Celtics need consistency from Big 3
It would also help if someone could get a handle on savvy Lakers veteran Fisher
BOSTON -- Somewhere, Kendrick Perkins is shaking his head at the news that Eddie Rush will be one of the three referees working Thursday's Game 4 of the NBA Finals.
Rush is part of the referee crew that tagged Perkins with a pair of technical fouls, including the Rush-issued one that left Perkins ejected late in the second quarter of a Game 5 loss to Orlando in the East finals and fearing a one-game suspension for reaching the league's postseason limit of seven in the process.
Instead, the NBA rescinded one of the calls and Perkins has managed to toe the line since, saying he's doing his best to avoid thinking about the dangerous situation he's in should he lose control of his emotions for only a moment.
Ironically, the whistle-happy officiating from the first three games of the Finals may have actually benefited Perkins thus far. With officials calling the game super tight, it seems tempers haven't had a chance to escalate to the point where Perkins could get one of the dastardly double technicals that account for five of his six postseason technicals.
With such a spotlight on the officials, it will be interesting to see how the crew calls Thursday's game. It should likewise be interesting to watch the interactions between Perkins and Rush.
But the Celtics, trailing 2-1 to the Lakers entering Thursday's tilt, have much larger issues to concern themselves with, including these four keys to Game 4:
TAKING CARE OF THAT FISHER CAT
Much has been made about Derek Fisher's offensive exploits in the fourth quarter of Game 3, where he converted 5-of-7 shots for 11 of his 16 points and helped keep the Celtics at bay as they desperately tried to rally from a 17-point hole.
But Fisher's defense flew under the radar. And maybe it was simply Ray Allen's offensive struggles that made Fisher look good, but the Celtics couldn't generate any sort of offense against the Lakers guard.
According to the folks at ESPN's Stats and Info, opponents working 1-on-1 against Fisher were a mere 1-of-11 shooting in Game 3. That includes 0-for-8 from Allen. Paul Pierce was the only player to generate a bucket, scoring in his only 1-on-1 action against Fisher.
Kobe Bryant had a poor shooting performance but combined with Fisher to spark Los Angeles' offense. The duo, which oozes Finals experience given that Fisher boasts 34 championship game appearances and Bryant 33, combined to score 45 points on 16-of-31 shooting. The other Lakers were 18-of-45 shooting for 46 points.
Coming into the series, it appeared the Celtics would have to take advantage of any Fisher matchup given the inspired defense played by Bryant and Artest. They'll need more out of Allen and any of Boston's other guards in order to have a chance in Game 4.
As far as offense goes, Perkins suggested containing Fisher was also of premium importance for Boston.
"We've just got to take him out of the game," said Perkins. "I think somebody has just got to put it in their mind that they're going to be a Derek Fisher stopper. Seriously, every time he's had a good game, they won. Game 1 he had a pretty good game, and last game he was the most important person, I believe, on their team, and they won again. I feel like we've got to take him out of the game."
GASOL ON MVP PACE
The Celtics did a phenomenal job of exploiting the Kevin Garnett-Pau Gasol matchup on the offensive end in Game 3, with Garnett connecting on 11-of-16 shots for a team-high 25 points. That's a trend that has to continue and maybe even to a larger degree. Perkins noted that KG has to be more selfish at times, even if that means demanding the ball in the post.
Boston would we well-served to generate 20-25 shots for Garnett given his success rate.
"When we fell on something that worked, we went away from it even though we know we should have stayed with it," said coach Doc Rivers. "We tried to play out of random too much. We like random, but when something else is working -- I thought the Lakers did a sensational job when they fell onto something, they stayed with it. The Fisher-Kobe pick-and-roll, for example, they stayed with that set. They ran it, it worked, ran it again, it worked, ran it again, it worked. We went to our set with Kevin, it worked, and then go three plays without running it and then we'd go back to it. I never thought we stayed with stuff long enough. But we saw that."
Boston's biggest problem might be stopping Gasol at the other end of the floor. According to ESPN Stats and Info, he's not just having a good series, he's having an MVP-caliber series.
