Archives For Finals 2010

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There is no bigger game than tonight.  A game 7 to decide the league champion?  Hated rivals slugging it out for the trophy?  I can’t think of a better way for this years Finals to be decided.  As a fan, I’m thrilled.  I’m also anxious as all get out with jitters being a too frequent companion to my day.  My 20oz Peet’s coffee isn’t helping any, but that’s beside the point.  Because the crux of the matter is that toninght we’ll find out if the Lakers can successfully defend their championship.  We’ve waited over a 100 games for this moment and it’s finally upon us.  Tonight is the night.

And as it’s been for the length of this hard fought series, the same keys to win remain.  Both teams are looking to control the glass.  Both teams want to execute their sets at a high level while minimizing turnovers.  Both teams will look to get into the open court in order to not be bogged down by the oppositions excellent half court defense.  Whoever does these things better for longer will win the game.  It will take effort, energy, discipline, and poise.  It will take each team’s best performance.  Ahh, a game 7.

However, there are now some tweaks to it all.  Tweaks necessitated by injury.  As it was reported yesterday, the C’s will be without the services of their starting Center, Kendrick Perkins.  This means that either Rasheed or Big Baby will get the starting nod from coach Doc Rivers.  ‘Sheed has already said to reporters that it will be him that starts, while Rivers remains non-commital.  Either way, the plan changes some.  If ‘Sheed gets the start, the Lakers must be aware that some aspects of the Celtic’s offense changes.  The baseline screen actions for Ray Allen will still play a prominent role in their sets, but we’ll also see a heavier does of high P&R’s.  I’ll let Zephid explain:

The Sheed-Pierce or Sheed-Allen PNR are the plays to watch for. We can live with the KG-Pierce or KG-Allen PNR’s, because we generally force those shots to go to KG for open twos. But with Sheed, those open twos become open threes. Like I’ve said continuously, we can live with the open twos. It’s the open threes that we can’t give up, because our team just can’t make up the deficit. It’ll be on Gasol and Odom to hedge and recover quickly onto Sheed to cut off the three. How well the Lakers cover that play could be the deciding factor of this game.

Zephid is correct in that giving up open three balls to Wallace is a potentially dangerous thing this evening.  He went oh-fer in game 6, but he’s hit some big shots in his career and in this series.  In order to effectively cover this play, the Lakers need to rotate well and make Wallace make the extra pass or put the ball on the floor.  This can be done in two ways.  First is for the other big man that’s defending the paint to leave his man to rotate to Wallace.  This option is the one most teams use because he’s the man that is in the best position to slide up the lane to the top of the key to contest the shot.  This also keeps match ups in tact as it’s essentially a big man switch with the hedge man in our P&R defense recovering back to the paint to cover the vacated offensive player.  Option two is to have Kobe roam off of Rondo and pick up Rasheed until the hedge man can recover.  This is the option that the Lakers deployed in game 6 on every high P&R between Pierce and KG.  Kobe’s ability to both cover the popping big man and then recover to Rondo is what made the Lakers P&R defense hum.  I’m not sure which option will be employed, but both need to be executed cleanly and without hesitation in order to not give up open jumpers.

Perkins being out also affects the the Celtics defense against the Lakers offense.  Perk is Boston’s best low post defender (though ‘Sheed is close – although foul prone) and missing him means the Lakers have more of an advantage inside.  However, I actually don’t see this affecting the Lakers sets that much.  In game 6, what worked the best was Kobe and Pau working from the elbows and mid/low post to get good shots for themselves while also picking out cutters from the weak side Triangle actions.  I expect to see this same plan tonight until the C’s prove that they can limit the effectiveness of this set.  I also expect to see a bit more P&R (another set the Lakers ran well in game 6) – especially when Wallace is in the game.   ‘Sheed is still a very good post defender, but he’s lost some of his foot speed and may have trouble containing Kobe as he turns the corner.  If Kobe can make Wallace defend him for just that extra second, it will open up the roll man on his dive while also compromising the C’s help schemes on the weak side.

Another tweak we may see is the Celtics going small.  In his press conference yesterday, Doc Rivers mentioned that it’s a strong possibility the C’s will be forced to use line ups in this series that we’ve yet to see.  And considering we’ve already seen Shelden Williams (who, if I were Doc we wouldn’t see again) I think this statement points us in the direction of the C’s using a line up with KG (or ‘Sheed) at Center with either Tony Allen or Paul Pierce at PF.  This line up gives Boston a speed and quickness component while also keeping good defensive players on the floor.  This line up also gives Doc a chance to use Tony Allen more – the player that just so happens to be their best option for defending Kobe.  And while I see this as a unit that can potentially give the Lakers issues, I think this is also a line up that can be exploited on the back boards while also allowing the Lakers to further shrink the floor as Tony is a perimeter player that has struggled with his jumper.  I think the counter to any such unit is to continue to pound the ball into the post to Pau while having the rest of the Lakers players (including Kobe and LO) work off the ball by flashing into to space as Pau surveys the floor.

All that said, this game is about more than just the X’s and O’s, energy, and determination needed to get the win.  Sure, these thing matter in how the win is earned, but the game itself is transcends just a single contest.  This game is symbolic.  This game is about history.  It’s about legacies.  It’s about a rivalry renewed and the highest stakes possible.  The fans know this.  The players and coaches understand this too.  There is just so much on the line for all the parties involved.  Legacy is big word and involves careers and not just single contests.   But it’s in games like that help define players legacies.  And on that note, I give a word to one of my favorite FB&G’ers – Dex:

A Game Seven at home against the Celtics seems as good a way as any for Kobe Bean Bryant to seal the deal he made with Hermes some twenty-nine years ago, and finally take his place among the immortals. The fact that he already is immortal doesn’t change anything; he needs this win: the setting is too perfect, as if conceived of a divine dramatist just for him. But it isn’t only that he’ll avenge a bitter loss, and lead the fight against a hated foe, and claim his fifth ring (one shy of the master)–these things loom large, but it’s a story’s subtleties that round it out and deepen it and humanize it–that make or break the play. Kobe is Dostoevsky to Jordan’s Tolstoy, his fanaticism and genius are so personal that an observer is often as embarrassed as he is moved. His devotion to his art borders on the incredible, but his epics aren’t effortless. Of course no great epic is, but some poets hide it better than others. Kobe isn’t one of these. Poets of redemption wear their hearts on their sleeves, and the heart is a bloody organ. This year especially shines with the light of the redeemed. Ron Artest, for example–the madman; the f***-up; the bad joke of the league–redeemed. Gasol the soft; Fisher the fossil; the Odom who’s still on probation–redeemed. Look toward Kobe Bryant for their new illumination. And look toward him tonight, as he plays the game he was born to play, in the game he was born to win–Acta est fabula; plaudite!

