Photo by Joe Murphy/NBAE/Getty Images
BOSTON -- Location, location, location.
It's just as important in basketball as it is in real estate, and the principle is the same. For the Los Angeles Lakers, their struggles in the first two games come down to the simple fact that they're not shooting from the court's most prized turf.
|LAKERS VERSUS CELTICS|
Boston 2, L.A. Lakers 0
Game 3: Tues., 8:30 ET, at LAL
• Full NBA Finals schedule
Look at almost any good offense and you'll see this is where they get the bulk of their shots. Yes, there are some teams and players that are particularly good on midrange jumpers -- we'll talk about two of them in a minute -- but this is almost always the shot of last resort. The first objective is to try to get a layup or a 3; only if that doesn't work out is the midrange J the weapon of choice.
A look at L.A.'s shot chart form the first seven quarters of this series tells a sobering story -- basically, the Lakers are getting very few of those quality looks.
In Game 1, the Lakers were especially egregious in this department. Of their 77 shot attempts, more than half (39) were two-point jumpers longer than 13 feet, an unacceptable ratio that pretty much doomed them to the 88-point effort they mustered. L.A. turned the ball over only eight times, so the stage was set for a strong performance. But they took too many low-percentage shots.
It wasn't just Kobe Bryant, either, although he led the way with an amazing 15 midrange hoists. He said he missed some bunnies after the game, but in truth he took far too many of the worst kind of shots, contributing greatly to his 9-for-26 shooting night. Only eight of his 26 tries came from 12 feet and in.
But the other Lakers still managed 24 tries from midrange on their 51 attempts, a similarly poor ratio. Six came off the hands of Derek Fisher, including perhaps the worst one of the night -- an off-the-dribble, early-in-the-clock jack from the left corner that was easily rejected by Paul Pierce. But everybody got involved -- three from Lamar Odom and Pau Gasol, four from Sasha Vujacic, one each from Luke Walton and Jordan Farmar, and four from Ronny Turiaf.
In Game 2 the Lakers' shot selection was a bit better, helping account for their 102-point evening. It's instructive to see, especially, how much it improved in their 41-point fourth quarter. L.A. tried only three long 2-pointers in the quarter, and one of them was the desperation jumper by Vujacic in the final seconds that Pierce, again, rejected. Fourteen of L.A.'s 17 shots were 3s or close-in tries, with Bryant in particular finally seeming able to penetrate the defense.
Contrast that with the rest of the game, when L.A. again was sucked in by the lure of the long 2. Through the first three quarters, 23 of their 66 shot attempts were 2-pointers from 13 feet or more; while this was an improvement on Game 1, it's a less-than-ideal ratio.
For a contrast, check out the Celtics' shot chart from the first two games, and notice how many more quality attempts there were. As a team, Boston took 30 of 68 tries in Game 2 from midrange, which is a lot. However, 16 of them came from a player who takes this shot as much as anyone in the game -- Kevin Garnett -- and is vastly more successful at them than most players. The other Celtics took only 14 of their 49 tries as long 2s.
Similarly, the Celtics had only 28 of 76 shot attempts in Game 1 come from long 2s; instead they took 19 3-pointers and 29 close-in shots. That's a superior ratio, and it gets better -- Boston got 17 of those long 2-pointers from two players (Kevin Garnett and Sam Cassell) who have taken that shot as often and as successfully as nearly anyone in history.
In fact, if you take those two out of the picture, and then take Kobe out of the L.A. discussion, the disparity becomes really stark. As a shorthand, we'll call these other players "guys you'd really prefer weren't launching from 17."
The Celtics got 11 shots from that crew in Game 1, and 13 shots in Game 2; that's only 24 of the combined 92 shots those players took. In other words, 73.9 percent of their shots have been "good" looks, the kind of shots an offense wants to generate.
In the Lakers' case, that number through the first seven quarters of the series was a jarring 39, on 101 shots. In other words, only 61.4 percent of their shots were the type of quality looks you want for secondary players.
Additionally, these numbers underestimate Boston's quality shot attempts for another reason -- a huge number of Celtics tries would have been registered as close-in shots but for the fact that they were fouled while shooting.
Boston was fouled on a missed shot 14 times, compared to just three for the Lakers. Throw those numbers into the Game 2 shot chart and it's 23 long 2s in 69 "attempts" (shots+fouls) for the Lakers, compared to 14 of 61 for the non-Garnett Celtics. Once you throw in the fouls it becomes apparent that even in Game 2, the Celtics were taking better shots.
Ah yes, the fouls.
Given the shooting-chart disparity, our wonderment at the foul disparity is no longer so puzzling, is it?
L.A. took a ton of midrange shots in Game 1, ending up with a 35-28 deficit at the free-throw line. In Game 2, as we all know, that deficit ballooned to 38-10 even though the Lakers took fewer long 2s.
Nonetheless, L.A.'s main gripe has to remain its inability to make the kind of plays that lead to free-throw attempts in the first place. Remember, the problem wasn't a huge disparity in fouls -- it was 28 on L.A., 21 on Boston in Game 2. In fact, the Celtics were called for more offensive fouls and as many non-shooting fouls as the Lakers.