Gasol averaged 20.3 points, 10.7 rebounds, and 3.7 blocks in the first three games, with many of the caroms coming on the offensive glass. Since blocks started being tracked in 1973-74, only four other players have averaged 20-10-3 through the first three games of the Finals. Three went on to win the Finals MVP, while all four players saw their team win the series. Here's a look at those players:
2010 -- Gasol, LAL -- 20.3 points, 10.7 rebounds, 3.7 blocks
2003 -- Tim Duncan, SA -- 24 points, 16 rebounds, 4.3 blocks
2002 -- Shaquille O'Neal, LAL - 37 points, 13 rebounds, 3 blocks
2001 -- O'Neal, LAL -- 34 points, 17.3 rebounds, 4 blocks
1980 -- Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, LAL -- 34.7 points, 14 rebounds, 5 blocks
Only Abdul-Jabbar wasn't MVP for the series.
Here's one more thing to keep in mind about Gasol's offensive abilities: When he touched the ball in Game 3 (32 possessions), the Lakers shot 55.5 percent. When he didn't touch the ball (34 possessions), L.A. shot 42.3 percent.
TWO OUT OF (BIG) THREE AIN'T BAD
The Celtics have thrived on offensive balance throughout the postseason, but in the Finals it seems like they've rarely gotten two of their Big Three to step up at the same time.
Part of that problem is foul trouble, which each of the Big Three has endured (Ray Allen in Game 1, KG in Game 2, Pierce in Game 3).
"It's a bit frustrating, to be honest," said Garnett. "But different series are going to call for different guys to step up, and in a way some of the calls go sometimes, two or three guys might be in foul trouble just from a flow standpoint. If you look at our series, I don't think there's been a point where all three of us have had huge games. If not one of us, something is going on. There's always a dilemma with one of us. There's never been a situation where it's been multiple. But from a sense of frustration, yeah, it is. We've just got to continue to grind and continue to do things and continue it work hard."
The Celtics can probably pencil in a solid outing from Allen. After his foul troubles in Game 1, he came out and hit the first seven 3-pointers he attempted in Game 2 en route to setting a Finals record with eight overall. Garnett seemed to find something offensively against Gasol in Game 3.
That leaves Pierce, who has been mighty quiet the past two games. The 2008 Finals MVP needs to elevate his game and suggested Wednesday he'll continue doing all the little things until he finds his shot.
One interesting note on Allen. His performance Tuesday, missing 13 shots, was actually statistically more improbable than hitting seven consecutive 3-pointers. Accuscore.com ran 10,000 simulations on both. Allen hit the seven trifectas 11 times but finished 0-for-13 or worse on only five occasions.
Rasheed Wallace produced only two points on 1-of-5 shooting over 19 minutes in Tuesday's Game 3 loss. He did add four rebounds, three assists, two steals and a block, but Boston needs more scoring if his balky back allows it.
Pierce suggested that if Wallace is limited, it puts a greater emphasis on Glen Davis and Boston's other bigs to step up.
"Rasheed is a big part of the things we try to do, especially off the bench with his length, his size, matching up with the Lakers," said Pierce. "But that combination of other guys has to come in and step up if he can't get his full strength. Other guys have to be willing to step in and make up for that. But what Rasheed does give you, he gives you veteran smarts when he's in the game, defensively he gives you length, rebounding and shooting when he's out there. We're going to need him. Even though these are the last four games of the season, we're going to need him, but we're going to need everybody."
The Celtics could benefit if Perkins gets back to what made him so successful on offense at the start of the season. As colleague Peter May detailed Thursday, Perkins must make himself at least a factor offensively so that Rivers can keep him (and his stellar defense) on the floor in crunch time situations late in the game.
Perkins acknowledges he needs to step up.
"It's all mental, I think," said Perkins. "I'm so locked in defensively, I'm doing my role, that I go into games and I'm not even worrying about offense. I'm going to do a better job [in Game 4]."
Chris Forsberg is the Celtics reporter for ESPNBoston.com. Follow him on Twitter.
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