LOS ANGELES, CA - JUNE 03: Kobe Bryant #24 of the Los Angeles Lakers puts a shot up over Kendrick Perkins #43 of the Boston Celtics in Game One of the 2010 NBA Finals at Staples Center on June 3, 2010 in Los Angeles, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
Forgive me for my mistake, but it's a reasonable mistake to make, considering that some, particularly over at CelticsBlog, are referring to this game as an effective Game 7. But, what's intriguing, is that there are legitimate points to reinforce that contention as viable. Firstly, with the 2-3-2 home/away format of the NBA Finals, considering how difficult it is for the home team in Games 3-through-5 to win three in a row, if they don't steal a game within the first two, the series is generally over in 5 or 6. Secondly, with the manner in which Boston lost Game One, unless they can put on a dominating performance tonight, many will start writing them off (unfairly, most likely).
And third, rest assured the Celtics know about points one and two, and therefore they will definitely try to come out and play as if it's a Game 7. If the Lakers can beat them while they are doing so, the series is in Los Angeles' hands - unless the Lakers let up after that, they can't lose. Some may contend that playing at home would energise them further, but Boston has been a better road than home team all through the season; the only component of playing at home that would aid them would be friendly whistles and a high free-throw differential, which the Lakers have been playing through all season, particularly in the Playoffs (even in Game One, Boston had more free throws than us, on our home floor).
Of course, some may say that the series is already over, is Phil Jackson-coached teams are 47-0 in series where they win Game One, but that banks primarily on the notion that winning Game One either secures or steals home-court, but against this Celtics team home court means little as they perform better on the road than at home and already have knocked out both the Cleveland Cavaliers and Orlando Magic at home.
What makes this game key for the Celtics is that a 2-0 hole is not somewhere any team wants to be, and their manner of loss in Game One was embarrassing. What makes this game key for Los Angeles, however, is precisely that the game is key for Boston. Simply, the mentality required is 'Oh, you want this, Boston? Well, fuck you, we're taking it!' Taking this game in either a dominating or heartbreaking fashion, provided Boston provides full effort, will deliver a crippling blow to Celtic morale. And, if Boston doesn't provide full effort, serious questions need to be asked about their mental fortitude.
This game will likely display Boston hitting LA with everything they have, and if instead of sending LA reeling, they get destroyed by Los Angeles' counter-attack, serious worry will permeate through Celtic nation. So, quite simply, if Los Angeles wins this game, they prove they can beat Boston at their best, and thus scare Boston shitless in doing so.
Adjustments for this game aren't numerous. Boston may attempt to play Paul Pierce on Kobe Bryant more in an attempt to stop Kobe from getting to the basket so easily, but then Pierce will be the one worrying about foul trouble, while Ron Artest teaches Ray Allen how Queensbridge rolls, down on the low block. Kevin Garnett is likely too prideful to allow Doc Rivers to send double-teams at Pau Gasol, but it might be a good avenue to exploit as Pau is simply too good now for anyone to single cover. If they double-team him, Pau either will dissect Boston with his passing, finding Drew for open dunks and the Laker perimeter players for open jump shots, or he may feel trapped and smothered and turn the ball over. That chance is probably Boston's only hope of stopping the Lakers points machine, at this point.
In 08, Boston doubled Kobe while using their intimidation to scare his teammates from diving to the basket, and fast rotations to close out on shooters. Now, the Lakers are far from scared of them (hell, 'Gar' seems scared of Lamar Odom), and Boston is primarily too old and slow to effectively rotate and close out fast enough to stop the Lakers perimeter players from either shooting the open jumper, or faking and driving.
Defensively, Boston simply doesn't have the intimidation factor required to scare LA, they don't have the quality of individual defenders required to shut down all of Los Angeles' perimeter threats, and they don't have the foot speed to effectively rotate fast enough to not get exploited. Unless Tom Thibodeau thinks up a miracle, and fast (bear in mind he's got other stuff to think about), Boston aren't going to be able to count on holding the Lakers under 95 or so.
Therefore, Boston needs their offense to step it up to have any hope of winning. The first order of business in doing so is to keep their key players out of foul trouble. Boston is not a good three-point shooting team, really. Their only truly consistent threats from deep are Ray Allen and Paul Pierce, both of whom are their primary hopes of slowing Kobe Bryant. If they get into foul trouble defending Kobe (or Ron Artest) and have to sit, Boston's only three-point shooters are Nate Robinson, who plays very limited minutes as playing him at 2-guard gives up too much size and playing him at point guard comes at the sacrifice of the offensive flow Rajon Rondo brings, and Rasheed Wallace, who is inconsistent from deep and a general basket-case.
Pierce and Allen's primary reserve is Tony Allen, who has no jump shot to speak of. When Tony Allen is out in the lineup instead of Ray Allen, as was the case for much of Game One, Boston has no spacing. Paul Pierce is needed with the ball often to help the offense run, and no-one else can shoot. When Tony Allen is on in place of Paul Pierce, the offense is shot anyway as Pierce is Boston's go-to guy in low-shot-clock situations.
