Game's 1 and 2 were a story of the Boston Celtics exercising their pedigree that they enforced and lived by all season long - hard nosed defense, scoring from the Big 3 and key production from role players. When it wasn't Paul Pierce, it was Ray Allen, Leon Powe and Rajon Rondo. When it wasn't Kevin Garnett, it was Sam Cassell. Boston survived late rallies and even injury scares to go up 2-0.
Game 3 literally was a must-win for the Los Angeles Lakers. They were yet to get the bench at its usual high production, clutch form, or get guys like Lamar Odom into the mix and out of foul trouble. Kobe had been frustrated over no-calls and tight defense seen by the Celtics. The Staples Center prepared to will their team on Tuesday night, faces like Jack Nicholson, Magic Johnson and Sylvester Stallone all were in attendance to help the Lake Show make a series of it.
What they got was an immensely physical, ugly game. Turnovers galore, foul trouble, poor shooting especially from the free-throw line from both teams and a pure lack of production from the stars. Los Angeles is the City of Angels, a place for stars to shine. Tuesday night didn't see too many stars shine, at least not until the closing minutes when the MVP dropped the dagger into the heart of the Celtics, making it 2-1 as we now wait on Thursday night for Game 4.
The first half was a rough one. Lamar Odom got himself into early foul trouble yet again, becoming a non-factor for much of the half and game. Odom has had issues with fouls in all three-games of the series now, finishing with five-fouls in all three contests. Odom did not have a single field goal or point in the first half, and even Pau Gasol struggled from the field finishing with only two first half points. And yet, the Lakers still were able to control the game and play with great poise. Sasha Vujocic was a spark off the bench with 12-points and Kobe Bryant scored 19-points, getting to the free-throw line 10-times in the first half; those 10 attempts being more than the total from Game 2 alone. LA was aggressive in the first half, getting to the line (although not shooting very well) and was able to capitalize on the struggles of Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett, who combined for only four-points in the first half. Pierce, like Odom, got himself into a pickle with fouls and saw limited time, causing his C's to lack the point production he had provided in Game's 1 and 2, which culminated into a 43-37 lead for the Lakers at half time.
The third quarter has been key for the Boston Celtics so far in this series, as they've outscored the Lakers 85-58 in the 3rd period in all three games combined. Boston erased the deficit seen at half-time off the back of key three-pointers by Ray Allen, who finished the night five-of-seven from behind the arc, and some post points by Kevin Garnett - something he'd been lacking all series. And it might be because of the insertion of Eddie House at the point guard spot during the 3rd that helped get KG his spots in the paint. With Rajon Rondo, a clear non-outside threat, the defenders can leave him and double up on KG when he receives it on the block. With House, he's a shooting guard morphed into a one-guard, and helped contribute to the post play seen in Garnett and others like Perkins and Brown that contributed to the C's overtaking the Lakers going into the 4th quarter. (Thanks Van Gundy for pointing that out; I was oblivious to that concept)
For a time, it looked as if 0-3 was on the horizon during the 4th quarter. Still at a low score, the Celtics were able to grow their advantage to at least five-points. And like Game 2, the Lakers were able to redirect the momentum, and came back to take the lead down the stretch. The game had been so physical, so hard to watch through so much inefficiency that it virtually came down to who would make plays.
Remember how the Lakers bench had forgotten to show up in the first two-games? Yeah, not this time. Sasha Vujocic did what a role player must do in critical points in critical NBA Finals games. Vujocic nailed huge three-pointers throughout the game, but saved one his best for the final few minutes by hitting a corner three to stretch the lead, before allowing Kobe to be Kobe by closing it out. At 87-81, the Lakers were able to get one step closer to evening the series.
Keys to the Game
Kobe Bryant: 36-points; 11-18 from free-throw line.
Lamar Odom: Five-fouls, four-points.
Pau Gasol: Nine-points.
Vladmir Radmanovic: Three-points; 13-minutes of play, four-fouls.
Bench: 29-points; Sasha Vujocic: 20-points.
Big 3: 44-points; Ray Allen: 25-points. KG: 13-points. Paul Pierce: Six-points.
Field-Goal %: 34.9
Points: 81; 22-under Finals average.
Looking Ahead to Game 4
For the Lakers, they've got to get more out of Radmanovic, Gasol and Odom. Odom and Radmanovic were in foul trouble throughout the game and were liabilities. Odom continues to draw numerous offensive fouls each game and must break that habit. He's got to be a force in this series if the Lakers want to even things up and even take the lead. Gasol had his moments, like in the 4th with a few put-backs, but he's got to do more than nine-points. LA did, however attack the basket much more and did a fantastic job defending the C's in Game 3. They demolished the free-throw disparity seen in Boston and were intensely aggressive in a game that was called very leniently. Kobe looked like the assassin he's known to be. 36-points was his best effort since the Conference Finals, and even in the midst of not having Odom and Radmanovic as helpers, and Gasol as a non-factor offensively, Kobe was able to lead his team through a very physical game. LA should be proud they won when they weren't playing their best ball.
For the Celtics, it's back to the basics. KG and Pierce were for the first time in this series, non-factors. Garnett was stout on the boards but shot poorly from the field. (6-21) Pierce got into foul trouble and was never able to get his groove going. Finishing with with a measly 14-shot attempts and only two made, Pierce was the opposite of himself in Boston. Ray Allen did light it up with the trifecta, hitting five-of-seven and totaling 25-points on the night, but like the Lakers the Celtics were unbalanced offensively and utterly non-effective. What was present in the Garden was absent in the Staples Center - the bench. Leon Powe only saw six-minutes, only contributing one point. Sam Cassell only saw seven-minutes, and like Powe barely helped whatsoever with two-points. Eddie House and PJ Brown saw significant minutes, but were not able to be the definitive bench stars that picked up the slack. Boston needs to establish Kevin Garnett in the paint (this is becoming redundant with me, too) and look to Paul Pierce to be the leader. He didn't show up in Game 3, he's got to in Game 4.