What do I know?
Based on everything I’ve said in this space and on NewsOK.com podcasts and videos not much when it comes to the NBA Finals. Almost every single prediction/bit of analysis I’ve made (tried to make) has been wrong in these first three games between the Celtics and Lakers. The latest example came in Tuesday night’s 87-81 Lakers win that finally turned these Finals into a series, one that Boston now leads 2-1.
On our weekly NBA in OKC podcast, recorded Tuesday morning, I said the Lakers had no answer for Paul Pierce, and he, more than anything, spells trouble for L.A. Boston’s All-Star forward then is held to six points on 2-for-14 shooting in 32 foul-plagued minutes, adding only six rebounds and three assists while committing three turnovers.
Before the series started I also said Lamar Odom was the player who would have the biggest impact on the series outside of Garnett and Kobe. As he goes, I figured, so go the Lakers. Wrong again. Odom has been 6-feet-11 inches of disappointment. You would think after Phil Jackson called him out for being “confused” in Game 2 he would step up — Not so much. Odom’s stat line in Game 3: Four points, 2 of 9 from the field, nine rebounds, four assists, five fouls and five turnovers. He’s now scored 28 points in three games. By comparison, Kobe Bryant had 36 in Game 3 alone. I can’t see the Lakers winning this series if Odom continues to have little to no impact on the offensive end.
When Sasha Vujacic is your second leading scorer (20 points) you’ve got a problem. The Lakers still need someone other than Kobe to step up offensively on a consistent basis. I thought that would happen when the series shifted coasts, but Odom and Pau Gasol (nine points) combined to score 13 points and commit eight of the Lakers’ 12 turnovers. Until someone other than Bryant breaks out for L.A., the Lakers will struggle to beat Boston because neither of these teams is that much better than the other.
Speaking of Vujacic, though, he’s the only thing I’ve been right about this entire series. I thought L.A.’s role players would make shots at home that they didn’t make on the road while the Celtics’ role players would miss looks they made in Boston. Vujacic was the only one to step up. Radmanovic, Fisher, Turiaf, Farmar, Walton and Ariza combined to miss 15 of 21 shots. On the other hand, Boston’s role players were less effective on the road just like I thought they’d be. The Celtics’ bench, which had played so well in Games 1 and 2, went just 5 of 22 from the field. Rondo was held in check even before the injury, and, with the exception of a few hustle plays early, Kendrick Perkins was invisible.
Give the Lakers credit for playing a much better defensive game. After allowing Boston to shoot 53 percent in Game 2, L.A. finally buckled down and held the Celtics to 35 percent shooting and did a better job of keeping them off the foul line. Boston had 22 free throw attempts Tuesday compared with 38 on Sunday. It’s not the prettiest style of play, which makes fans grumble, but if the Lakers have to make it ugly to focus on defense and secure a victory, so be it. I’m a believer that defense wins in the playoffs, when that fast-paced, up-and-down style disappears and it becomes a slow-down, grind-it-out type of game.
The good news for Boston is that seems to be a style they’re better suited for than L.A. While the Lakers play good team defense, they don’t have any quality man defenders in the regular rotation outside of Kobe and Fisher. Phil Jackson has to find a way to speed up the game and get the score in triple digits. L.A. was the fourth highest scoring team in the regular season at 108.5 points per game, and that’s when they become much more dangerous as a team. More often than not, when L.A. is playing games in the 80s and 90s their offense generally has stalled, leading the Lakers to defer to Kobe too much and that’s when we see those Kobe vs. the opponent type of games.
The good news for L.A. is they got a win. Sometimes all it takes is one to change the course of a series, and that first one can be awfully difficult to get. I’m not a big believer in momentum, but confidence can do wonders. The Lakers are now confident they can beat Boston. They might have thought they could beat the Celtics before Tuesday night, but thinking it and doing it are two totally different things.
Now is when I think the chess match really picks up between Doc Rivers and Phil Jackson. Look for adjustments, some subtle and some obvious, to determine which direction this series goes from here.