And on that note, let’s get this win.  And remember too, there is no better time to be a fan than tonight.  Enjoy this moment.  Savor it.  We’ve talked about the journey to this point the entire season and we’re finally here as fans, rooting for the Lakers to claim the title.  I know it’s tense and that the stakes are so high it’s almost unbearable.  But, take that deep breath and then soak it all in.  These opportunities are rare.  We need to cherish them.  Win #16 of this post season and title #16 for the Lakers are 48 minutes of basketball away.  Let’s get it done.

Getting To Game 7

Darius Soriano —  June 17, 2010

Around the end of the third quarter of the Lakers’ decisive Game 6 victory over the Celtics, I began to do what any self-respecting die-hard L.A. fan would do with their team facing Game 7 against the Celtics –  immediately look around my home for things to sell to get me in the door for today’s showdown. To the lucky 18,997 fans who lied, cheated, stole, bribed or otherwise maneuvered their way into what is arguably the most epic Southern California sporting event of the past decade, I say this: enjoy, savor, cherish this moment. Win or lose (especially, win), attending a Game 7 in-person against your archrival is the very reason the term “once-in-a-lifetime” was invented.

This isn’t Game 7 against Indiana, Philadelphia, New Jersey, Detroit or Orlando. These are the Boston Celtics and it means so much more. The coaches know it. The players know it. And, most importantly, Kobe knows it.

“I look back years from now or even when I was a kid, you talk about being in this situation, I’d be really excited,” said Kobe about what makes a Game 7 so unique. “But when I’m in the moment right now, I’ve got to play. I’ve got to focus on that. I can’t focus on the hype about it.”

Since Tuesday, I’ve tried my personal best not to add to the hype, but all it took was one SportsCenter Finals montage to know it was a losing battle. When some of the NBA’s all-time greats like Magic Johnson announce that even they’re ready to hit the floor and duke it out, you know you’re about to witness something special. The beauty of being a fan is that we get to soak up the emotion just as much as the players on the court, without worrying that we’re going air ball a three or otherwise wilt under the pressure.

As fans, we also get to hypothesize on the significance of this game and how 48 minutes (maybe more if we’re really lucky) of basketball has the power to shape an entire generation of players and one very prominent coach. It’s been written and talked about ad nauseum by now, but Kobe’s legacy likely hangs in the balance with Game 7. While his newly signed contract extension means the forum blue and gold will remain an elite team for at least the next two to three years, a Game 7 failure against the Celtics is the kind of thing that could stay with him for the rest of his career; the type of annoying asterisk that won’t show up in the record books, but everyone knows it’s there. It goes without saying, but if tonight’s game is close down the stretch and Bryant plays a major role in a Lakers win, his legend will reach a level that we haven’t seen in the NBA since His Airness retired.

Kobe’s not the only player whose lasting image will be shaped as the supporting players on both sides have a lot on the line too. If Pau Gasol shows up big in Game 7, he may as well hang his own jersey from the STAPLES Center rafters. A title for Ron Artest and another Game 6-type performance would go a long way toward removing the stigma surrounding a player who is undoubtedly one of the best wing defenders this league has ever seen. Lamar Odom can also cement his place in Lakers history as a super-sub with a strong Game 7. Even Andrew Bynum, one leg and all, has the ability to change perceptions with a gutty showing. Phil Jackson’s coaching future will also almost certainly be impacted by the outcome of Game 7.  

As of Thursday morning, a single upper deck ticket was still going for somewhere north of $550 on most after-market ticket sites. Too much to watch the Lakers win it all or is this moment “priceless,” just like the MasterCard commercials say?  Maybe tonight’s game 7 isn’t quite “life or death” as Kobe suggested, but it’s about the closest thing to it. For the privileged few inside STAPLES Center – yell with all your heart; millions of Lakers fans will live vicariously through you.

-Jeff Skibiski

June 15, 2010 - Los Angeles, CALIFORNIA, UNITED STATES - epa02204313 Los Angeles Lakers' Kobe Bryant against the Boston Celtics during the second half of game six of the NBA Finals at Staples Center in Los Angeles, California, USA, 15 June 2010. The Celtics lead the series 3-2.


From Henry Abbott, TrueHoop: The Lakers have an opportunity to prove, on Thursday, that they are the best team in the world. They are favored to do so. And if you listen to the coaching staff, they will be uniquely prepared to do so thanks to the team’s carefully cultivated meditation habits. The Laker coaching staff is focused on relaxing the players, even though one of the most consistent critiques of the team has been their occasional non-chalance. There is barely ever even the slightest shred of desperation about how they carry themselves. Not much in the way of screaming coaches or players flying off the handle. Bobby Knight is not about to walk through that door. When they lose, fans find it frustrating how the team never seems to get a quick pulse.

From Kevin Arnovitz, TrueHoop: How exceptional was the Lakers’ defensive performance on Tuesday night? The Celtics were posted an offensive rating of 77.1 points per 100 possessions — anything under 80 is pretty rare. To measure how rare, I got in touch with Neil Paine of Basketball Reference to help put Game 6 into perspective. 1,311 regular season and postseason NBA games have been played in 2009-10. On only 14 occasions has a team failed to cross the 80 points/100 possessions threshold (0.5 percent of the time).

From Kurt Helin, Pro Basketball Talk: It’s never going to be the same again. This era of the Boston Celtics — The Big Three era — comes to an end tonight. Win or lose. Things will be changing in Boston, evolving. When the Celtics went out and got Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen to join Paul Pierce, everyone knew this era would be pretty short. Looks like about three years. Ray Allen is a free agent at the end of the season. Boston GM Danny Ainge considered trading him at the deadline, and at 34 you can seriously question how long a deal he should get now. He’s had a good finals, however, and based on that somebody is going to overpay. It happens every time.

