Commentary

Five keys for Celtics in Game 5

Updated: June 13, 2010, 8:22 PM ET
By Chris Forsberg | ESPNBoston.com

BOSTON -- To understand the magnitude of Sunday's Game 5 of the NBA Finals, you probably don't need any numbers such as the winner of Game 5 in a best-of-seven series tied at two games apiece goes on to win the series 83.3 percent of the time (130 of 156).

It's pretty obvious that with the Finals down to a best-of-three series, the team that prevails when the Boston Celtics and Los Angeles Lakers clash Sunday night (8 ET, ABC) at TD Garden is likely to win this series. No guarantee, but, as history supports, quite likely.

So here are five things to watch for when the teams lock horns:

Balance is good, but …

The Celtics accomplished a fairly remarkable feat in Thursday's 96-89 Game 4 triumph by becoming only the fourth team in the past 25 years to win a Finals game without having anyone score at least 20 points.

Paul Pierce paced Boston with 19 as the team put six players in double figures. The only other teams to accomplish that feat were the 2007 Spurs (Game 3 vs. Cavaliers), 2005 Pistons (Game 4 vs. Spurs) and 1994 Knicks (Game 2 vs. the Rockets).

But according to the Elias Sports Bureau, this is par for the course for Boston. Since the Big Three was formed, the Celtics have won 30 regular-season games in which their leading scorer had fewer than 20 points, easily the highest total in the NBA in that span.

Now, all that said, it wouldn't hurt the Celtics to get their entire Big Three going, and maybe get two of its members over that 20-point barrier. Whether it's counting on Kevin Garnett for 25 points in the post or hoping Ray Allen can rekindle some of that 3-point magic from Game 2, Boston needs to be able to lean on its Big Three, and if all three players are on their game, things get that much easier for the Green.

Pierce connected on 7 of 11 shots in Game 4 -- his best shooting performance against Ron Artest this series -- and point guard Rajon Rondo suggested the Celtics were trying to get Pierce going even more before the bench took over in the fourth quarter.

Asked Saturday how the team can get him going again in Game 5, Pierce smiled and said, "Just get me the ball, like Keyshawn Johnson."

The Celtics have benefited from a relatively quiet series from Kobe Bryant, but you have to think he's going to get hot before this is over. It's up to the Big Three to likewise heat up.

TA the stopper

Speaking of Bryant, Celtics reserve guard Tony Allen has been dubbed Bryant's kryptonite for his ability to at least slow him down through four games. That has left Celtics coach Doc Rivers uneasy, fearing that Bryant could draw extra motivation from the mere suggestion that a Boston backup -- of all people -- is capable of shutting him down.

[+] EnlargeTony Allen and Kobe Bryant
Paul J. Richards/Getty ImagesWhen Tony Allen covers Kobe Bryant, he challenges every move the Lakers star makes.

"Kobe is pretty competitive, from what I hear," Rivers joked Saturday. "So there's no doubt that, the more you talk about it, the more the target is on. But that's fine. The one thing I know about Tony, he's not going anywhere. He'll be there."

And when Allen has been there, Bryant hasn't been able to generate easy offense.

According to ESPN Stats & Information, when Allen is his primary defender, Bryant has scored a mere 20 points on 26.6 percent shooting with zero uncontested shots. What's more, Bryant has had a touch on only 79.5 percent of those possessions (73 total).

Against all other defenders, Bryant has scored 93 points on 42.4 percent shooting with eight uncontested shots. Bryant has had a touch on 88 percent of those possessions (234 total).

The fourth quarter of Game 4 illustrated Bryant's struggles, as he went 1-for-5 on eight touches against Allen over 17 Lakers possessions.

Allen described his preparation Saturday, noting that it starts in the film room, then carries over to the game, where coming off the bench aids him.

"I'm able to take what [assistant coach Tom Thibodeau] and Ray [Allen] tell me and take that out on the floor with me," Allen said.

In a series in which Boston's bench has overachieved, highlighted by the exploits of Glen Davis and Nate Robinson in Game 4, the Celtics need more of the same from Tony Allen, especially on the defensive side against Bryant.

Rondo on the rebound

Maybe the most startling stat from Game 4 was that Rondo generated a mere three assists. Only twice in his career has he posted fewer assists in a postseason game.

