Print and Go Back ESPN.com: NBA [Print without images]

Friday, June 6, 2008
Updated: June 7, 10:06 PM ET

By John Hollinger
ESPN.com

Photo by GABRIEL BOUYS/AFP/Getty Images

After giving up 98 points in Thursday's Game 1 loss, it is time for Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol and the rest of the Lakers to turn their attention to the defensive side of the court.

1
Defensive Improvements The Key For The Lakers

BOSTON -- With a day to simmer on it, this much about Game 1 is clear: It was there for the taking, and L.A. didn't take it.

Two starters checked out with injuries, including the Celtics' leading scorer, the Lakers had a five-point halftime lead and Boston wasn't making its 3s (6-of-19). Even so, L.A. missed out on a great chance to get the one road win (at a minimum) it needs to take the series.

There are many reasons the Lakers failed -- Paul Pierce's big shots and Kobe Bryant's struggles were huge factors, obviously, and deserved the attention they received.

What we've discussed very little, however, is the fact that L.A. just didn't defend well, and it will need to do a much better job in order to win Game 2.

LAKERS VERSUS CELTICS
NBA FINALS
Boston 1, L.A. Lakers 0
Game 2: Sun., 8:30 ET, at BOS



  • Full NBA Finals schedule
  • Boston scored 98 points on its 92 offensive possessions, an unacceptable 106.5 offensive efficiency mark if you're a Lakers fan. It's particularly galling in light of the fact that Pierce missed so much time and that the Celtics shot poorly overall (42.1 percent).

    "We were OK in Game 1," Lakers coach Phil Jackson said. "We had a good first half, and obviously there's some reasons for that. [But] the second half, a 31-point third quarter, that's unacceptable."

    To the extent L.A.'s defense has been discussed, most of the attention has been on rebounding. That's mostly because of a late sequence in which Kevin Garnett beat Pau Gasol to a missed Rajon Rondo free throw and knocked it out of bounds off Vladimir Radmanovic, then dunked home the ensuing missed shot by James Posey.

    The Lakers kept up that point of view Friday, with Jackson and several players mentioning the need to take away Boston's 12 second-chance points, including that massive follow-up dunk by Garnett, which effectively ended the game.

    But in reality, this should have been a total nonsurprise and is a small part of the overall reason for the Lakers' defensive failings. On the night Boston missed 44 shots from the field and two live-ball free throws, for a total of 46 available rebounds. Out of those shots, all but 14 of those caroms ended in either a Lakers possession or the end of a quarter.

    That's a 30 percent offensive rebound rate for Boston, which is exactly par for the course for both teams -- Boston has rebounded 30.1 percent of its misses in the playoffs, while L.A. has grabbed 70 percent of its defensive caroms.

    So rebounding might have seemed like an issue at key points in the game, but other factors were much more damning to L.A.'s chances. For instance:

  • Boston's point guards were supposed to be minor factors offensively; instead, Rondo and Sam Cassell combined for 23 points and eight assists.

  • Ray Allen, whose playoff struggles have been well-documented, wriggled free for 19 points to supplement the 46 from Pierce and Garnett. L.A. hoped to use sub Sasha Vujacic against Allen, but he struggled mightily chasing the smaller Allen through screens off the ball.

  • And before injuring his knee, Pierce toyed with Radmanovic to start the third quarter. This loomed as a bad matchup coming in and looked worse in real life, as Pierce scored eight straight points on three trips to allow Boston to regain the lead at the start of the third quarter. Radmanovic was plagued by fouls all game and saw only 17 minutes.

  • Finally, Boston took 35 free-throw attempts, negating a solid effort in defending the Celtics from the field (42.1 percent). "There were a lot of possessions where instead of making them make a basket, we fouled them," Derek Fisher said. "And you can't defend anybody at the free-throw line."

    So what are the answers?

    In a couple of cases, there aren't any. L.A. might just need to shake Boston's hand on the play of the point guards -- Cassell hit several tough shots over Fisher and Rondo's openings mostly came as a result of weakside chances after double-teams on Pierce and Garnett. While L.A. blew a couple of rotations when the ball swung his way, much of Rondo's scoring was by design.