From C.A. Clark, Silver Screen and Roll: That’s the 2010 NBA Finals in a nutshell. There is no valid set of rules that explains the events we’ve seen so far. There is no spoon.   No matter how this series ends up, the “impossible” has already happened. Phil Jackson is currently 47-0 when his team wins the first game of a playoff series. The past 10 times an NBA Finals has been tied 1-1, the team that has won Game Three has won the series. And yet, the Celtics have never lost a Game Seven in the NBA Finals, having won seven times under those circumstances. A team has won the last two games after facing a 3-2 deficit only twice in the last 25 years. Of course, one of those teams just happened to be the Lakers. Improbable is a better word than impossible to describe these feats, as they are all stats that had to be disproven eventually. But at some point along the roller coaster that has been this series, it has been improbable that either team would win, based upon the analysis and historical data available at the time. Now, one team has to win.

From Kelly Dwyer, Ball Don’t Lie: Doc Rivers seems particularly upbeat and not a brand of nervous energy, it should be pointed out, as his Celtics take to Thursday’s Game 7. This could be because he’s about to set his little soldiers free, once the whistle blows Thursday night. “I’ve always thought,” Rivers said during Wednesday’s media availability session, that “Game 7 is the ultimate player game. It’s the game that all the things you’ve worked on all year, you have to do it and execute it and trust and play. You know, there’s going to come a time maybe where a timeout is important and an adjustment may be important.” Beyond that, though, the win or loss is on the players. No pixie dust here, either, Rivers pointed out.

From Brian Kamenetzky, Land O’ Lakers: No kid stands in his driveway, counting down the seconds before he fires the jumper at the buzzer to win Game 3 of the Western Conference quarterfinals. It’s always Game 7 of the NBA Finals.  Thursday’s game is, by definition, different than any other, even before getting into the whole Lakers vs. Celtics thing. Add that in, and the magnitude of the moment grows even more. To say the observing classes- meaning fans and media- are hyper-aware of it all is a shocking exercise in understatement.  Not surprisingly, Kobe Bryant downplayed the significance. “I don’t worry about it too much. I just go out there and play hard. I play hard all the time, so I don’t need to do anything different for Game 7.”

From Daniel Buerge, Lakers Nation: It is almost fitting that we’re where we are now. One game for all the marbles. One game for all the glory. In the NBA’s most storied rivalry it is only fair that we get a Game 7 to decide the latest chapter in this epic saga. While the 2010 NBA season will end tomorrow night, the effects from the final game will be felt for years. When you really consider just what is at stake for both these teams, it is very overwhelming. Countless legacies will be cemented while others break down, legends may be born while goats will live in infamy. For the Lakers, there have been 104 games played in the 2010 season. There have been times when they were destined to repeat, and times where they were doomed to fail. However, none of that matters anymore because the focus now is on one final game.


From Kevin Ding, Orange County Register: The one other time in the past 16 years there was a Game 7 in the NBA Finals – another Thursday night, but five years ago – Phil Jackson wasn’t watching. He did want to watch, which is why he had the TiVo set for when the Pistons and Spurs took the court. And he did have professional interest again, having just been re-introduced as the new old Lakers coach nine days earlier. But Jackson kept an appointment he’d set six weeks earlier to be a guest at a tiny high-school gathering of maybe 200 folks in Inglewood. The event was to celebrate the book a group of Animo Inglewood Public Charter High School students – mentored by Jackson in a coaching hobby while he was unemployed – built around Jackson’s chosen theme of teamwork.

From Jeff Miller, Orange County Register: Kobe Bryant wants to win this NBA championship. Anyone who fails to realize that can’t read body language because, at this moment, Bryant’s body is using terms we simply aren’t permitted to use here. But Kobe Bryant doesn’t need to win this NBA championship. Not for any legacy, validation or argument about his greatness. Bryant’s legacy is as golden as the jersey he’ll be wearing in Game 7. He could retire during the national anthem Thursday and they’d still build him a statue outside Staples Center.

From Mike Bresnahan, Los Angeles Times: It’ll be a memorable night for the Lakers, for better or worse, with so many elements up for grabs, as if a Game 7 against the Boston Celtics needed to distinguish itself any further. If the Lakers beat their hated rivals Thursday at Staples Center, Kobe Bryant collects a fifth championship ring, tying Magic Johnson and moving within one of Michael Jordan. If Bryant can push them to one more victory, their 73rd and most important of the season, they’ll earn a 16th championship trophy, one fewer than Boston, and take some sting out of their painful Finals loss two years ago to the Celtics.

From K.C. Johnson, Chicago Tribune: Michael Jordan owns six NBA championship rings and his statue stands outside the United Center. Magic Johnson could carry his five rings past his statue outside the Staples Center if he chose to do so. Kobe Bryant doesn’t have a statue, which is why Thursday night’s Game 7 of the NBA Finals between his Lakers and archenemy Celtics is a prime opportunity for him to enhance his legacy further. Four NBA championships and a multitude of other team and individual honors has Bryant ticketed for eventual enshrinement in the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame, alongside greats such as Jordan and Johnson.


From Dr. Jack Ramsey, I’m impressed by the attitude of the Celtics. Even though they played a bad game on Tuesday and got beat statistically in every category, they remain confident. They turned the ball over, got outrebounded and didn’t shoot well, but they know if they come out and play their game on Thursday they can still be NBA champions. With Kendrick Perkins out because of his injury, it is going to be a little bit tougher for them, but I still heard a high level of confidence and togetherness from everyone I spoke to, from coach Doc Rivers down to all of the players. This is a Game 7 and you’re talking about only one game. Someone has to step up for Perkins. I think Rasheed Wallace has to be that guy. Rasheed at his best is a good post defender. He has good timing to block shots and really long arms. He has had flashes during this series where he has defended Pau Gasol and done a good job on him.

From Chris Brussard, It’s all so perfect. The historic franchises. The incomparable star power. The great competitiveness. With the LeBron Watch threatening to overshadow the NBA’s Main Event, David Stern received a gift from the heavens. Four likely Hall of Famers, two other All-Stars, the winningest clubs in the sport, the greatest coach in league history, one of the greatest coaches in today’s game and colorful supporting characters named Ron-Ron, Big Baby and Donkey, are set to clash in a Super Bowl/March Madness/winner-take-all-style Game 7, and no free-agent frenzy or coaching flirtation can compare.

From Howard Bryant, There are too many reasons to pinpoint exactly why the NBA season has come down to a single game for only the third time in the last 16 years. Among them are the Celtics’ no-shows in Games 1 and 6 of the Finals, which could cost them a title. The Lakers’ rise and fall in Game 4, a 96-89 loss, will not be forgotten, either, should the fourth-seeded Celtics win Game 7 in Los Angeles. Boston did that the last time these two teams played a deciding game there, also as the fourth-seeded East team in 1969. Depending on Thursday night’s outcome, certain individuals will either breathe a sigh of relief that his team picked him up when he was down, or carry for the summer and quite possibly the rest of his career the weight of not having it when the moments mattered most.

