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Taking a closer look at Celtics-Lakers

 

After taking a full day to digest Thursday night’s results, and revisiting the final quarter and overtime of the game, I have to respectively disagree with Celticshub.com contributor Zach Lowe’s analysis that the Lakers were the better team. This game was a back and forth battle which lacked any real flow due to the questionable (to put it kindly) officiating.

That being said, it was not the officiating that cost the Celtics this game. When Kevin Garnett fouled out with 4:22 left in the 4th quarter, the Celtics led 95-93. The Celtics played nine more minutes of basketball with the Lakers after KG hit the bench with the Lakers going +3 during this stretch eventually, giving them a one point win. Shockingly, the Celtics should have won this game. They squandered a number of opportunities to pull this out and had their flaws as a team magnified as the minutes wore on in overtime with KG on the pine.

These observations are not meant to take away anything from a gritty Lakers win on the road. They were gassed after a long road trip, and had that excuse waiting for them if they wanted to pack it in. However, this game was much more important to them than the Celtics. Psychologically after losing three in Boston during last year’s finals they needed to prove to themselves they could come into Boston and win. To make matters more impressive, they did this despite Kobe Bryant having a subpar game shooting the ball (10/29) including 0/4 in overtime.

Confidence wise, this game is what the doctor ordered for Lamar Odom and Pau Gasol, having posted lines of 20 and 24 points respectively. A sharp contrast from the disappearing act both pulled last time they visited town. And while both of these two deserve kudos, down the stretch their effectiveness offensively could be primarily attributed to the lack of KG on the floor and the insertion of Glen Davis.

In my mind, once Garnett fouled out in this game the Celtics were playing with house money. There is no way defensively the Celtics can match up with both of the Lakers big men without KG. Big Baby is the best PF defensively off the bench for the Celtics but that really isn’t saying much. His height defiency and lack of speed on rotations killed the Celtics on multiple possession at the end of regulation and overtime.

We saw shades of this sloppy defense and slow rotations with this lineup against Minnesota last Sunday when Al Jefferson and Randy Foye torched the Celtics on pick and rolls without KG. The Celtics survived that one simply because the Minnesota Timberwolves are still the Minnesota Timberwolves. In a game against the best in the west, the Celtics weren’t as lucky.

Regarding the Lakers poor free throw shooting: Yes they shot poorly for the game going 17/29 from the stripe. This fact has been used as an example of how much LA underachieved in this game. However this shooting was not a factor in deciding the game. The Lakers shot no free throws in the last six minutes of regulation. They went 3/4 in overtime with Odom hitting two clutch game winning free throws with 16 seconds left in OT after a foolish loose ball foul by Big Baby.

Speaking of Big Baby, let’s talk a bit more about how much of an impact offensively he had during crunch time and how it ultimately cost the Celtics this game. There is plenty of blame to be passed around for this development and it will start first with coach Doc Rivers.

Rivers has done a great job this year coaching but he had an off night Thursday. During last year’s finals one of the Celtics strengths was Rivers’ willingness to adapt his personnel to the Lakers defensive scheme. When the Purple and Gold clogged up the lane, and lagged off Rondo and Perkins, Rivers went small and inserted Eddie House and James Posey to spread the floor. This lineup along with the big three catapulted the Celtics’ game 4 comeback to give the C’s a 3-1 series lead.

The Celtics faced a similar Lakers defense once the Garnett fouled out of the game Thursday night. Down the stretch though, the Celtics went with a lineup of Pierce, Allen, Davis, Rondo and Perkins. This lineup allowed the Lakers to play off the three poor jump shooters and protect the hoop, forcing Pierce into several ineffective drives and tough shots and ultimately (and perhaps most disturbingly) FOUR JUMP SHOTS for Big Baby in the last nine minutes of this game.

Yes he made one of these jump shots. If KG is in the game though he likely makes at least two of those jumpers and the Celtics probably go on to win that game. However Glen Davis under no circumstances should be taking one jump shot at the end of any meaningful game, much less four. My problem with Big Baby right now as a player is he’s trying to become something he isn’t; a jump shooter. More after the jump

Doc has said he has encouraged Big Baby to add this shooting component to his game. While he has been trying to become the next KG in hopes of consistently draining mid range jumpers, Big Baby has forgotten about the part of his game that made him effective in the first place; the ability to bang with the big guys down low and become a nuisance on the offensive glass.

When Big Baby plays like a jump shooter he becomes more of a liability that an asset to the Celtics lineup and that is exactly what happened Thursday Night. And until Baby realizes this, he will continue to lose minutes back to Leon Powe as seen Friday Night against the Knicks where he played 27 minutes and while Davis was limited to 14.

Back to Doc for a minute though. I realize that his options were limited on the bench when it comes to shooters. (calling James Posey) You can’t tell me though why Eddie House was not in this game down the stretch until the Celtics last offensive possession of regulation and overtime. Much like the finals his presence was needed throughout that stretch to keep the Lakers D at least a little more honest since everyone knows House is willing to take and make those big shots in crunch time.

I also wouldn’t have minded to see Leon Powe in down the stretch offensively in place of Baby. Powe is obviously not a threat shooting wise, but was having a great game thus far, and always seems to play well at home against the Lakers. His nose for the offensive glass would have also been an asset off for potential missed jumpers.

In addition though some may laugh this off, I think the Celtics legitimately missed Brian Scalabrine during this game, especially down the stretch offensively. And yes those are words I would have never dreamed of saying two months ago. Grant it, he’s a big step down from Posey shooting wise but he’s just as much of a step up from Davis in spreading the floor, as he has made 37% of his treys so far this year. Him and House in the lineup would have helped the Celts to open up the floor more for Pierce and Allen once KG fouled out.

Doc’s play calling out of timeouts in final possessions of regulation and overtime also left a lot to be desired. The Celtics appeared to be freelancing, relying almost entirely on number 34 like the Celtics of old pre 2007 on both possessions, with Pierce trying to go one on one with one of the best defensive players in the league and getting striped for his trouble. This forced Eddie House to throw up a shot that never had a chance as time expired.

The problems continued again in the last minute of overtime. The Celtics possessions’ coming out of timeouts being entirely ineffective, with no real semblance of a set play in place, in contrast to the masterful play orchestrated by Rivers to get Ray Allen an open look for the game winning three against Philly two days earlier. Instead, coming out of the huddle these possessions consisted of:

  • A blocked Big Baby jumper with 17 seconds left
  • A forced jumper by Pierce at top of key with 12 seconds remaining
  • Ray Allen missing a desperation three on the last possession of overtime

All things considered, this game more than anything magnified the Celtics lack of depth and need for help in the form of a shooter and backup big man. Danny Ainge must address one of these weaknesses (hopefully both) by the playoffs in order to give the Celtics a better chance when the bench must be turned to in challenging situations against elite competition. And with Posey in the big easy, PJ Brown enjoying the retired life, and the Celtics having no attractive trade bait they would want to part with Ainge will have to get creative to try to fill these gaps.

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