Essentially, as long as Kobe is drawing fouls, Boston has problems producing points. How Boston is going to solve this issue remains to be seen - they could try a full-blown zone, a la Phoenix, or they could simply trust Paul Pierce to do a smarter job defending than Ray Allen did. They could even try Rondo's speed and quick hands on Kobe, but that's just begging for a Hakeem Olajuwon demonstration from Kobe - as SLAM Online's Marcel Mutoni said, "Rondo... is absolutely tiny. I’m about six-foot three, and when we crossed paths, I immediately felt like posting him up." Frankly, for Boston's offense to succeed, they have to find a way to defend Kobe effectively, and right now it's not looking good for them.
In 08, when Boston's offense was sputtering, Doc would draw up an iso for either Kevin Garnett or Paul Pierce to use to draw double-teams or score, breaking down the defense and forcing adjustments. These days, however, Pierce is being guarded by the city of Queensbridge instead of a lowly Space Cadet, and Kevin Garnett, as Pau so aptly put it, has 'lost a step' - not to mention he's apparently changed his name to 'Gar'.
Speaking of Pau's quote... it was blatantly taken out of context. Pau had been asked how both he and Kevin Garnett had changed since '08. Pau started by speaking of himself, and in doing so, stated that he himself was not as quick as he used to be, and while on that topic he made the comparison to KG, who he felt had also lost a step. Nonetheless, it doesn't matter what Pau said, KG is going to focus on the 'KG has lost a step' aspect of the quote the media is blowing up. In essence, KG vs. Pau is the very nature of this Game Two. Just like Boston, KG was embarrassed and surprised by this Laker squad. Just like Boston, he's going to do everything in his power to put Pau (and the Lakers) back in his place. But, the thing is, what Pau said was 100% true. KG HAS lost a step. Therefore, while KG may try to emasculate and humiliate Pau, his ability to do so at this stage in his career is debatable - just like Boston's ability to defeat the Lakers.
In an extension of this, as KG goes, Boston goes. There are so many reasons for this, but namely it's because KG is the heart and soul of this Boston team. Rondo may be what keeps it running, but without KG performing effectively, everything changes. Quite simply, Boston loses their edge. When KG is dunking, blocking shots, and screaming his ass off, Boston plays with confidence and intimidates their opponents. When KG is blowing easy dunks, getting screamed at by the supposedly 'soft' Pau Gasol, and recording only a single block all game, he looks like a sad arthritic old dog, and it demoralises their whole squad. If KG is not effective offensively, it makes it easier for Lakers bigs to help on drives by Rondo; and it also eliminates the need to double-team KG at all, therefore disallowing the Celtics' offense any flow. If KG is off on defense, a step slow to help and make rotations, it allows the Laker perimeter players to drive without fear. Perkins is not fast, neither is Sheed; Big Baby is relatively quick-footed but too short to be a shotblocking threat. Frankly, if KG can't block drives, no-one can for Boston; hence why Kobe, Shannon Brown and Jordan Farmar got to the rim with ease on Boston (well, Michael Finley helped). Plus, if KG continues to defend so poorly, Boston needs to double-team Pau Gasol, thus totally reversing roles from '08.
If KG has taken Pau's comments to heart, and successfully acts on those comments, we will have a series on our hands, ladies and gentlemen. If not... well, I'll be politically correct and just say 'Boston will need to worry'.
The Lakers don't have many adjustments to make. One thing to worry about defensively is Ray Allen - until he suffered from foul trouble, Derek Fisher was having trouble getting through Boston screens and thus Ray was getting open looks and drilling them. They were long twos, and thus not too efficient if relied upon for 48 minutes, but giving Ray Allen that much space is never a good thing.
Offensively, they need to watch turnovers. That was the sole reason their lead at the half was only 9. While they finished the game with only 12 turnovers, the majority of those came in the first half and showed how they could negatively impact us.
And then there's Lamar Odom. He needs to play better, full stop. I don't even remember his fouls, but offensively he was atrocious. He hung around passively on the perimeter, and did not once exploit his significant speed advantage that he had over every single Celtic big man, instead taking pull-up jumpers or passing off passively. He took 6 shots in 26 foul-plagued minutes, and 2 of them were pull-up threes. One third of his shots were threes (bad ones at that), and he's a power forward who's shooting 27% from deep for the Playoffs. He also only garnered 4 boards, a mediocre number for him, and had 2 turnovers in just 26 minutes, compared to 1 assist. On the court, he lacked any aggression whatsoever, seemingly lacking a presence of mind. Hell, at one point, after a bad call, he walked off angrily and Ron Artest, of all people, had to run over to calm him down. He needs to watch some tapes of '08 (or maybe this vid), and remember who the hell he's playing.
There's no knowing who's going to win this Game 2, but if Los Angeles wins, odds are they win it all. Still shit happens, and it's only one game (there's my politically-correct disclaimer for the day). In the end, Boston wants, even needs, this win, and thus the Lakers need to 'punch them in the neck (figuratively)' (thanks, Jeff Clark) them and pry it from their hands - preferably (emotionally) dead hands.