From Art Garcia, We’ve made it. The 2010 NBA Finals are going to the max, with the Los Angeles Lakers and Boston Celtics revving up for a what could be a Game 7 to remember. The deciding contest is Thursday night at Staples Center in Los Angeles. The league’s two premier franchises are no strangers to championship series going the distance. In the 12 Finals meetings between the Celtics and Lakers, this is the fifth to be decided in a winner-take-all game. Boston won the previous four in 1984, ’69, ’66 and ’62.

From David Aldridge, There are more and more sabermetricians who do work in the NBA, and much of it is good, but numbers don’t usually tell the story of the pro game. It has always been more art than science, more gut than rational, more jazz than classical. Improvisation is at the heart of the NBA; empiricism is a valuable concept, but still a far second in a sport where Knicks coach Red Holzman’s last-second play was called, famously, “What the (Bleep).” It is now Phil Jackson’s last-second play.

From Adrian Wojonarowski, Yahoo! Sports: These NBA Finals promised to be direct descendents of the most memorable in basketball history, the remaking and recasting of Chamberlain and Russell, Magic and Bird. History guaranteed an epic, but the present has delivered a choppy series long on blowouts and short on drama. There have been magnificent performances, genius talent, but ultimately this is a series searching to frame itself for the ages. These are a Finals desperate for a Game 7, and maybe now Kobe and Gasol, Pierce and Garnett, will transform a snarling, unkempt series into an epic.

[Note: I just received an e-mail from Eddie Maisonet of Ed The Sports Fan letting me know that he was on Homefield Sports (AM 1400 KKZZ in Ventura, CA.) talking about Game 7. You can listen to the show here.]

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Lots of topics to discuss going into tomorrow’s game 7, so why not cover a few in some fast break thoughts? 

* If you haven’t seen it already, check out the video below that Kevin Arnovitz put together for TrueHoop.  This is just fantastic video detail of how the Lakers defense (and some questionable decisions from the Celtics) led to the Lakers best defensive efficiency output of the season.  Great help and recovery, contested shots, and a true understanding of what the C’s were trying to do offensively with the appropriate defensive counter then put into action.  If the Lakers are to actually claim the championship on Thursday, they must understand that this same caliber of defense will be needed even if the results are exactly the same.  Because the C’s will watch this film and look for the holes in the Lakers rotations and what can be done in game 7 to out scheme what the Lakers have done here.  But if the Lakers play with as much energy and awareness, they’ll be fine.  So, bottle this up and bring to game 7, Lakers.

*Speaking of defense, the Lakers found a way to do a number on Rajon Rondo last night.  For the second time in three games, the Lakers found a way to force Rondo into a 5-15 night with limited effectiveness in the half court.  Over at NBA Playbook, Sebastian Pruiti has a great post up about what the Lakers did to Rondoand what counters the C’s can employ to avoid this outcome again that is a must read.  And make no mistake, the C’s are going to counter to try and get Rondo going.  An ineffectiveRondo greatly diminishes the Celtics’ offensive capabilities and makes it so Kobe can play the roamer role that he relishes in the half court.  A big story line of game 7 will be if Rondo can find a way to bust out and make the Lakers defensive strategy against him fail  Whether it’s through more cuts, quicker decisions, or just plain attacking more Rondo will have to change things up.  Because if he has another substandard night it will be an uphill climb for the C’s on Thursday.

*Another key for Thursday will be the relative health of both team’s starting Centers.  There are not yet any additional updates beyond what was discussed yesterday – Bynum will try to play after receiving treatment today(to what effectiveness is anyone’s guess) and we’re still awaiting news on the results of the MRI on Perkins’ knee “sprain”.  After the game, Perkins also said that he’d try to give it a go but there aren’t too many that think it will actually happen.  When we get more information, we’ll update this post.  However, regardless of the effectiveness of both bigs (lets say both play and both are limited to less than 15 minutes) I believe that Perkins’ injury is a major blow to the Celtics.  Perkins is that extra defender that does a good job on Gasol and he’s one of their best rebounders.  Plus, this puts ‘Sheedin a position where he must be active for long minutes (conditioning isn’t his strong suit) while also staying out of foul trouble (something that might be difficult considering he’s had at least 3 fouls in 5 of the six games while never playing more than 22 minutes – a game he tallied 5 fouls).  I’m not counting ‘Sheed out, but I will say that if it’s a limited Bynum + Pau/LO vs. a limited (or out entirely) Perkins + KG/’Sheed/Davis, I like the Lakers front line more even though they’re the more shallow group.  Maybe that’s a homer’s approach, but that’s how I see it.  (On a side note, I feel bad for Perkins.  I hate to see injuries rob players of their chance to play, especially in games as big as these.  We saw this from a Lakers perspective with Bynum in 2008, so I can sympathise with what the C’s fans are going through and I wish Perkins nothing but the best.  He’s a great competitor, always plays hard, and never really gets enough credit for how much he does for the Celtics.)  UPDATE: Perkins has officially been ruled out by Doc Rivers.  Like I said earlier, I think this really hurts their team and puts the onus on their remaining big men to rebound and defend the paint for longer minutes than they’re accustomed to.  That said, ‘Sheed and Big Baby are tough competitors, so I’m sure they’ll be ready, but it will be tough.

*I know these stats from the past have little impact on the game being played on the floor, but game 7 will end multiple streaks on one side or the other.  From a “pro” Lakers side, we all know of Phil’s undefeated record when winning game 1 (which the Lakers did) and there’s also the undefeated record of game 3 winners in a tied series of a 2-3-2 format in the Finals (which the Lakers also won).  However from a “pro” Celtics side, the C’s have never lost an NBA Finals when leading 3-2 and they’ve also never lost a game 7 to the Lakers (4-0 all time).  So, take that history.  You’re going down tomorrow. (Hopefully it’s those Celtic streaks that are thrown in the gutter.)

