Lakers/Celtics: Lakers Use Their Heads, Outthink C’s Down The Stretch

Darius Soriano —  February 10, 2011

Some games just mean more. Regardless of circumstances, home or away, who’s active or not, certain opponents just bring out that strong desire to win. The Celtics are one such (the only?) team that does that for the Lakers and its fans. And tonight, the fans of the forum blue and gold got what they’ve been wanting all year, a quality win against that hated rival (who doubles as an elite team) downing the C’s 92-86 to earn their 3rd straight road win.

The way this game started, though, you had to question if the Lakers really would end the night on top. Riding the high of Ray Allen pursuing the all time 3 point makes record, the C’s were amped up and their crowd was too. And looking to capitalize on that early energy the C’s ran play after play for Allen by running him off screens on seemingly every possession to get him in a rhythm while also putting points up on the board. And while Ray didn’t hit any threes off these early sets, the C’s did establish an early offensive flow with Ray getting free for jumpers and knocking them down against a Lakers D that couldn’t quite sort out their defense. By the time that Ray Allen hit his record tying three on a play where Fisher got caught in no man’s land helping on a KG post up and then hit the record breaker off a Laker turnover, the C’s seemed to be in full control of the game with it looking like a good possibility that they could run away with this game.

However, breaking that record may have actually been the worst thing that could have happened to the C’s all night. Because even though the crowd cheered like crazy and the PA announcer kept the celebration going through the 1st quarter break, the C’s and the fans cheering them on seemed to lose their energy. And at the same time, the Lakers began to really focus in. After losing the first period by 7, the Lakers battled back in the 2nd period (at one point going down by as many as 15) and only trailed by 8 going into halftime due to a late run before the intermission. They forced a couple of turnovers, got the ball inside, earned some FT’s, and by the time the halftime horn sounded the Lakers had taken the momentum from the C’s and shown that they were ready to compete.

In the 2nd half, the Lakers simply finished the job. They opened the 3rd period with a D-Fish 3 pointer. That was followed by a Kobe “and one” where he drove to his left and finished a wrong legged runner off the glass after taking the hit by Ray Allen. And while the C’s then countered with two straight baskets of their own, the tone was set. The Lakers were back in this game and the C’s were going to have to ratchet up their intensity and precision to match the Lakers’.

But Boston just couldn’t do it; the Lakers level of execution was just too good on both sides of the ball.

Defensively, the Lakers simply started to clamp down. They forced more turnovers, drew offensive fouls, and contested shots expertly. They made the key adjustments on defending Allen’s screens by having the big men guarding the screener take an extra step out to help deny passes while also allowing the trailing guard time to recover. This made it so Allen couldn’t shake free to create enough space to get off his jumper and the misses followed. Meanwhile Ron Artest hounded Paul Pierce all over the court to the point that PP never got comfortable or found a rhythm. Even when Pierce did get to his favorite spots on the floor Ron simply bodied him up and used his length to bother the shot. When the C’s went to 1/3 P&R’s to force switches between Ron and Kobe, Kobe used the same technique of bumping Pierce above the foul line and then leaning on him to make his patented fade away come up short. The defense by the Lakers bigs was just as great, though. I already mentioned the job the bigs did in helping on the C’s baseline screens, but any time a Celtic got into the paint, Bynum, Gasol, and Odom were there to contest and alter the look.

But where the Lakers really did their damage was on offense. Typically, when facing the Celtics, a team will struggle to score and have to grind out the win with defense. Tonight though, the Lakers again showed that when they really want to lock in on offense they can get good looks and force even the best defenses into positions where they’ll struggle to get stops.

Starting in the 3rd quarter the Lakers simply started to space the floor better and it led to type of offense that I think we’ve all been waiting to see. Good passes, solid screens, excellent off ball work, and quick decisions conspired to make the Celtics’ D look beyond mortal. Best yet, it was the little wrinkles and the subtleties to their actions that really made the offense hum.  A weak side post up at the elbow yielded a turn around jumper for Kobe. On the next possession the Lakers ran the same action and got the same results. Two possessions later Kobe worked on the strong side of the offense, drove baseline, drew three defenders and then dropped a perfect pass to a diving Gasol for a lay in. And then, with a minute left in the game, Kobe called his own number again with an isolation at the top of the circle breaking down Ray Allen with a beautiful between the legs crossover that led to another elbow jumper that ultimately sealed the game. For those that are counting at home Kobe poured in 8 of the Lakers last 10 points and the two he didn’t score he assisted on.

But the best part was that none of it was forced. The Lakers took the ball out of Kobe’s hands, planted him on the weak side and made the Celtics choose. They could play their strong side scheme straight up and focus mostly on containing the ball or they could shift towards Kobe on the opposite side and have to deal with the strong side actions of the Triangle. The best action that the Lakers incorporated in the above sequence of Kobe’s shots was when Pau and Kobe set up on the weak side of the floor and ran a simple down screen action while Odom handled the ball up high with Fisher and Ron flanking him on the strong side. With Odom making a three pointer earlier the quarter he was a serious threat and with Ron and Fish executing cuts to occupy their defenders, Kobe and Pau’s two man game got #24 the most open jumper he’d take the entire night. So simple, yet so deadly. Especially to a team that wants to swarm the ball handler and focus on limiting penetration, but how do you account for a team’s two best offensive threats playing off the ball?

