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Saturday, June 14, 2008

By John Hollinger
ESPN.com

Photo by Melissa Majchrzak/NBAE/Getty Images

Pau and Kobe are figuring out how L.A. can become the first team to win the title after trailing 3-1.

1
It Is Time For the Lakers To Go Small

LOS ANGELES -- The Lakers' secret weapon heading into a potentially season-ending Game 5 actually isn't much of a secret -- it's called desperation.

With nothing left to lose, it stands to reason the Lakers will try almost anything in hopes of turning the tide in this series back in their favor.

Sasha Vujacic, for instance, said he watched the movie "300" for inspiration on Friday. When told of this, Lamar Odom suggested everyone on the team should see it. With good reason: The Lakers' odds don't look much better than those of the Spartan warriors in that movie, though hopefully they're aiming for a less gory rally.

With L.A. facing an uphill battle, it means the Persians, er, Celtics, must be ready for a kitchen-sink approach in Game 5 on Sunday. They'll have to be ready to adjust when the Lakers inevitably shift tactics from what they've done in the first four games.

LAKERS VERSUS CELTICS
NBA FINALS
Boston 3, L.A. Lakers 1
Game 5: Sun., 8:30 ET, at LAL



  • Full NBA Finals schedule
  • "You've got to try to think about it a little bit, obviously," Celtics coach Doc Rivers said.

    One tactic, in particular, seems ripe for exploitation, and it's the same one Rivers used so effectively in an equally desperate situation in Game 4: going small and spacing the floor with shooters.

    L.A. hasn't been able to get enough spacing on the floor when Odom and Pau Gasol are both in the game, because neither is a threat to burn the opposing defense from 3-point range. While this wasn't a problem in earlier rounds because their other skills offset that weakness, Boston's ability to shrink the floor on defense makes gaining extra space paramount.

    The tactic Phil Jackson has used late in all three losses has been to remove Odom and play four shooters on the outside along with Gasol -- Kobe Bryant, Derek Fisher, Vujacic and Vladimir Radmanovic being the usual grouping. Jordan Farmar, Luke Walton and/or Trevor Ariza also can be part of this alignment.

    Odom, alas, cannot. A 27.4 percent shooter on 3-pointers in the regular season, his jumper isn't enough of a threat to prevent Kevin Garnett from swarming to the strong side and messing up their plays -- which is why he's the one Jackson yanked.

    But with Fisher (40.6 percent), Radmanovic (40.6 percent) and Vujacic (43.7 percent) with Bryant and Gasol, it's a different story -- the Celtics are forced to play straight up and can't swarm Bryant as easily. In fact, any arrangement involving Kobe on the court and either Radmanovic or Walton in Odom's place at power forward has produced results offensively.

    The most notable impact came in the fourth quarter of Game 2, when the Lakers exploded for 41 points to nearly post a miraculous comeback before running out of steam.

    In Game 3, they used the lineup in the second quarter, playing Walton and Farmar instead of Radmanovic and Fisher, and scored six times in 10 trips. In the fourth quarter they scored three times in five trips with Walton as the power forward and the others shuttling in and out. Overall, L.A. produced 20 points in its 15 trips with a small unit.

    In Game 4, it had a similar effect. The Lakers scored on four straight trips with that group after Jackson pulled Odom with 2:02 left, but couldn't get the stop they needed to pull back in the game. They weren't as good at the end of the third, scoring once in four trips, excluding a 63-footer at the buzzer. Still, for the game as a whole, the unit was solid, producing 10 points in nine trips, and the numbers would look a lot better if Gasol hadn't missed a dunk at the end of the third.

    The only time the unit wasn't effective was in the fourth quarter of Game 1, with two empty trips in a brief cameo in the middle of the fourth, followed by four missed desperation 3-pointers in the final minute.

    Nonetheless, for the series as a whole, L.A.'s offensive troubles have been substantially fewer with a small unit surrounding Bryant.

    "I think we're just more mobile that way," Radmanovic said. "They aren't playing with the biggest lineup right now, they've had some injuries and they're trying to mix it up by playing smaller guys at the 4 spot. Obviously we have to make some adjustments."