*On a personal level, I can’t wait for this game.  I’ve lived through this rivalry from the early 80’s on to today and there’s no other team I’d rather the Lakers beat than the Celtics.  The ’85 and ’87 championships were two of the sweetest I’ve experienced as a fan and being able to potentially add 2010 to that list would be fantastic.  I mean, when FB&G asked commenters to talk about their favorite memories from the Lakers/Celtics rivalry, I wrote about my utter dislike of them:

I’ve loved all the triumphant moments, for sure. The baby hook, 1985, Magic’s off-balance/one legged/leaning left bank shot that won a game, etc, etc. But, and this may sound strange, the memories/moments that I love the most are the ones that keep me hating the Celtics…Every time I think of the McHale clothesline, every replay of Don Nelson hitting that high bouncing jumper off the back heel, every Celtic fan whining about how 1986 isn’t the same because of the Lakers “choke job” against Houston (when Sampson hit that totally lucky volleyball set looking jumper), every excuse about how in 1987 McHale had a broken foot and everyone was injured so that title is less than worthy, every mention of how we wouldn’t have won in 2008 even with Bynum/Ariza, all the lunacy about how in 2009 they would have won with a healthy KG, how they still have the lead with 17, all the BS about leprechauns and the ghost of Red, all the back and forth I have with my friends who follow that repugnant team….man, just writing that got me ready for the season to start. I really, really don’t like them and every memory that reinforces that is a good one. Those memories just fuel me to dislike them more and root against them harder and savor every victory over them like it’s the only thing that ever mattered.

Like I said, I’ll always love those epic moments where being a fan is rewarded with it’s best reward – the vanquishing of a true rival. But those moments would mean nothing without the hate. So, the memories I love the most are the ones that keep those feelings alive. Keep ‘em coming Celtics fans, you make us thrashing you that much sweeter.

So, all I’m asking for is one more sweet moment.  Game 7 is tomorrow and I’m not thinking of anything else besides a Lakers win.

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Before game 6 there was a nervousness amongst us fans; there was an anxiety.  I mean, you never quite know how a team is going to respond in an elimination game.  Were the Lakers going to be tight?  Maybe they’d be too excited?  In what was sure to be an emotion filled game, would the Lakers be able to channel their those emotions into positive play?  I don’t think anyone was sure.  Well, after the Lakers beat the Celtics 89-67, I think we found out.  The Lakers weren’t tight.  They were ready.  Ready to compete; ready to give their all to ensure that there would not be any regrets.  Just as we asked before the contest, the Lakers left it all on the floor and gave 100% effort in trying to secure that fateful game 7.

And that was the story of this game.  The Lakers just had an….energy.  In an email to me after the game, Phillip described many of the ways that the Lakers’ energy helped carry them to this victory:

One of the main differences between Game 5 and Game 6 was the energy from the Lakers. They came out playing hard, and it carried throughout the course of the game. 48 minutes of energetic play from this Lakers team almost always leads to a win. They scrambled for all of the 50/50 balls, Jordan Farmar and Derek Fisher spent a considerable amount of time on the hardwood diving for loose balls, they actually boxed out – which led to a 52-39 rebound advantage. And as Games 1 through 5 went, the team that finished with more rebounds finished on top after the final buzzer sounded.

More importantly, the Lakers increased team effort made life much easier on Kobe Bryant. Getting some easy buckets early from offensive rebounds and steals got their collective confidence rising, which led to some shots going in for other guys. Lamar Odom was active, Jordan Farmar had some huge hustle plays, Shannon Brown put down a couple of building erupting dunks and the Kobe/Gasol contingent were able to have the games we’ve become accustomed to over the course of the past three years.

On top of their increased offensive efficiency because of increased activity, their defensive intensity was able to remain consistent for the full game. It was much easier for them to stay in tuned on the defensive end when they were feeling good about how they were operating offensively. This kind of effort would have been huge in both Games 4 and 5, but in this situation, it’s better late than never, and we have to be extremely happy with the overall team effort tonight.

And as Phillip mentioned, the energy really led to a much improved defense.  And what’s the motto?  That’s right, the Lakers will go as far as their defense will take them.  Tonight, the Lakers defense was dominant and it took them right to a blowout victory.  The Lakers showed much better discipline on that side of the ball – rotating well, contesting shots, and helping each other at every turn.  In the comments, Zephid made an excellent point about how the Lakers responded to a play that repeatedly killed them in game 5 – Paul Pierce’s elbow jumper:

The one play (the Lakers) completely took away was the Paul Pierce drive to the paint. When Pierce drove, Artest funneled him to Gasol who was waiting for him at the top of the key, forcing Pierce to go toward the corner instead of toward the rim. Then Gasol and Artest would form an aggressive double, cutting off the passing lanes to the paint and across the court. This left the only outlet pass to be back up the side, which was in turn cut off by Kobe, Fisher, and Farmar all on separate occasions, leading to easy baskets or free throws on the other end. Given that the Paul Pierce isolation is one of the Celtics key plays, taking it away really destroyed the effectiveness of their offense.

As Zephid mentioned, I think a lot of credit must go to Artest for his initial defense on Pierce.  Artest consistently forced Pierce to his left hand and used his reach and quick hands to disrupt his dribble and keep Pierce off balance.  Pierce never really looked comfortable and most of his looks at the hoop were either out of rhythm or forced when trying to find it.  But Ron’s defense was only was aspect of his good night.  Ron also found his groove on offense.  He made 6 of his 11 shots (including 3 of 6 from three point land), scoring 15 points and finding the rhythm that he denied Pierce for most of the evening.  After the game, Phil talked about how the Lakers tried to get Ron the ball in position where he didn’t have to make as many reads within the sets and could just concentrate on shooting the ball.

But it wasn’t only Ron that stepped up from a support role.  The Lakers bench – as a whole – really raised their respective games.  Phillip already mentioned the hustle plays from Farmar and the fantastic dunks from Shannon, but even though those were big plays their nights were more than just some highlights we’ll see tonight on Sports Center.  They played with a poise and confidence that had been missing for most of this series and they were a big difference.  And it wasn’t just those two.  Sasha also stepped up big in this game by making shots and defending with effort but without fouling.  I’m not saying these guys played perfect as there were still some forced passes, missed reads, and a couple of ill advised shots.  But when it was all said and done, the Lakers trio of back up guards gave them strong play in the biggest game of the season and they deserve some recognition for their strong play on both ends of the floor.

Also stepping up from his bench role was Odom.  He may have only finished with 8 points on 9 shots, but that familiar bounce to his step was back.  He was rebounding the ball (10 collected caroms total) and pushing the pace.  He was organizing the Lakers sets, directing traffic, and giving his bench mates an earful when they did something that wasn’t beneficial to the team.  Odom the leader of the second unit was back tonight and it was much needed considering the sputtering health of Andrew Bynum.  Because as big ‘Drew could only find enough strength in his balky knee to play 16 minutes, it was Odom that stepped up and filled in in the manner that we all expect from him.

