On the basis of the Lakers’ no-sweat win in Game 1, it certainly appears that they are by far the better team. Which may be so.
Still, the Celtics’ pride, coupled with the expertise of their coaching staff, guarantees that they will regroup and challenge the Lakers more than they did on Thursday.
Indeed, there are several adjustments that the Celtics can (and must) make to compete on even terms with the defending champs.
Given the damage done by LA’s offensive rebounding, and given that Boston was rarely able to mount a running game anyway, the Celtics must send four or even all five players to protect their defensive glass.
As advertised, Ron Artest’s body-to-body defense effectively made Paul Pierce a non-factor. Late in the game, however, Boston was able to shake Pierce free of Artest when the Lakers switched on high screen/rolls. On several of these sequences, Pierce wound up being guarded by Pau Gasol and was able to do his thing.
Kendrick Perkins did little more than set a few sturdy screens. It wouldn’t be a bad idea to give him a couple of early chances to post-up Andrew Bynum just to get his chops up.
Not only was Kevin Garnett abused by Gasol, but he hit only 2-of-6 on the kind of face-up jumpers that he simply had to convert. Not to mention the three embarrassing layups that KG botched. But he did have limited success when posting up Gasol, scoring six points and having one of his shots swatted.
In fact, the only Celtic big who shut down Gasol’s inside game was Rasheed Wallace. As soon as Bynum is sent to the bench, Wallace should enter the fray and be sicced on Gasol. In this scenario, Garnett vs. Lamar Odom would be a matchup of two players who were both MIA and should be a wash.
The Celtics tried to take advantage of what they thought were favorable matchups by sending the following players into the low post: Pierce, Rajon Rondo, Glen Davis, Wallace, Ray Allen, and Garnett. Fourteen of these ventures into the pivot produced 15 points, two assists, and two blocked shots. Not bad, but not good enough to make a difference.
Usually, the Celtics’ most effective post player was Wallace, who beat Bynum and then Gasol for four points in his only two pivotal opportunities. Boston needs to play Wallace more minutes and stuff the ball to him on one box or the other.
The Celtics’ only dependable offensive plays involved Ray Allen curling off some kind of weak-side screen. This tactic successfully took advantage of one of the Lakers’ season-long defensive weaknesses. Either Allen was open for a flipper when he curled into the middle because the Lakers bigs didn’t step out, or the screener was wide open when he rolled to the rim. Allen tallied eight points on this maneuver.
Rondo has to be more aggressive with the ball, but at the same time he has to make better decisions. While he did go 3-of-5 on jumpers, he also missed three layups when he forced the ball into traffic. Getting him the ball with his back to the basket at the foul-line extended left isn’t good enough. Why not let him run the same curls off weak-side screens and pin-downs that were so effective for Ray Allen? Anything is worth trying that might open up some space in the lane for Rondo.
The Celtics need more ball-reversal, plus they should key off of Kobe Bryant’s whereabouts when he routinely wanders away from his man and looks to attack the ball.
Boston can’t afford to have Tony Allen, and/or Perkins, and/or Davis on the floor at the same time. Since none of these guys is a dependable shooter, LA’s defense can pack the paint and point their defense at Pierce, Garnett, Ray Allen, or whomever.
The Celtics must be extra careful with the ball, since so many of their turnovers led to breakaway points by LA.
On defense, Kobe simply cannot be doubled when he’s in the low post. Boston tried this a total of four times and, while they produced a turnover, Kobe was also able to dish out three assists.
What to do with Kobe then? Play him soft, let him shoot, and thereby prevent him from getting his teammates involved. Take the risk that he will shoot Boston out of Game 2.
Also, Tony Allen did a nice job on Kobe, especially when he played deny defense when Bryant set up on a wing. And the Celtics should try fronting Kobe when he’s in the low- or even mid-post — as long as they pressure the passer and provide easily accessible weak-side help.
Although Artest knocked down all three of his jumpers, Boston has to still lay off of him to help on Kobe and let Ron-Ron keep shooting from out there. This is another risk well worth taking.
When playing half-court defense, Boston has to do a much better job of walling off the rim and keeping the Lakers from driving for so many uncontested layups. Why not pack the middle and force LA to beat them over the top?
Above all, Boston has to come out of the box with much more intensity that they did to open the series. What transpired between these two ball clubs in 2008 is ancient history.
Winning Game 2 is an absolute must for the Celtics, simply because it’s virtually impossible for the lower-seeded team to win Games 3, 4 and 5 at home.
Since Gasol and his mates were not intimidated by whatever rough stuff Boston attempted, the Celtics need an entirely different game plan. Rest assured, though, that LA will also make adjustments to try to counter Ray Allen’s curls and Pierce’s use of high screens. And it’s these necessary adjustments and counter-adjustments between the two best teams in the league that make the Finals competition so utterly intriguing.