    "You can't just let [Pierce and Garnett] size up the defense and have their way. You have to try to find ways to be creative in taking away spacing, taking away opportunities, and that means other guys are going to get shots," Fisher said. "That's a part of this game … you have to figure out ways to take the other team's strengths away."

    Similarly, Allen and Pierce are going to be tough matchups regardless of what the Lakers do; they're both potent scorers, and whomever Kobe isn't guarding should have an advantage. It's possible the Lakers can plug in little-used Trevor Ariza to see some minutes against Pierce, but in the big picture it's still going to be Kobe, Vujacic and Luke Walton seeing most of the action.

    But the fouls? That shouldn't have happened, and it's the Lakers most fixable issue heading into Sunday. L.A. was a low-foul team in the regular season, permitting only .284 opponent free-throw attempts per field-goal attempt -- the NBA's ninth-best mark. Although Boston was good at getting to the line, with the league's sixth-best FTA/FGA rate at .346, this factor should even out in this series.

    It sure as heck didn't in Game 1: The Celtics had a .461 FTA/FGA in Game 1, a completely unacceptable rate from L.A.'s perspective.

    "They created some fouls by aggressive drives, where we put our hands on them and it was called," Jackson said. "Those are things we have to eliminate. We also had some fouls boxing out, and that's [something] we have to do better. They were more aggressive in that particular aspect of the game."

    "We can do a better job defending those guys if we don't pick up some of those early fouls to start the quarters," Fisher said. "I think two of the quarters we were in the penalty with eight or nine minutes to go in the quarter. You can't play defense in the NBA in the penalty for that long."

    The fouls also contributed to a side issue that impacted the offense: a lack of transition opportunities. L.A. finished with just two fast-break points, a pathetic total for a team that pairs Bryant with the fleetest frontcourt in basketball.

    "In order to run, we have to control the boards and we have to keep them off the free-throw line," Jackson said.

    Overall, then, there's plenty of work to be done. L.A. can't be ecstatic about its offensive effort either, but one gets the impression that its Game 2 result will be determined more by the adjustments it makes at the defensive end.

    If the Lakers can reduce the fouls, minimize the mismatches for Pierce and Allen, and keep Rondo under control when the ball rotates to him on the weak side, they'll be in much better position to steal a road win on Sunday. And if not, they'll head back to California in a huge hole.

    John Hollinger writes for ESPN Insider. To e-mail him, click here.

    NBA Finals Dimes Past: June 2 | 5 | 6

  • 2
    Celtics Need Pierce In Order To Win Title

    By Scoop Jackson | ESPN.com

    BOSTON -- As he walked through the hallway after the win in Game 1 of his first Finals, Paul Pierce was stopped briefly. With two ice bags wrapped around his knees, his limp very noticeable, he was in a semirush to get back to the Boston locker room to get whatever treatment was necessary to begin the process of getting him back on the court and back to 100 percent in a few days. He didn't have time to be stopped or talk to anyone.

    But Kobe Bryant isn't just anyone. And for that brief moment, when Kobe asked him if he was all right, Pierce did stop. He muttered a low-sounding, "I think I'm good," and kept it moving. It was as if he wanted to stay and talk with Bryant for a minute -- tell him "thanks for asking," then go into what happened in his mind when he heard his right knee pop in the third quarter, then explain to him why he had to drop those back-to-back 3s on the Lakers that changed the course of the game -- but he was still in game mode.

    One down, six to go. Or fewer.

    And in less than five seconds they separated. One going to tell the media his side of the loss, the other going to begin the 72-hour process of rehab to get ready to have the same impact on Game 2 as he did on the first. The trainer's door closed behind him, and he let out a rebel yell. It was over.

    But for Pierce, it really is just beginning.

    It took the Celtics a long time to find him. He'd been there for 10 years, but still ...

    When the playoffs began, the Celtics had no idea who the leader of their team was. Pierce and Kevin Garnett said publicly that if there were ever a Game 7 and it was on the line, Ray Allen would be the one to take the shot. The team, by virtue of Garnett's play, presence and personality, seemed to look to him as the one whose spirit the players would follow.