But, those support players could only play the role that they did because of the leadership from Kobe and Pau.  The two Laker stars controlled this game fully and put their stamp on this contest from the opening tip.  Kobe especially was masterful, balancing his scoring and playmaking like he has for so many other games in these playoffs.  He ended the night with 26 points on 9-19 shooting while making all 7 of his free throws.  The Lakers made some beautiful tweaks to their offense by using Kobe more off the ball, running him off screens, and sending him to the low post more often.  By using him in this manner, the Lakers were able to maximize his energy used and make his life a lot easier on the offensive end by not forcing him to constantly work in isolation at the top of the key where he had to use his dribble to break down the entire Celtic defense on his own.  But, his game was so much more than his excellence on offense.  Again, I’ll let Zephid do the honors:

Kobe Bryant was a leader in all facets of this game. Whether it was ripping down rebounds, getting steals, pushing the ball in the open court, getting his teammates wide open shots, or hitting his patented impossible jumpers, Kobe was everywhere and doing everything.

And then there was Pau.  After an admittedly poor showing in game 5, the big Spaniard had a real bounce back game 6.  He was the best player in the paint on both ends of the floor and showed what he could do when put in better positions to succeed.  Working most of his night from the elbow, Gasol controlled the action as a true fulcrum to the Lakers sets.  He was equal parts scorer and passer racking up 19 points and 9 assists all while dealing with a variety of C’s defenders.  He also hit the boards hard securing 13 rebounds (5 offensive) to leave him only 1 assist shy of a triple double.  You combine that with his 3 blocks, 1 steal, and 2 turnovers (a fantastic number considering how often the Lakers ran their sets through him) and you could easily argue that he was the player of the game despite the tremendous game from Kobe.  Really, Gasol was that good.

In the end, this was just a great game from the Lakers.  Facing elimination, they had their best defensive performance of the playoffs and brought back a level of execution to their offense that’d been missing for the past 3 games.  But, there is no time to celebrate.  This game did not clinch a title, it only gave them the chance to fight another day.  So while we can celebrate this win, it – like 14 other wins these playoffs – are now in the past.  The goal is to get to 16 wins and all that should be on the mind of the Lakers is repeating this level of performance on Thursday.  Because this is the level of performance it will take to win the championship in game 7.  The Lakers will need the same energy, the same intensity, and the same level of execution.  They’ll need to navigate a sure to be better Boston team that will also be playing with their backs against the wall for their playoff lives and the chance to win the title that they too covet.  And while the injuries to Bynum and the freshly banged up Perkins (who, I did not mention “sprained” a knee – though it looked much worse than a sprain) will likely impact what both teams can do on Thursday, no excuses will be made and nothing will be held back.  On Thursday, the Lakers and the Celtics will play a gamee 7 for the NBA Championship and it’s surely to be epic.  I can’t wait.

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I think we all have a sense of nervousness tonight.  There’s just an anxiousness in the air.  Realistically, there are 20 (or more, even) different scenarios that can play out that determine who wins this game.  Running through some of them in my mind has been exhausting as I’ve been thinking of plays and counters and everything else…it’s been like 20 games of chess going on in my mind at the same time. 

But in the end, this is what it’s all about.  With the season on the line, the Lakers have the talent and they have the coaching.  They’re playing a top notch opponent that is seeking to reclaim the title that the Lakers currently own.  As a fan, these are the moments that I live for and I wouldn’t want it any other way than what we’ve got tonight: a home game for the Lakers to decide if their season stays alive.

Typically at this site we try to give you some X’s and O’s (and we still will a bit later), but I hope that through all the nervousness and anxiousness you find a way to enjoy tonight.  I understand it will be a lot easier with a strong Lakers performance that leads to a win and that fateful 7th game, but we’re now 100+ games into the season and through all the ups and downs they have their shot.  I know many fans ask for the title every year, but that’s unrealistic.  I think all we can really ask for is a chance.  Tonight the Lakers have it and I think it’s going to inspire them to play some very good basketball.

And good basketball for the Lakers starts on defense.  The Lakers need to play the stifling brand of defense that their opponent has been employing on them.  Game 5 was as good of an offensive game as the Celtics could have played as a group (individually they may have better efforts, but not as a group) and if the Lakers want to ensure there is not a repeat performance, they must step up their effort on that side of the ball and work harder.  Every rotation must be precise and every shot must be contested.  Every Laker should be looking to help and recover so as to not give up even a single open look.  Screens must be fought through and ball handlers must be pressured.  I wouldn’t mind seeing some traps, deflections, and some turnovers being forced either.  And as usual, defensive possessions don’t end with out rebounds.  Secure the ball and push it back the other way.

Offensively, we’ve discussed the Lakers switching up their attack in a way that they can find easier shots for themselves.  And I think there’s merit in trying some different things to try and accomplish that task.  But, whether it’s more P&R or better execution and commitment to the Triangle, the Lakers need to do every thing full speed but with a keen eye on executing every nuance of their attack.  If the Lakers go to a more P&R heavy attack, I’d like to see more weak side flashing that is synced up with the ball handler’s initial attempt to turn the corner.  And if the P&R is relied upon, I want to see the ball handler attack off the action and force the C’s big man to defend in space (something we have not seen since game 1). If the Lakers rely on a more Triangle heavy attack, then they need to explore more options within their sets and go more to the actions that are initiated at the elbow with Gasol and Kobe and then work hard off the ball to occupy Celtic defenders. By operating from the elbow (and with the weak side spacing in tact), Kobe and Pau can play some isolation ball and then more easily pick out teammates when the help arrives. But, in whatever attack the Lakers employ, Kobe and Pau’s brilliance will need to be on display. The Lakers will need their stars tonight.

And overall, the Lakers just need to play as hard and as smart as possible for the full 48 minutes.  Everything must be left on the floor.   Whether it’s securing that loose ball, taking that charge, or sprinting hard to fill a lane on offense or to get back on defense, the Lakers must do the little things tonight.  In essence, they need to make their own luck.  Every 50/50 ball must be theirs because they’ve willed themselves to it.  Every bounce that they need to go their way should break their way because they’ve fought to put themselves in position to get it.  Boston is the opponent that will try to make this moment be theirs, but the Lakers must take it for themselves.  The Lakers backs are against the wall and they’ve got to fight like it is. There’s no other way tonight.