    Of course, there's a tension here -- the Lakers can't just yank Odom when he's been their third-best player all season. Besides, it would be tough for L.A. to withstand the pounding of playing small for 48 minutes.

    Nonetheless, it seems clear that heavy doses of this tactic may be the last, best card that Jackson has left to play. So don't be surprised to see Odom come out a little earlier, rest a little longer and, for the fourth time in five games, have a seat down the stretch.

    Yes, it's a desperate measure, but these are desperate times. Using the small-ball lineup to open the floor for Bryant and counteract Boston's help-heavy defense may be L.A.'s only hope of extending its season until Tuesday.

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

    NBA Finals Dimes Past: June 2 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 | 10 | 11 | 12 | 13 | 14

    2
    Video Breakdown of the Celtics

    Video coach Bob Salmi takes a close look at how Boston's Paul Pierce stepped up his game on offense, while shutting down Kobe Bryant on defense in the second half of Game 4.

    3
    Video Breakdown of the Lakers

    Video coach Bob Salmi points out that the Lakers were rolling in the first half Thursday even though Kobe Bryant didn't make a field goal.

    4

    A Little R-E-L-I-E-F

    By Jemele Hill
    ESPN.com

    LOS ANGELES -- Everyone assumes the Lakers spent their day off on Friday sulking about Game 4, but for one Laker, the break was a golden opportunity to do something less stressful.

    Jordan Farmar spent most of Friday at UCLA, his alma mater, playing H-O-R-S-E with his good friend and former teammate, Josh Shipp. Farmar claims to have won.

    "I was psychologically OK after Game 4," Farmar said. "It was just good to get back to enjoying basketball. You get caught up in everything and you forget to enjoy it. You forget you're playing in the Finals with the Los Angeles Lakers. I just wanted to get back to playing basketball."

    LINE OF THE DAY
    Denver Post reporter Ben Hochman asked Paul Pierce if there were any similarities between him and the Nuggets' Carmelo Anthony, and after pausing for a second, Pierce responded:

    "Well, I've never got a DUI."

    In fairness, Pierce explained he wasn't trying to take a shot at Melo and he went on to say how he thought the young forward had the potential to be better than him. Still, ouch.

    Jemele Hill can be reached at jemeleespn@gmail.com.

    5

    NBA Video Channel

    6

    Chris Broussard Blog

    LOS ANGELES -- I did several radio interviews on Friday, one day after the Staples Center collapse, and more than a few of the hosts wanted to know if Kobe Bryant's legacy as an all-time great was now forever tainted.

    My answer was simple:

    No way.

    This has happened to the best of them.

    To read the full blog, click here.

    7

    Ray Allen's Perfect Possession

    By Henry Abbott
    ESPN.com

    LOS ANGELES -- After some thought, the play of Game 4 that stands out most to me was Ray Allen's unbelievable bit of clock killing.

    The Lakers scored with 40 seconds left, to make it a three-point game.

    If I coached the Lakers, I would have fouled very quickly in this situation. (Quick version of the argument, which is for another day: If Boston kills a full 24 seconds, you're only left with 16 seconds, and you would need one or two scores. If you foul, you're working with 39 seconds and needing one or two scores. Boston gets closer to the win with every second that comes off the clock. Evidently, few coaches agree with me on that, because they typically don't do it.)

    Click here to read the TrueHoop blog

    8

    Put This In the Trophy Case

    Melissa Majchrzak/NBAE/Getty Images

    Derek Fisher received the 2008 Magic Johnson award, which goes to the NBA player who combines excellent play on the court with outstanding media cooperation.

    9

    Lots Of Good News For C's

    All signs are pointing toward the Celtics winning their 17th NBA title.

  • The Celtics are 22-0 in playoff series when leading 3-1 (6-0 in NBA Finals).

  • The Lakers are 1-14 in playoff series when trailing 3-1, including 0-6 at the NBA Finals (their only series win came in the 1970 conference semis vs. the Suns).

  • NBA teams leading the Finals 3-1 are 28-0.

  • The Celtics are 5-1 this season vs. the Lakers.

  • The Lakers are 9-1 at home this postseason but have lost six of the past seven Finals games overall dating back to the 2004 Finals vs. the Pistons.

    -- ESPN Research

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