Last night I watched a movie, drank a couple beers, listened to my buddy’s shitty iPod (his entire iPod sounded like it could be the soundtrack a romantic comedy) and talked to an old friend I hadn’t seen in awhile. Inevitably, as it always seems to, the conversation turned to the Celtics.
“Whoever wins Game 2 wins the series,” my friend told me. “If the Celtics win, they would then have three games at home. The Celtics would probably win two, sending the series back to LA where they’d only have to win one out of the last two games.
“If the Lakers win, it’s 2-0. Only two teams have ever swept the middle three games at home, so I don’t expect the Celtics to do it. That puts the Celtics down 3-2 heading back to LA for Games 6 and 7. No way the C’s win the last two games at the Staples Center.”
Is it that easy? Will we really know who will win the series after tonight? No, not for sure. But tonight’s winner will most definitely in the driver’s seat.
With that in mind, here are five questions for Game 2:
1. Will Kevin Garnett respond how we expect him to?
Glen Davis said of Pau Gasol’s comments, “Shouldn’t have said that. He shouldn’t have said that.” And later, Davis remarked, “I wish the best for Pau Gasol.” But even if Gasol had not said his comments, Garnett was embarrassed in Game 1. It didn’t take Pau’s comments to rub it in Garnett’s face that he was stomped on by the Big Poodle Thursday night: Garnett already knew the second after the game, when he admitted to playing like horse feces. Garnett is undoubtedly pissed off about the way the first game went down and the pain has been stewing inside his head for days, simmering to the point that Garnett probably hasn’t slept at all since Thursday — I imagine him banging his head against the bedstand and thinking about revenge on Pau Gasol.
So a lot of Celtics fans expect Garnett to respond like a warrior. They expect a throwback, Herculean effort sparked by the humiliation of Game 1. But will it happen? Garnett isn’t the same as he used to be. He doesn’t have the extra gear he used to. He can’t dominate like he used to. I expect Garnett to play far better than he did a few days ago, but I’d be very surprised if Gasol didn’t again get the better of the matchup.
2. Can Rajon Rondo figure out the Lakers’ length?
Rondo was bothered by the Lakers’ length quite a bit in Game 1. Their long, rangy arms seemed to be everywhere, blocking and altering Rondo’s shots and impeding the passing lanes at the same time. Rondo played okay but never controlled the game like he normally does. But lost in Rondo’s struggles was a simple fact: Rondo missed a few easy bunnies that he could normally make while counting sheep. Kelly Dwyer thought only one of Rondo’s missed layups was easy (and I normally agree with just about everything Dwyer writes), but I looked back and watched every shot Rondo took on Synergy Sports. My findings? Rondo missed three easy layups (one on a cut to the hoop when he was wide open, one after beating Fisher to the hoop and missing an easy layup from the left side, and another a reverse layup with Gasol guarding him on the wrong side of the hoop) that he normally hits with ease. He will be better in Game 2, I assume.
On top of that, the Celtics should get more stops in Game 2, after Game 1 was a clinic in how NOT to play defense. The C’s gave up easy shots, got beasted on the boards and were generally obliterated by a Lakers offense that didn’t even look that good against the Phoenix Suns. Once the C’s get some stops Rondo will get out in transition — and once he does that, all the Lakers’ length no longer matters because it will all be staring at the back of his green jersey.
In summary, the Lakers have a very good defense. They are long, can alter a lot of shots and can really disrupt an offense. They just aren’t nearly as good as the Celtics made them look the other night.
3. Are the Lakers really as tough as they looked in Game 1?
No. But don’t think I mean they aren’t tough at all, because they are. They just aren’t as tough as they looked in Game 1, mostly because they looked like a mixture of Rudy, Rocky, Denzel Washington, Jack Bauer and my neighbor’s pitbull in the first game. Still, with the addition of Ron Artest and the relative health of Andrew Bynum the Lakers are a far tougher team than they were the last time these two teams played in the Finals. The Celtics won’t be able to just knock them on their asses anymore, they’ll have to earn it. And it all starts with rebounding.
4.What should the Celtics look to do offensively in Game 2?
- Let Pierce handle the ball more often. One of the things that worked best for Boston in Game 1 was the pick-and-roll with Pierce as ball-handler. It was also the same thing that worked in ’08. The Lakers have serious trouble defending that pick-and-roll and often even have Pau Gasol switch to cover Pierce. On top of that, Pierce is one of the few players in the NBA strong and crafty enough to use Artest’s physicality against him, drawing fouls and getting to the line. People praised Artest’s defense in Game 1 but Pierce scored 24 points on only 13 shots. Get the Truth the ball, folks.
- Run, run, run, run, run. Think I want the Celtics to run? Transition offense utilizes Rondo and gets the Lakers caught with Fisher (matched up against Rondo when the Lakers have the ball and Ray Allen when the Celtics have it) trying to find Ray and Kobe trying to find Rondo. Use that against the Lakers, Celtics. Get them on their heels. Beat Andrew Bynum down the floor. Beat LA down the floor. Attack the paint early and kick out to open shooters. The Celtics didn’t get squat on the fast break in Game 1, running their half-court offense all goddamn night. RUN! I know it will take stops to run, so how about getting some, Celts?
- Keep Ray in the game. Thank God there is a new crew of refs for Game 2. If the same crew was in place, I would have been whistled for a personal foul just for typing this preview. Ray won’t be the best Celtic this series, but he will probably be the most important. Against LA’s length it’s more important than ever that Boston spreads the floor and opens up some space in the middle. Ray’s one of the top floor-spacers in the game… when he isn’t unfairly glued to the bench with weak foul calls.
- Rondo must cut to the hoop. Three or four times in Game 1, Rondo was able to cut away from a roving Kobe Bryant for easy layups. When Rondo’s off-ball, he’s got to make himself a threat by doing just that: Diving to the basket.
5. What should the Celtics do defensively?
- Rebound. It sounds easy, just one simple word. But goddamn did the Celtics get bulldozed on the glass in the first game. I mean, Pau Gasol had 7 more rebounds than KG and Perk combined. And Pau’s offensive rebounds (all eight of them) were huge: The Lakers had 28 second-chance points, an absurdly high total. Box out, Celtics. Especially you, Perk, and you, KG. You guys got abused last time out.
- Better help. Remember how the C’s were so successful last time they played Kobe? They collapsed on him, ran second bodies at him, and never let him get into the lane. Nothing came easy, nothing at all. The other night, things were far easier. Kobe got to the hoop a few times, more easily than he ever did in ’08. Give some help, Celtics. Turn Kobe into a contested, midrange jump-shooter. He’ll still hit some, sure, but it will stop him from picking up easy ones and keep him off the free throw line. 10 free throws attempts is way too many.
- Should they switch Perk onto Gasol? I’m wrestling with this one. I think Perk would do a better job on Gasol than KG. Most of Gasol’s damage came in the low post area, and Perk is the best low-post defender on earth. But KG wouldn’t do a great job on Bynum. That said, I’m leaning towards doing it. Bynum doesn’t make the Lakers go, not like Gasol does. Limit Gasol and the Lakers are suddenly a whole new team. Put Perk on him, is what I’m thinking.
Back to the conversation I had with my buddy about Game 2, he had one disclaimer to his rule that the winner of Game 2 would win the series:
“If the Celtics lose, you know I’m going to have to change my mind.”