Lastly, we all understand that the Lakers are on the brink of elimination; that the season can end tonight.  But, I’m not even thinking of that right now.  I’m 100% focussed on the win and the task at hand.  We’ll have plenty of time after the season is over to focus on the year as a whole and what was or was not accomplished.  But now is not that time.  To quote my favorite Laker ever, right now is winning time.  Go get it, Lakers. Game on.

June 13, 2010 - Boston, MASSACHUSETTS, UNITED STATES - epa02200823 Los Angeles Lakers guard Kobe Bryant looks on during the Boston Celtics 92-86 win over the Los Angeles Lakers in the NBA Finals Game Five at the TD Garden in Boston, Massachusetts, USA, 13 June 2010. The Boston Celtics lead the best of seven series 3-2.


From Kurt Helin, Pro Basketball Talk: Usually five games into an NBA finals, we have a pretty good idea who is going to get the finals MVP award. This finals? Good luck. You’d have an easier time naming all 11 starters on the Slovenian national soccer team. Really, the only consistently good player on both sides has been Kobe Bryant. The guy who tried to carry the Lakers to victory in Game 5 by himself during the third quarter. Win or lose, Kobe has been there, scoring 29 points or more in four of the five games. It has not always been efficient scoring, but he has been the one player who has attacked in each and every game.

From John Krolik, Pro Basketball Talk: Question: The classic Lakers chicken-or-egg question: Did Kobe Bryant take 15 more field goal attempts on Sunday because the Lakers had no other offensive activity, or did the Lakers have no other offensive activity because Kobe took 15 more field goals than anybody else? PBT’s answer: On Sunday, the Lakers’ lack of offense was definitely what forced Kobe into takeover mode. In the first half, when Kobe took 12 FGAs and accumulated all four of his assists, the Lakers managed to score 39 points. In the second half, when Kobe took 15 shots and made all seven of his free throws, the Lakers scored 47 points.

From Kelly Dwyer, Ball Don’t LieThis team’s back is against the wall. Los Angeles doesn’t have another loss to spare, if it wants to win a championship, and they have quite the task set out before them. Two wins in two games against a team that has won three of five against them over the last two weeks, a team that beat them in the 2008 NBA Finals, and a squad that more or less played them to a hilt during the regular season. If any team could pull off a Finals win, down 3-2, it’s these Lakers. But paper don’t play, and the defending champs still have to execute and follow through if it wants to win its latest ring.

From Kelly Dwyer, Ball Don’t Lie: The team has set the stage with hard work, execution, trust, and talent. And though the Celtics are just one win away from the team’s 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.

From Sebastian Pruiti, NBA Playbook: Kobe Bryant’s third quarter in game five was truly amazing to watch.  With that being said, I have to agree with Matt Moore who wrote at ProBasketballTalk that this run ruined any chance the Lakers had of winning.  They Lakers played their best basketball and were most competitive when they were passing the ball around and having contributions from all players.  However, where Moore blames Phil Jackson for this run (for essentially allowing Kobe to go off), I want to give the Celtics defense credit.

From Saurav A. Das, Silver Screen and Roll: “Listen, if you told me at the beginning of the year that we’ve got two games at home to win a championship, yeah, I’ll take that.” Those aren’t my words. Those are the words of one Kobe Bean Bryant, four-time champion, surefire Hall-of-Famer, 12-time All-Star, one of the greatest players to ever set foot on the hardwood and damn sure one of the most competitive. Is Kobe being passive in saying this? Hell no. In fact, he’s raising a good point. Ignore being on the brink of elimination for a second, and just think about this: we are two home games away from winning a championship. Ignore that if we lose even one game, we lose it all. If that happens, it happens, but thinking of it before that fact is just psychological strain.

From Mike Trudell, Basket Blog: As it turned out, the Lakers averaged 37 points in the lane in L.A. thanks largely to a powerful 48-point performance in Game 1’s 102-89 win, while Boston came in at 33 paint points on the other end. L.A.’s average might have been considerably higher had Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum not combined to take 25 free throws in Game 2, making 20, while Boston’s bigs attempted only nine foul shots. But in Beantown, it was an entirely different story, the Celtics averaging 50 points in the paint through three games, and L.A. only 34.7.


From Kevin Ding, Orange County Register: he wall their backs are up against would make anyone stand up and take notice, yet chills running up and down their spines are not what the Lakers are feeling. They see the light, the one that someone leaves on for you when you’re coming home. It feels good. “We’re in a good situation,” Pau Gasol said. “As tough as it is losing these last two games, we’re going to fight for a championship at home. We’re in a position that I think we would all be happy to be in at the beginning of the season.” It’s a curious position, for sure.

From Mike Bresnahan, Los Angeles Times: Uh-oh. It’s a Game 6 between the Lakers and Boston Celtics. Lakers fans hate to go there based on recent history, but it’s hard to avoid, seeing as how the teams have basically reverted to two years ago, when the Celtics’ physically charged 131-92 victory ended the NBA Finals and was either the best or worst game of 2008, depending on perspective. The Lakers returned home Monday afternoon, which might have been the best news for them on a designated travel day where no Lakers coaches or players spoke to the media.

From Baxter Holmes, Los Angeles Times: An NBA title is just 48 minutes away, a fact the Boston Celtics cannot deny. “The moment that is before us, it’s starting to rear its head in,” guard Ray Allen said. The Celtics, who lead the NBA Finals series three games to two, need to defeat the Lakers one more time, which can come Tuesday night or, if the series goes to a Game 7, on Thursday. But no matter what, it will have to happen on the road, at Staples Center. The Celtics are 1-7 in close-out road games in the playoffs over the last three seasons, and have lost two such games this season, in Miami and Orlando. In fact, the last time their starting five finished a road playoff series came in the 2008 Eastern Conference finals against Detroit.

From Elliot Teaford, Los Angeles Daily News: The Lakers’ task is simple. It’s not easy, of course, but it has been clarified thanks to their loss to the Celtics in Game 5 of the NBA Finals on Sunday in Boston. They simply cannot lose tonight in Game 6 if they expect to win their second consecutive championship. The Lakers cannot be outscored, outrebounded or outhustled. And if they win tonight, they have to do it all over again Thursday in Game 7. “I’m not very confident at all,” Kobe Bryant said Sunday. Then he laughed, indicating he was joking.


