The Los Angeles Lakers beat the Boston Celtics 87-81 last night.
After a 38-10 Celtics advantage at the free throw line in game 2, the Lakers shot 34 free throws to Boston’s 22 in game 3.
Coach Phil Jackson made a key adjustment by defending Rajon Rondo with Kobe Bryant to start the game. Not only did the adjustment eliminate Rondo’s penetration but it also created several “crossmatches” when the Celtics missed shots early. Rondo was forced to defend Bryant on the ensuing possessions and the tactic resulted in several easy baskets for Kobe.
Because Rajon’s jumpshot is suspect at best, Kobe was also free to roam the paint and create havoc with double-teams on Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce.
KG was 6-of-21 for 13 points. Pierce was 2-of-14 for 6 points. Neither player found their rhythm offensively.
The Lakers held the Celtics to 35% from the field by limiting penetration and lulling the Celtics into shooting from outside.
With Kobe finding the gaps and attacking the defense, the Lakers shot more free throws in the first 4 minutes than they did in the entire first half of game 2. LA shot 44% from the field but received little production from any starter not named Kobe.
Vladimir Radmonovic, Pau Gasol, Derek Fisher, and Lamar Odom combined to shoot 7-of-28 in game 3. The box score shows that Bryant only notched one assist in last night’s game. Part of that is a product of Bryant isolating his defender and attacking the basket with the purpose to score or draw fouls and part of it is that his teammates didn’t convert when called upon.
With Bryant defending Rondo, Fisher was forced to cover Ray Allen. Allen responded by scoring 25 points on 8-of-13 from the field and 5-of-7 from the 3-point line.
But like Bryant, Allen received little help from his supporting cast. Rondo, Pierce, Garnett, and Perkins combined to shoot 16-of-48.
The rebounding (45-44 Celtics) and assist (19-17) totals were negligible.
Bryant drove to the basket with ’straight line’ penetration. Rather than fading away from the hoop and avoiding contact like he did in game’s 1 and 2. Unlike the first two games in Boston , he was rewarded with 18 free throw attempts but converted only 11 of those tries.
The x-factor was Sasha Vujacic. Vujacic scored 20 points on 7-of-10 from the field, 3-of-5 from the 3-point line, including a dagger 3-ball with
Although the NBA Finals have been exciting thus far, we haven’t seen these two teams at their best yet.
Lamar Odom — my pre-series x-factor — has been a non-factor.
Odom continues to attack the basket wildly. He’s seems oblivious to the fact that the Celtics led the league in charges taken this season. Instead of stopping on a dime and using his length to drop a floater over the defense, he’s initiating contact. It’s a sad sight.
Kevin Garnett is shooting less than 40% through the first 3 games.
The Celtics are now 2-8 on the road in the playoffs. Los Angeles is 9-0 at home.
Both teams know what will be at stake in game 4.
Every game from here on out is a must-win for LA.
The Lakers can’t afford to go back to Boston facing two straight elimination games.
Boston has to be leery about the NBA’s best offense gaining confidence.
Look for the Celtics to make a concerted effort to post-up KG in game 4. When motivated to score downlow, KG is every bit as unstoppable as Tim Duncan.
Look for the Lakers to continue their “crossmatch” strategy by having Bryant defend Rondo through the first 3 quarters and switching him onto Pierce during crunch time.
Phil Jackson had this to say about Bryant’s defensive effort on Pierce in game 3:
“Putting Kobe on Pierce,” Jackson said, “was the difference in tonight’s game. It was more difficult for him to work to get free. He still had, I thought, some instrumental plays down the stretch. But it made the difference for us tonight.”
(Photo by Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE/Getty Images)