Rondo seems to have faded into the background the past two games, even if that has been somewhat by design as Boston forces the ball to Garnett and Pierce, looking to establish them early.

Regardless, Rondo needs to get back to creating by getting into the lane and disrupting the defense. That task might be a little easier Sunday if Lakers big man Andrew Bynum is limited by the right knee injury that required another draining after Game 4.

Rondo stressed Saturday that he hasn't been bashful going to the basket, even with Bynum on the court, but it's clear removing one active 7-footer from the floor can only help Rondo's cause.

For his part, Rondo acknowledged that he's been just "OK" the past two games. He takes solace in the fact Boston won Game 4 but noted that he needs to get involved in rebounding more to fuel his offense.

"I think I need to rebound more," Rondo said. "Rebound and push the ball."

Boston has thrived in transition, particularly when Rondo gets the ball in his hands quickly and pushes the pace. That's easier to do when he's the one with the first touch after a Lakers miss.

To that end, the Celtics seem to have put a heavy emphasis on having their bigs focus on boxing out and gaining position, and letting Rondo and Pierce fall back to the basket and clean up the misses.

Must do windows

[+] EnlargeAndrew Bynum
Ronald Martinez/Getty ImagesIf Andrew Bynum's bum knee prevents him from being himself in the middle, life gets easier for the Celtics.

Speaking of rebounds, it's no coincidence that the team that has won the rebounding battle has won the first four games of the series. The Celtics finished plus-5 (Game 2) and plus-7 (Game 4) in their triumphs but went minus-11 (Game 1) and minus-8 (Game 3) in their losses.

Yet again, Bynum could be the wild card for Los Angeles. Even with Lamar Odom coming off the bench, Boston obviously stands a better chance of winning the battle of the glass if Bynum is limited.

With Pau Gasol pushed to the 5 spot in place of Bynum, Gasol has to go one-on-one with Kendrick Perkins for rebounds, and Perkins has said Gasol is far less physical under the basket than Bynum.

Being less physical leads to fewer rebounds for Gasol. And the numbers suggest that the Lakers need Gasol to be a presence on the glass for the team to be successful.

In the postseason, Los Angeles is 10-1 when Gasol grabs 10 or more rebounds in a game, including 2-0 in the Finals. When Gasol has nine or fewer rebounds, the Lakers are 4-5, including 0-2 in the Finals.

Most Boston fans remember 2008, when the Celtics exploited their physical edge up front, in part because Gasol was forced to play center with Bynum injured.

It could be more of the same Sunday.

Pushing around Pau

Even if Bynum plays, we doubt he'd be the 39-minute Bynum of Game 2. Seems reasonable after the knee drainings he has endured, right?

That puts more pressure on Gasol, who, through four games, might very well be the MVP of the series.

But one of the more interesting aspects of Game 4 was how Rasheed Wallace got physical with the Spaniard and really took him out of his comfort level at times by being a bully (but, more often than not, a bully within the confines of the rules).

Check out this phenomenal breakdown by our friends at TrueHoop. It illustrates exactly how that matchup played out.

Wallace pretty much challenges Gasol to go one-on-one, runs his mouth the whole time and never gives up an inch. Even Rivers had to admit he liked what he saw and didn't mind leaving the subs in for an extended fourth-quarter run in part because Gasol went 2-for-4 with only four fourth-quarter points while matched up with Wallace.

Gasol also committed two fouls and one turnover while grabbing only one rebound in the full 12 minutes.

"I do like that matchup," Rivers said. "It's rare that [Gasol] has to shoot over length. And Rasheed is physical."

Two wild cards to consider:

1) How is Wallace's back? He didn't elaborate Saturday other than to say, "I'm fine." But he's been hard-pressed to make it through a full game since tweaking his back in Game 5 of the conference finals.

2) Can Perkins and Wallace avoid technical fouls? It's one thing to get physical, but then you run the risk of the double technical. Boston isn't thinking much about the fine line Perkins and Wallace are walking as they sit one shy of the NBA's postseason limit of seven technicals before being hit with a one-game suspension. But can Perkins and Wallace play their brand of basketball and ensure they won't miss Game 6 or potentially Game 7?

Chris Forsberg is the Celtics reporter for ESPNBoston.com. Follow him on Twitter.

Chris Forsberg

Celtics reporter, ESPNBoston.com

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