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2010 NBA Finals, Game 4: Is Kobe Bryant on Rajon Rondo a Series Changer?

Bill HareCorrespondent IJune 10, 2010

BOSTON - JUNE 08:  Rajon Rondo #9 of the Boston Celtics goes after a loose ball over Kobe Bryant #24 of the Los Angeles Lakers in Game Three of the 2010 NBA Finals on June 8, 2010 at TD Garden in Boston, Massachusetts. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)
Jim Rogash/Getty Images

It was the first quarter of Game Three of the NBA Finals and the hometown Boston Celtics had the home crowd shouting with boundless glee.

The Celtics had jumped out to a lead behind the effective field generalship of point guard Rajon Rondo.

The speedy Kentuckian had hurt the Los Angeles Lakers in two key areas, by running a skilled transition offense and taking the ball to the hoop for lay-ups.

Wily Laker coach Phil Jackson knows when a timeout is needed, and this was one of those occasions.

After the teams came back on the floor, the Celtic momentum was checked and the visitors swung things back in their direction for a 91-84 victory.

They assumed a 2-1 edge and regained the home court advantage that had been taken from them in Game Two in Los Angeles, when they were overcome by the superb point guard craftsmanship of Rondo and a red hot shooting night by Ray Allen.

So what made the difference in Game Three?

During that crucial timeout Jackson made a switch. Kobe Bryant began guarding Rondo, and his freedom of movement promptly dissipated.

Bryant stood back at a distance from Rondo not long after he passed midcourt. There were two good reasons for that move.

For one thing, Bryant gave himself time and space to check Rondo off from either speeding by him or whipping a pass to generate a pick and roll to the hoop.

For another, Bryant sought to encourage Rondo to shoot from long range, not one of his specialties.

Note how much room defenders give Ron Artest at long range, playing percentages in concluding that he cannot beat them that way. This is how Phil Jackson played Artest when he was with Houston.

During a Game Three early timeout, Celtic mentor Doc Rivers was heard saying, “I like the pace.” He knows he needs a solid transition game to beat the Lakers.

As Rivers himself has frequently pointed out, in order to set the pace through a transition game he needs his defense, the team’s staple, to engineer stops.

The game’s pace changed after Jackson’s shrewd ploy to put Bryant on Rondo occurred. The next move, accordingly, is up to Rivers in the coaching strategy match. He needs to find a way to turn the pace back to where he wants it, one where he can run his transition game.

The Lakers got a solid boost when they needed it during a hard fought fourth quarter, with veteran Derek Fisher making some timely shots to enable the visitors to withstand a determined charge by the Celtics.

Rivers received one excellent result, with Kevin Garnett having a masterful shooting game. Doubters had wondered if veteran’s attrition had claimed the future Hall of Famer while his coach insisted he was fine.

In a series marked by hot and cold activity, a frequent characteristic of defensive series’ marked by strategy maneuvers closing certain avenues while others open up, one Game Three performance left viewers shaking their heads.

Ray Allen’s performances in Games Two and Three were so sharply contrasting that they defied analysis. His shooting out the lights action of Game Two, where his three-point specialty was on brilliant display, was contrasted with a Game Three effort of 0-for-13.

As Doc Rivers said, Allen had numerous good looks that one of the game’s premier shooters would normally knock down.

One area where Phil Jackson has to be pleased is the play of the Laker shot swatting duo of Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum under the hoop.

Even though Gasol took fewer shots in Game Three than he had in the preceding series' contests, his defensive work under the basket was a thing of beauty, with the same to be said for Bynum.

Andrew Bynum was one of the series' question marks. It was agreed that if he could perform well, Jackson would secure an advantage that could make the ultimate difference in the Finals.

Thus far, Bynum has provided the kind of physical difference for which Laker nation had prayed. He has formed a formidable combination with Gasol, who has answered his critics on the subject of toughness.

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