    To read the entire column, click here.

    3

    Chat With J.A. Adande

    Adrian (Abilene,Tex.): J.A., do you honestly think the Los Angeles Lakers can rebound from this Game 1 loss?

    J.A. Adande: The question is really more about Pierce's physical state than the Lakers' mental state. Even if the Celtics play defense the way they did in the second half (which looked more like the Celtics we know) they might not have enough firepower if Pierce can't go close to 100 percent.

    To read the full chat, click here.

    4

    Mac, Jurko & Harry Show

    Doug Collins explains why he won't be the head coach of the Chicago Bulls. He says he and Jerry Reinsdorf agreed that if there was any indecision about hiring him, then Reinsdorf shouldn't make the move.

    ESPN Radio

    5

    Luck On Kobe's Side

    By ESPN Research

    Kobe Bryant is the fifth reigning league MVP since 1998 to advance to the NBA Finals. Only one of the previous four MVPs to reach the Finals -- Allen Iverson -- didn't win the title. Ironically, Iverson's 76ers lost to the previous year's MVP, Shaquille O'Neal and the Lakers.

    Year Player Result
    2008 Kobe Bryant, Lakers ?
    2003 Tim Duncan, Spurs* Won
    2001 Allen Iverson, Sixers Lost
    2000 Shaquille O'Neal, Lakers* Won
    1998 Michael Jordan, Bulls* Won
    *Also won Finals MVP

    6

    Posey Needs To Be Ready

    By Dr. Jack Ramsay
    ESPN Radio

    If you're Doc Rivers, what do you tell your team to prepare them for a huge NBA Finals Game 2 when you're not sure you'll have Paul Pierce?

    During a timeout after Pierce was carried off the floor in the third period of Game 1 and his future for the game and perhaps the season was in doubt, Doc gathered his players and told them, in essence, "This is all about being able to face adversity and rise above it."

    So they went out and played. They hung in the game, but were trailing when Pierce suddenly reappeared with the theme from "Rocky" ringing in everybody's ears.

    The crowd was ecstatic, and Pierce went back in the game and knocked down two 3-pointers and gave his team a lead it never relinquished.

    On Friday, Pierce was limping along and his status for Sunday is still in doubt. I'm sure Doc is hoping fervently that he has Pierce at 100 percent for a big Game 2, but I'm equally sure that Doc will prepare his team to play with or without Paul. From my coaching experience, I would prepare my backup player -- I would presume to be James Posey -- by working him into all the run-throughs and all the dummy scrimmaging that the Celtics will do before Game 2.

    I would take Posey aside and tell him that I just want him to be James Posey, not Paul Pierce. And that would mean I would expect him to provide his best defense, to feel confident to take open shots and to blend himself as seamlessly as possible into the team game.

    And then I would tell the team, "We've got James Posey. We brought him here to be a principal player. He has shown during the season that he can be a defensive stopper, he can hit critical shots for us when we need them the most and we have won games because James Posey was there for us. If Paul can play, we pick it right up where we left off in Game 1. If Paul can't play in Game 2, I'm confident we can win with James Posey."

    Legendary coach and Basketball Hall of Famer Dr. Jack Ramsay serves as lead game analyst for the NBA on ESPN Radio.

    7

    NBA Video Channel

    8

    How's the Knee, Paul?

    Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE/Getty Images

    Although he had swelling and stiffness in his knee following Game 1, Paul Pierce said he likes his chances to play on Sunday night.

    9

    Familiar Foes: Lakers vs. Celtics

    Elias Sports Bureau

    This is the 11th time the Lakers and Celtics are meeting with the NBA championship on the line. Only one other matchup in the four major North American professional sports leagues has occurred as often. The Dodgers and Yankees have played each other in the World Series 11 times. The NHL record is seven (Bruins vs. Canadiens and Red Wings vs. Maple Leafs). The NFL record is six (Giants vs. Bears).

    More from Elias Sports Bureau

    10