From Andy Kamenetzky, ESPN Los Angeles: With all those trailers run during the Los Angeles Lakers-Boston Celtics series, it’s hard to keep “The Karate Kid” out of your head these days. One of my favorite scenes in the original movie comes during the climactic tournament. Daniel LaRusso is in the trainer’s room suffering from an illegal kick to his knee. Despite the injury, he wants to keep fighting. Mr. Miyagi tells him it’s not necessary; his performance made it clear he could have won. He has nothing left to prove.

From Chris Broussard, One thing and one thing only should be on the Lakers’ minds Tuesday: winning Game 6. Don’t think about Game 7, about how hard it will be to beat Boston twice. Don’t think about history, about how a Finals loss to the hated Celtics would be worse than a loss to any other team. Don’t think about the potential death of your potential dynasty, about how Phil Jackson might coach his last game for the Lakers. Just think about avoiding elimination and leave the thoughts of what else is at stake to us. Because there is indeed a lot more than the 2010 NBA title on the line. First of all, there’s poor Ron Artest. He’s already destined to go down as a woeful underachiever.

From Fran Blinebury, f history, as it is often said, is a living, breathing entity, then that’s more than a half-century of a hot, ugly, gruesome past the Lakers can now feel panting on their necks. This is not just Paul Pierce slinging in elbow jumpers or Rajon Rondo hustling for offensive rebounds and converting put-back buckets. It is Don Nelson’s jumper kicking high off the back iron and falling straight down through the hoop and Sam Jones’ stumbling shot dancing around the rim as if it were a Tibetan prayer wheel before finding the bottom of the net.

From Art Garcia, We’ve all heard the stat: Phil Jackson is undefeated (47-0) in series when his teams win the first game. That run of playoff success is unmatched and, frankly, pretty awesome. Well, what about this stat? Jackson squads are 1-5 when trailing 3-2. History is going to give this week, as either the Ten Master keeps perfection alive or the Lakers fall by The Finals wayside. The defending champs return to Los Angeles after losing the last two in Boston, losing control of the series in the process. Jackson has always been the ultimate frontrunner, as that Game 1 stat illustrates. Jackson prefers to be ahead of the pack, and above the fray, watching as others respond and counter and adjust. Many accuse Jackson of being arrogant and condescending. Winners usually get that rap.

From Scoop Jackson, The question has hung over the series like the feel of seven Long Island Iced Teas the morning after: When is Kobe Bryant going to have a Kobe Bryant game? He finally had it in Game 5. And he left the TD Garden — and Boston — with nothing to show for it. Which begs the next question: Have we seen the Kobe Bryant yet that we all felt would be the difference in this series? Or better: Where’s that Kobe at?

Looking For Answers

Darius Soriano —  June 14, 2010

There’s an eerie familiarity to what’s currently happening in the NBA Finals.  Much like the 2008 match up between the Lakers and the Celtics, the Lakers look a bit befuddled on offense while their defense is coming up short at inopportune times.  Meanwhile, Boston’s defense is as smothering as ever and their offense is finding the cracks in the Lakers defensive schemes to score just enough points to keep the Lakers at arms length over the course of a game.  Things are not looking good for the Lakers and it’s now time for them to play their best game or suffer another Finals defeat at the hand of the Celtics.

Everywhere I look, people are searching for answers.  They want to know what adjustments can be made.  They want to know what secret play can be run.  They’re looking for that tweak to the Lakers’ schemes that will turn the series back in favor of the Lakers.  Well, everyone can stop looking – those things don’t exist. 

The Lakers are not going to change what they do.  They’re a Triangle team on offense and funnel you to the paint (to contest with their bigs) team on defense .  That’s what they’ve been all season and expecting them to come up with some sort of X’s and O’s elixir at this point in the season – when at the brink of elimination or on the verge of forcing a deciding game 7 – is not the way that basketball works.  At this point in the season, you go back to the fundamentals of your game and you do them better.

There is your answer.

The Lakers must get back to playing their brand of basketball; they must get back to the style that got them this far in the playoffs where they won 2 of the first 3 games of the Finals.

That means going back to the post and working the ball inside out.  This is easier said than done because of the way that the Celtics are muscling Gasol from the low block.  My answer to that is to fight harder for position and be patient when making post entries.  Work better passing angles and allow Gasol to get open.  And then after making the catch, Pau needs to play his game by attacking the rim when players crowd him and shooting his face up jumper when the defense plays off him.

The Lakers must also get back to cutting and screening off the ball after initial passes are made.  Too often in the past two games the Lakers have been jogging in their movements.  There has not been enough urgency in the Lakers movement off the ball and it’s led to the stagnant sets we’ve all witnessed in the past few games.  This has led to Kobe needing to have the ball in his hand entirely too often for the Lakers to end up with an even halfway decent look.  If the Lakers move better off the ball and create the separation need to make catches so they can either shoot or move the ball on again, the crispness to this offense will return.  This will help Kobe and Pau who all to often have been asked to create one on (more than) one and take to the teeth of a waiting Celtic defense.  If players are moving better off the ball, those help defenders are then occupied by the men they’re guarding or caught in a position of helping with not enough time to recover.

Defensively, the Lakers need to get back to pressuring the ball more.  The only Celtic that’s really feeling any sort of pressure when he’s handling the ball is Ray Allen.  The Lakers are chasing, bumping, and running at Ray every single time he even sees a sliver of daylight.  I can understand not using this approach on Rondo, but everyone else needs a defender glued to him.  That extra pressure will force turnovers and generate some open court opportunities.  Who here thinks Tony Allen is comfortable facing heavy ball pressure?  And if Artest is going to be guarding Pierce, he needs to stop respecting his first step as much, trust his help, and force Pierce to blow by him.  There can be no more uncontested shots and every player should be put in a position where they are looking to give the ball up because the pressure is so severe.

But in the end, everything must be done smarter and with that extra bit of effort.  Despite what some folks have said, the Lakers are playing hard.  What they have not been is effective.  And if they hope to become effective, they must continue to work hard but give that little bit more of themselves both physically and mentally.  This series is not over.  And if the Lakers hope to be able to say the same thing on Wednesday morning, they’ll have to understand that they only thing they can do is look in the mirror and bring everything they’ve got. 

So, this is a call to arms.  All hands on deck as the season lies in the balance.  There are no more excuses and no more games to fall back on.  And you know what? I’m confident that this team will get it done.  In the darkest moments, this team has responded.  They are the defending champion with a core of players that knows what it takes to get the job done.  In every instance over the past two seasons, this team has met these challenges with the victory that’s needed.  Tomorrow night is another one of those moments and I see them bringing their best.