In the end, this was a win we all wanted and are very happy to have gotten. And while the nuance and execution exhibited on both sides of the ball was great to see, I was most pleased with the Lakers ability to dial in and focus in the 2nd half. This game looked like it was going to get away from the Lakers early, but instead they stayed poised and aggressive playing smart basketball and got the victory. After the first quarter the Lakers had an offensive efficiency of 114.3 and held the Celtics to a rating of 93.7 on the other end. Being able to turn their games around to reach those marks is pretty impressive. Especially in a big game against a tough team on the road. Regardless of who suited up (and to be fair, the C’s were missing several reserves and Nate Robinson left the game with an injury as well), this game mattered to both sides and the Lakers took it. Here’s hoping they ride this emotion into New York tomorrow to pull out another.

Darius Soriano

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28 responses to Lakers/Celtics: Lakers Use Their Heads, Outthink C’s Down The Stretch

  1. If KG is the toughest cat in the league. Why doesn’t he ever guard the center? Half the night big baby was on Gasol or Bynum (whoever was center at the time). Is mr tough guy too skinny to guard the bigs?

  2. The Lakers got themselves together during the course of the game, and ran their offense to perfection as you described Darius, which resulted in a great win against the C’s. Maybe we needed those losses earlier on to straighten this group out. They have not lost a game yet this road trip, a good way to start off, huh?

    “We all have a few failures under our belt. It’s what makes us ready for the successes.” – Randy K. Milholland

  3. I don’t know if you reply to comments, but I would like your analysis on Bynum tonight, and in general I guess. In the fourth quarter of both Celtic’s games he had Davis guarding him for a stretch of five to six minutes and he failed to take advantage of it. And maybe I’m to picky (he did have a solid game), I think if he would be more assertive on the glass and get position instead of relying on his length, he could be averaging 12 boards or more in his 25 min. a game.

  4. 1,
    Wow… Easy there… That was my line for the last three years. Thank goodness you didn’t use your name or my lawyer would be sending you some papers. The truth is that KG who is the same length and size as Gasol is a PF and isn’t a Center. Fortunately for his team he has had coaches and GMs that understand that. KG doesn’t spend one moment at Center. Even with two Boston Centers out big baby takes on the Center duties to back up Perkins. I don’t look down on KG for that… I look down at Mitch and Phil for putting Pau out of position and in a position to look week and soft. Forget about saving face… It’s just bad for the team. Our best line ups the past three seasons have had Gasol at PF. Having said that… It isn’t easy to bring in a quality back up Center.

  5. Anti-Abbott-Dwyer February 11, 2011 at 12:37 am

    Kobe is way overrated.20 points in a half?Defense on Rondo?He should leave NBA and go to China..

  6. I’m living in India right now, so I haven’t gotten to watch a lot of games due to timezone issues. This one, however, was worth missing some work for…

    My favorite moment was Kobe’s final jumper to seal it with under a minute to go (props to Odom for that tough O rebound to keep the possession going). The camera zoomed on his face just in time to see him smile and shake off Gasol’s offer of a pick – “don’t worry, I got this.” Then, you knew what was coming. Crossover. Jumper. Ball game.

    Best way to start the day

  7. Great recap. I’ve felt like Phil’s been a bit more focussed on retirement than getting his players into a strategy recently (whether he’s been trying and they just haven’t done it I don’t know). Tonight’s plan had all sorts of excellent wrinkles on the weak side as you pointed out, will definitely give the C’s something to think about if the rematch comes in the finals.

  8. enjoy it while you can dorks

  9. 7 – We’ve been enjoying it the last two seaons and we will continue to enjoy this season and the next. I hope your little leprechauns have enough in the tank to meet the Lakers in the Finals this year because this will be the last chance for them before Lebron and Wade bitchslap you silly year after year. LOL!

  10. I’m 30 years old. I figure with good health I will have approximately 50 or 60 more years of watching basketball. If I want to maintain my good health, I really should skip these Lakers/Celtics matchups.

    I get so worked up over this matchup, it seems so silly after the game, but I just can’t help myself during the contest. :(

    I’m completely emotionally drained now, but at least we came out with the win. :D

  11. so there you go kobe critics….a spectacular performance of number 24 that lead our team to defeat the celts. go lakers!!!

  12. Excellent victory where the Lakers demonstrated the full spectrum of their game. It’s just a matter of them being motivated in bringing their A-game every night. Hopefully this puts a rest to why Melo isn’t a good fit in the big picture.

    JLV

  13. As always,the key is Kobe’s excellent command of attracting double-triple teams and him being in action around 38-40 mins.
    Cheers!

  14. Last time these two teams met I said that the outcome of the game made me frustrated but today its the reverse and I am JUBILANT!!! With those 4 made baskets and 1 assist in the winning stretch of the 4th quarter I would say that Kobe is indeed unclutch!!!

