So much for Boston’s vaunted defense.
The Celtics offense and Lakers defense battled to a virtual draw in the Lakers' 102-89 victory over Boston in Game One of the NBA Finals. However, Boston’s defense was picked apart by LA’s offense.
Here are the particulars.
Lakers Offense vs. Celtics Defense
While Paul Pierce and Tony Allen saw some daylight defending Kobe Bryant, Ray Allen bore the brunt of defending Boston‘s public enemy.
Unfortunately, this strategy had major holes that were unveiled at the game’s onset. Twice early, Kobe was able to blow by Allen’s earnest—but inferior—defense, a problem that was exacerbated by the total absence of a defensive rotation. In 2008, this was not.
Unlike two years ago, Kobe dominated the Celtics defenders at the point of attack and prevented them from simply funneling Kobe into a contested short jumper. In effect, he dominated the game—10-22 FG, 1-2 3FG, 9-10 FT, 7 REB, 6 AST, 4 TO, 30 PTS. This was so for a number of reasons.
- Allen doesn’t have the defensive quickness he once had, while Kobe is still at an elite level.
- Whereas the Celtics could throw an extra hand at Kobe in 2008 and trust one rebounder to out-muscle Lamar Odom and Pau Gasol on the boards, Gasol plus Andrew Bynum were dominant on the glass in Game One. Therefore, the Celtics had to defend Kobe more honestly.
- With the exception of his garbage-time three-pointer, at no time did Kobe simply abort the offense to go one-on-one with no rhyme or reason. Virtually, every move Kobe made was towards the basket which put extreme pressure on Boston’s defense.
- Kobe played with a great deal of trust in his teammates and subsequently didn’t force shots.
- Because Gasol and Bynum put so much pressure on a backline defender when one is stationed near the hoop and the other rolls to the basket, the Celtics couldn’t trap ball screens. The Lakers’ interior passing befuddled Boston’s normally stout defense, and the force with which Gasol and Bynum played overwhelmed Boston’s paint defense. This in turn led to softer defense on Kobe.
- Kendrick Perkins wasn’t quick enough on defense and was repeatedly burned whether in a screen or as an absent rotator. Kevin Garnett’s defense was also hit or miss.
- The refs were consistently tight throughout the game. This caused Allen to wind up in severe foul trouble when he tried to play physical with Kobe.
- The only Celtics player who defended Kobe with any measure of success was Paul Pierce, whose comparative strength, length, and smarts prevented line-drives to the basket, though Pierce was also badly lifted by a Kobe pump-fake in the first quarter.
- It would be advised that Pierce defend Kobe in Game Two, but then Allen would be at another disadvantage defending Ron Artest on the block. Either way, it may be a necessary maneuver.
- The Celtics also didn’t pinch their wings to cut off Kobe’s driving lanes. The Lakers generally stationed Fisher at a wing with Artest in the strong corner to make it difficult for defenses to pinch off of Artest. With Fisher’s pedigree and with him shooting well over the first two and a half quarters (3-3 FG), it’s understandable to not pinch off of him.
- However, it may be best advised for the Celtics to position Artest’s defender (usually Pierce) at the high elbow and trust perimeter rotations to recover. If Artest repositions to the weak side, have a big be prepared to meet Kobe earlier, funnel Kobe to the strong side to prevent him from throwing the ball to the weak corner, and trust Pierce to check a Laker big man at the hoop. He’s certainly tough enough to rotate to a big, while rotating back to the corner should a skip-pass be made.
- Any way you slice it, changes have to be made for the Celtics to slow down Kobe.
Pau Gasol carved up Perkins and Garnett—8-14 FG, 7-10 FT, 23 PTS—and was always crashing the offensive glass (8 OFF REB, 14 TOT REB) to record tip-ins or to preserve second shots.
Only Rasheed Wallace showed the strength, length, and foot speed to hang with Gasol in the first half, but in the second half, with the Celtics getting blown-out, ‘Sheed spent his time committing silly fouls and complaining to the refs.