No, the problem was that the Lakers weren't getting the type of close-range shot attempts that generate free throws, and the shot chart offers ample proof. Once they finally did get those looks in the fourth quarter of Game 2, then it suddenly seemed that the officiating wasn't quite so favorable to the Boston cause.
And heading into Game 3, that's the story to watch. L.A. simply must improve its shot quality, because the big explanation for what's happened so far in the 2008 Finals is that both teams are getting exactly the type of shots the Celtics want.
John Hollinger writes for ESPN Insider. To e-mail him, click here.
During Game 2, I heard ABC analyst Mark Jackson say he agreed with Boston Globe columnist Bob Ryan's assertion that "Paul Pierce is the most explosive offensive force who has ever put on a Celtics uniform." With all due respect to Ryan, who certainly knows more about Celtics history than I do, and Jackson, stop it!
This is a clear case of being caught up in the heat of the moment. Pierce is tremendous, and he may be pushing himself toward the Hall of Fame, but what about Larry Bird?! If by explosive we mean "athletic, quick,'' etc. ... then yes, Pierce is more "explosive'' than Bird. But if by "explosive'' we mean "best offensive player,'' then it's Bird hands down.
To read the entire column, click here.
"This one stunned me a little bit. Who doesn't know Kobe Bryant right? I only know what I have heard, starting awhile back with the entire Shaq debacle. I don't really have an opinion one way or the other on or about him other than to know that people feel he might be one of the 4-5 greatest players to ever lace it up. What I do know is what I got to see up close and hear, was unexpected. From the first tip until about 4 minutes left in the game I saw and heard this guy bitch at his teammates. Every TO he came to the bench pissed, and a few of them he went to other guys and yelled about something they weren't doing, or something they did wrong. No dialog about "hey let's go, let's get after it" or whatever. He spent the better part of 3.5 quarters pissed off and ranting at the non-execution or lack of, of his team.
"...as a fan I was watching the whole thing, Kobe, his teammates and then the after-effects of conversations. He'd yell at someone, make a point, or send a message, turn and walk away, and more than once the person on the other end would roll eyes or give a 'whatever dude' look."
Jeff (Norwich, CT): Answer this for me: What is up with ESPN's so called "NBA Experts"? First, everyone not named T. Legler picked L.A. Now they are all making excuses (refs, Pierce deserves an Oscar etc). Why can't they credit the Celts for taking it to the basket and playing D? And quit making excuses for LA?
Chris Broussard: Jeff, I can't speak for the others, but I have definitely been giving the Celtics credit. I was torn over my pick and talked to the editors at ESPN.com about changing it to Boston. But I stuck with L.A. in 7. I'm not surprised at all, though, and Boston's dominance is not tainted in the least bit. Pierce wasn't faking. He was legitimately, and understandably, afraid that he had done serious damage to his knee, only to find out that it wasn't that bad. C's defense and physical toughness, and balanced offense, and athleticism at PG (Rondo) are giving Lakers fits.
Giving Pau Gasol a hand is one way the Lakers can get back in the NBA Finals.
Paul Pierce has emerged as the man this postseason for the Celtics. As the games get tougher, Pierce gets better. He has increased his scoring average with each round this postseason, and is averaging 25.0 points per game in the NBA Finals despite that injured knee.
|NBA Finals vs Lakers||25.0|
|Conf. Finals vs. Pistons||19.7|
|Conf. Semis vs. Cavaliers||19.4|
|First Round vs. Hawks||18.0|
The Lakers are the 30th team to go down 2-0 in the NBA Finals. Of the previous 29, only three have come back to win the series. The Celtics did it against the Lakers back in 1969, Bill Walton's Blazers did it in '77 and the Heat did it against the Mavericks just two years ago.
|2006 Heat||Mavericks||W, 4-2|
|1977 Blazers||76ers||W, 4-2|
|1969 Celtics||Lakers||W, 4-3|
Paul Pierce is going to tough it out for the Celtics and play through his knee pain. He doesn't even want MRIs until after the Finals. Obviously, this could have potentially harmful long-term consequences.
It calls to mind the last time that the Celtics made it to the NBA Finals (also against the Lakers) in 1987. Kevin McHale was at his absolute peak in 1986-87. He was selected to the All-NBA first team for the only time in his career and was also selected first team All-Defense. He averaged a career-high 26.1 points, capping seven straight seasons with an improved scoring average since he entered the league.
However, that all changed on March 11, 1987, when he injured his foot late in the regular season. By playoff time, he was suffering from bone spurs, a hairline fracture in his right foot, a series of sprains to his ankle and a painful left wrist. However, McHale played on, because he knew the Celtics had a chance to contend for their second straight title (they lost to the Lakers in the Finals). From that season on, however, McHale was never again quite the same. In each of his final six NBA seasons, his scoring average declined.
Excerpted from McHale's NBA bio:
"McHale would be the first to admit that the 1987 Finals probably shortened his career. He played the six-game series against the Lakers on what was essentially a broken foot. The pain was so bad that he used a patio chair from the hotel pool as a walker, yet he played 40 minutes each night. The Celtics lost the series in six games and McHale underwent surgery on his right foot during the offseason."
As the above bio points out, McHale was never the same after playing through his ankle injury. Could Paul Pierce be assuming the same risk? And is it worth it? To a player like Pierce, looking to secure a legacy of greatness, it clearly is.