good things for the Lakers; tonight was just a bad offensive night for him.
*The Lakers bench – especially when playing at home – needs to play better. Farmar was passable and so was Sasha in his limited minutes. But Odom and Brown were below average in several facets of their respective games and those guys need to do more. On a night where Pau and Bynum played heavy minutes, LO needed to give the Lakers some quality minutes when those guys rested and he couldn’t do it. I’m as big a fan as any of Odom, but tonight the fouling, lack of activity on offense (and I don’t just mean scoring – I mean cutting, passing, creating for others) was poor. And Shannon just had too many defensive lapses on Ray Allen. I mentioned it already, but too often he found himself out of position and helping where it wasn’t needed and doing so off of the hottest player in the building. And considering that Kobe found himself in foul trouble in that third quarter, a bit more was needed of Shannon. And like LO, it wasn’t there.
*I need to go back and give some more praise to the Lakers’ big men. I mentioned their combined points, but look at their individual stat lines: Pau – 7/10 FGA, 11/13 FTA, 25 points, 8 rebounds (3 offensive), 3 assists, 6(!) blocks, 1 steal in 42 minutes; Andrew – 6/10 FGA, 9/12 FTA, 21 points, 6 rebounds (3 offensive), 7(!) blocks in 39 minutes. Yes, their rebounding numbers could have been better. But overall they played fantastic basketball between them and needed to get more shots and touches down the stretch of these games. Their numbers look even better when compared to their starting counterparts (Perkins and KG combined for 18 points, 10 rebounds, but with 9(!) assists in their 72 combined minutes).
*The Lakers shot 5 for 22 from the three point line in this game. Shades of OKC in how those long misses fueled run outs by Rondo and the C’s and set up a lot of their baskets in their early offensive sets. Remember, in game 1 the Lakers only took 10 three pointers and tonight they took more than double that amount. I think it’s safe to say there’s a correlation between the number of deep shots the Lakers took in this game (even accounting for the ones late in the game where they were trying to scramble and come back) and the resulting loss.
*The Lakers were out rebounded by 5, out-assisted by 10, and had 15 turnovers (2 more than the C’s). The turnovers were especially damaging because of how many of them came late in the game. If I recall the stats correctly, in the last 36 possessions of the game the Lakers had 9 turnovers while the Celtics only had 2. If you want to know how a team loses a game in the 4th quarter, when they enter tied and briefly hold a 3 point lead that is how – they give the ball away to the other team (while also not controlling their defensive glass).