Andrew Bynum—4-6 FG, 15 PTS—was effective when the Lakers played screen/roll, whether or not he was involved in the screen as a roller, or whether a roll by Gasol led to a Gasol pass to Bynum.
Artest hit his jumpers—5-10 FG, 3-5 3FG, 15 PTS.
Jordan Farmar and Shannon Brown took turns abusing Michael Finley.
The Lakers’ passing was always one step ahead of Boston, and the Lakers defense created 12 fast-break points.
Kobe turned Ray Allen into a liability, while Gasol dominated two supposed elite defenders in Perkins and Garnett.
It’s up to Doc Rivers and Tom Thibodeau to make LA’s brightest stars lose their luster.
Celtics Offense vs. Lakes Defense
Paul Pierce had big numbers, but most of them came after the Celtics found themselves down 20 in the fourth. When Pierce and Artest faced off, the battle was generally evenly split.
However, Pierce only attempted seven field goals in the first three quarters. Even though he had some success, the fact that he wasn’t involved enough is a huge win for Artest and the Lakers.
Ray Allen had tremendous success curling and re-curling off single screens, or as a second curler on a misdirection curl combo. Twice he freed himself up for open jumpers, and a third time the Lakers defense became confused and allowed a three-point play to Kendrick Perkins.
When Kobe defended Allen on a possession, he lost contact and Allen would’ve had a jumper had Fisher not deflected Rondo’s pass. Vujacic and Bynum played defense like they had never defended a curl before.
However, because Allen was banished with foul trouble, the Celtics couldn’t take advantage of his curling for jumpers. In this case, the Lakers best defense was Kobe’s offense.
Allen also tried to post Derek Fisher, resulting in two missed shots, and a non-shooting foul.
With Ray Allen on the bench, the Celtics had to play Tony Allen and he was a disaster. Among his miscues:
- Throwing a lob into a double-team after the Lakers successfully defended a baseline screen.
- Attacking Kobe in the open court while wildly out of control, resulting in a badly missed layup.
- Driving into a crowd resulting in an offensive foul.
- Turning the ball over to Pau Gasol.
He also doesn’t space the floor at all with his broken jump shot, allowing the Lakers to pack the paint against Boston’s inside game.
Rajon Rondo had success on the offensive glass, when Kobe turned his head, or when Kobe needlessly double-teamed Kevin Garnett on drives and post-ups. He also hit three of his six jumpers. However, because Boston couldn’t force stops, turnovers, or control the offensive glass, Rondo never got going in transition.
Garnett hit a jumper here, a turnaround there, set terrific screens, was obliterated on the boards, and in a span of two minutes, missed two dunks and air-balled a three-footer. After embarrassing himself, his method of redemption involved mistiming his jump on a rebound, and throwing two awful passes, one of which resulted in a turnover.
Garnett has a history of duds in the playoffs, and has been a supreme disappointment these last two playoff series. He’s essentially only a 20-foot jump shooter nowadays and was badly outplayed by Gasol. If KG is the Big Ticket, then is Gasol the Once-in-a-Lifetime Extravaganza?
Wallace hit a three and banked in a jumper over Andrew Bynum.
Davis was active rolling on screens, and can likewise stretch the floor with his jump shot.
Because Wallace and Davis can shoot out to 18-feet and beyond, they’re better equipped for spacing the floor than Perkins. With Perkins, Rondo, and Tony Allen on the floor, Boston often began their offense inside the three-point line, leading to poor court balance.
Wallace’s fluidity on defense also makes him more useful than Perkins on the other side of the floor as well. Allowing Wallace to play more than 18 minutes might open up the paint for Boston’s offense, while also giving them better coverage defensively.
Ray Allen avoiding foul trouble is another must, as is having Pierce play with more assertiveness, even if he doesn’t have total success. If he can’t initially shake Artest, ball screens were a way in Game One of getting him separation.
Posting Garnett and challenging his manhood might get him going against Gasol.
But most importantly, Boston’s defense needs to play better to fuel their transition offense, and to negate the defensive cross-matchups the Lakers are playing.
Let’s see if Doc Rivers can earn his bones with his Game Two adjustments.