  15. Great recap Darius, I was definitely pleased to see Kobe play off the ball and not dominate possesions by dribbling to the end of nowhere. It makes the offense less predictable and gets the players on the court involved(not standing around watching waiting on a miracle from Mr. Bean).

    This road trip LA has shown signs of improving closing games out either with timely shots or good defensive stops when needed. That is a very good sight to see after struggling to find their way through close games in the past.

  16. By the way, this Road trip reminds of the same road trip in 2009 & 2010 where the lakers went 6-1 and eventually turned things around and won the title. I am hoping this trip would be more of a same and have a de javu of some sort that would lead to the same result.

  17. I think this was a really important game for the Lakers. They needed a win like this. Perhaps this road trip will help them flip the switch, so to speak. It was great to see them come back from 15 down. It was great to see them close out at the end.

    At the same time, I don’t think Boston needed this game. They have their signature wins. So, as always, not going to read too much into this.

    With that said, beating Boston feels awesome.

  18. It was nice to see Denver/Afflalo take out Dallas too.

  19. Boston media already pulling a Doc-ism, saying the Celts were short-handed due to injuries. True, but didn’t the entire starting lineup play last night? For those of us keeping track, we are amending the Doc-ism to include the following rider: “when we have our starting five, and our entire bench, plus our full complement of training staff and concession workers are healthy, we do not lose to the Lakers.”

    My thoughts on yesterday night’s game before tip-off.

    If the Lakers lose tonight by being yellow, time to go get ourselves Carmelo. If Lakers win with Bynum tonight and defend our crown, go ahead and flush the Melo down.

    Suffice it to say, Melo has been flushed.

  20. One reason I think Miami will beat Boston in the playoffs is because the Celtics offense can easily bog down, specifically because when your starting PG can’t hit an open 15 footer it allows the other teams guard to play rover like Kobe does with Rondo.
    Miami will employ that exact same tactic using Wade, which will conserve a lot of his energy for offense, and you know Miami will be able to score against Boston since both Wade and Lebron did that last year when basically playing by themselves.

  21. I felt like the key was the defense on Rondo. The Celtics’ offense gets bogged down if Rondo is unable to penetrate. As they did in the fourth quarter, when he’s ineffective, they take the ball out of his hands and go to pretty standard screen-rolls involving Pierce, Allen and their bigs, and lose most of the wide open shots Rondo typically creates. This is exactly what you want as a defense. Why the Lakers (or any team) ever play Rondo tight is beyond me. The guy can’t shoot a lick.

  22. DY @ 19 – “when we have our starting five, and our entire bench, plus our full complement of training staff and concession workers are healthy, we do not lose to the Lakers.”

    Not enough. Two additional conditions would still be required: Use of a time machine to obtain KG and Shaq each in their MVP seasons.

  23. Can you imagine what you would think if someone told you in 2001 that Shaq, KG, Jermaine O’Neal, and Ray Allen would be on the same team? And that Pierce was actually going to evolve into a legitimate star and lead that team? O_O

  24. Maybe they need Leon Powe back.

  25. I wonder if the Heat can get past the Celtics in a seven game series.

    One of the Celtics great strengths is how absolutely dirty they play. They maul teams, small bit by small bit, tiny bruise by tiny bruise.

    Last year we saw LeBron wither underneath that constant bullying, and I cannot imagine that it will be different this year.

    Still, a final four of Orlando, Chicago, Miami, and Boston in the Eastern Conference seems to be a fairly good bet. And then it becomes all about match-ups, and who is healthy or not.

  26. Celtics still cannot complain so much as we don’t have the Blazers injury issues, they have no excuses neither should we, it explains some things but we had chances to win. Props to the Lakers for taking care of business but this win means little in the grand scheme of another rematch in June much as our win 10 days ago did. with Kobe getting to chill most of the game then close out (the ideal game scenario for the lakers in every big game) perfect scenario for you to win and you took care of business props to you for that, but ultimately with just about all our rotation players outside of our starting five (note rotation players are those who play regular minutes) not playing, Ray in foul trouble, Pierce with the flu you as the defending champs coming into hostile territory with a huge chip on your shoulder you better have won, the fact it was not this overwhelming dominant win, might should give you pause. I look forward to a good rematch in June provided we take care of the Heatles and you the Spurs until then cheers and congrats on the win.

  27. Bynum had a stretch before the fourth quarter when he was in the game and kobe and gasol were on the bench. we basically ran the offense through him and he couldn’t score and he looked very tired. the average fan won’t see this but I hope those moments are a reflection of kobe’s greatness and ability to carry the team through those stretches and Bynum is always hoping for more touches but that was a classic example of why he is not ready. Did you see what I saw….? by the end of that stretch he couldn’t even breathe.

  28. I can’t believe all the bynum hate going on. He is the toughest laker on the team. He is the best defensive threat. He soak up rebounds. To boot, he is pretty damn good on offense and seems to be maturing. Without bynum, this team simply can’t win a championship. Just compare ’08 to the last two years. Even a not fully healthy bynum is a difference maker.