Game 3 of the NBA Finals is tonight. The Celtics have momentum as the series shifts back to Boston. The Lakers will look to steal their first road game of the Finals on their quest to repeat. Now, let's look ahead to what should be a pivotal game for both teams.
How the Lakers will win:
1. Kobe Bryant must be the best player on the floor. To do that he will need to stay out of foul trouble and be aggressive. I expect Kobe to look for his shot early instead of trying to be a distributor as he has often been in the first quarter this postseason.
Quick tangent: I have an unprovable theory regarding Kobe's aversion to shooting early in games. The LeBron v. Kobe debate will not go away, despite the fact that Kobe is still playing and LeBron is talking to Larry King. The argument advocated by many is as follows: Kobe is the better scorer on the better team, but LeBron is the better all around player. It seems as if Kobe is trying to dismiss that argument by putting up stat lines that look eerily familiar to those owned by King James. Wouldn't it be great to live in a world where a sideline reporter would ask a real question like, "Kobe, are the assists you've been piling up an attempt to match LeBron James' numbers?"
2. Lamar Odom needs to have a great game. Has he made single impact play this series? I'm pretty sure he hasn't. Boston's bench has shown that they have come to play. Odom needs to use his height to athleticism for L.A. to win the battle of the benches.
3. Of my three keys for a Laker win, this is the most likely to happen: Derek Fisher needs to play well. I say it's the most likely because Fisher has a way of coming up big on the road. His outside shooting has the potential to space the floor and open up the paint for the Lakers' big men and Kobe Bryant's drives.
How the Celtics will win:
1. Two words: Rajon Rondo. If Rondo can make clutch jumpers like he did Sunday night I don't see the Celtics losing. Of course, anyone who has watched the Celtics play know this is a big if. Fortunately for Boston, the Celtics have a great shot even if Rondo doesn't make anything from beyond fifteen feet. As long as he can efficiently distribute the ball, grab rebounds, and challenge Kobe's defense, he will have done his job.
2. Paul Pierce needs to play like the 2008 NBA Finals MVP. I'm pretty certain Ray Allen won't make eight threes tonight so somebody else will need to pick up some of the scoring load. It won't be easy for Pierce as Ron Artest is an excellent defender. The Finals has the potential to challenge the notion that Kevin Durant was the best match up for Artest this post season.
3. The defense needs to hold L.A. under 100 points again. As I mentioned above, it's extremely unlikely Ray Allen will have another record breaking night (not saying he won't play well, but it's not every day someone makes eight three pointers, much less in a Final's game). If Boston will take their Finals home opener, they need to make the Lakers work for their points. Assuming he stays out of foul trouble, Kobe should score around 30. It's the Celtics job to make sure he scores them on 25 shots, not 15.
One more quick note: So much has been made of Kevin Garnett's sub par play. While KG can help the C's with a retro KG game, I'm not going to say it's a must for victory. Everyone who thinks Garnett needs to step up for the Celtics to win has clearly missed most of the Finals. They didn't need him to dominate Sunday night, and they can win without him dominating tonight. Part of me wonders if he burned himself out against Cleveland. There was a sense of urgency he had in that series which hasn't resurfaced since. On the other hand, the most likely explanation is foul trouble. If KG can get in rhythm early he has the potential to be very effective, especially against Gasol, who to this point has won the individual match up.
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