With neither team able to mount any sustained momentum thus far, what might the Lakers' attitude be after getting so egregiously out-hustled and out-fought in Game 4?
They might very well be thinking that both of the Celtics’ victories were purely matters of luck. In Game 2, Ray Allen was dropping treys as easily as he makes free throws. In Game 4, Boston’s second-stringers played like All-Stars. Both of these circumstances are highly unlikely to be reprised.
Or should the Lakers be truly worried?
The answer is Yes, Indeed. And here’s why.
If Andrew Bynum can’t return to action, or if his mobility continues to be so severely limited, then the interior of L.A.’s defense is wide open and Boston will continue to gain extra shots and easy layups by controlling the offensive glass. Also, without Bynum operating at his peak performance, Pau Gasol and Lamar Odom have to play too many strenuous minutes against the Celtics physical frontline.
The defense of both Ray and Tony Allen is curtailing Kobe’s ventures into the paint and therefore keeping him off the free-throw line. In fact, Kobe has to fake a dive cut and then come to the ball from the weak side to get anything resembling an open look.
There’s no rational reason why the fire in Glen Davis’ belly will be suddenly extinguished. How many loose balls and up-for-grabs rebounds did he wrestle from the hands of Gasol and Ron Artest?
The Lakers have gotten used to literally ignoring the shooting capabilities of Rajon Rondo and were therefore unable to adjust to Nate Robinson’s dynamic offensive prowess.
Paul Pierce used high screens to get Artest off his body and then took full advantage of any defensive switches the Lakers made. This totally negated Ron-Ron’s primary contribution -- power defense. So far, L.A. has not been able to develop a successful counter to this tactic -- a failure that could easily be fatal.
In the two games won by the Lakers, their off-the-ball baseline and dive cuts made Boston pay dearly for concentrating too much on ball penetration. But in Game 4, this turn of events was reversed. It was Boston’s cuts that were open, while the Lakers cuts were jammed by the Celtics defense. This switcheroo increased the number of easy hoops for the Celtics, while reducing the same for the Lakers.
The Celtics have succeeded in mapping out the most common passing lanes in the triangle offense, effectively denying ball reversals and also coming up with an increasing number of tips, steals and breakaway scores. All of these occurrences have enabled Boston to quicken the pace of the game and attack the rim before L.A.’s defense can get set.
The Lakers are making things easier in this respect by standing around and watching while Kobe tries to find a shot.
Boston has also discovered that while Gasol is an extraordinary help-defender, there’s no way he can adequately guard Garnett or Davis mano-a-mano without getting significant help.
Boston shot 44.6 percent, certainly a decent outcome. But many of the Celtics' misses came on uncontested shots that they usually make. The Lakers certainly can’t count on Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett to continue misfiring when there are no defenders in their immediate vicinities.
If, with their wrist-snapping releases, Odom and Artest continue to shoot blanks, then L.A.’s offense has absolutely no balance. In truth, every mid- to long-range jumper that both of these guys do drop seems to be an accident of cosmic proportions.
Above all, the Lakers will be hard-pressed to come close to matching Boston’s incredible energy. Fifty-fifty balls were captured by Boston at an approximate ratio of 80-to-20. Yes, the Celtics' manic play in Game 4 was a direct result of their having their backs to the wall, but in so doing they’ve also discovered the key to winning the series.
On the other side of the equation, the Lakers also play their best when facing the most desperate do-or-die challenges. And the extra day of practice, healing, and contemplation does favor the defending champs.