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The Toughest Win

 

The fourth win in this series will be the single toughest win of the New Big Three era. Despite never having lost a series with its starting line-up intact, this team has not exactly been a juggernaut when it comes to closing out series on the road. Over the last three seasons, the Celtics are 1-7 in potential close-out games on the road, including losses this season in Miami (Game 4) and Orlando (Game 5).

You think back to Game 6 of the 2008 Finals, and you have a tendency to conclude this team will never, ever miss an opportunity to win a title when they are this close—that they will play with a super-intensity no team in the NBA can match and simply out-work the Lakers. Game 6 of the 2008 Finals was one of the few games I can remember in which the cliché was true—one of the teams on the court was not going to lose, under any circumstances.

But that game was at home, when the combination of a good start, a hungry team and a blood-thirsty crowd can unnerve a team already unsure of itself. One of those elements will be missing on Tuesday.

The Celtics will have to play a tremendous game to win again in Los Angeles, and such a game means playing better offensively and on the boards than they did in Game 5. That sound ridiculous, given Boston shot an insane 56 percent on Sunday, becoming only the 9th team to hit the 56 percent mark against Los Angeles since the arrival of Pau Gasol, according to Basketball-Reference data for the regular season and the playoffs.

Because despite that 56 percent shooting, Boston’s two most prominent flaws almost cost them a game they absolutely should have won.

That 56 percent shooting is anomalous. The Celtics won’t match it again. But 17 turnovers, including 11 in the first half? That isn’t anomalous, not for this team. The Celtics that showed up Sunday night were a team that, for whatever reason, did not value every possession. And we have seen that before.

Kendrick Perkins leading the fast break—in Game 5 of the Finals!—when he hasn’t done so all season (3:14, 1st)? There hasn’t been a more predictable offensive foul not involving Tony Allen in the last three seasons. Rajon Rondo inexplicably pausing mid-dribble while streaking alone down the left side of the floor in transition, drawing a carry call (5:00, 2nd)? Ray Allen and KG miscommunicating on a simple entry pass a couple of minutes later, resulting in Allen bouncing the pass right to Los Angeles?

Or how about the possession at 8:34 of the 3rd, when Ray Allen overthrew Rondo on a very difficult outlet pass after a steal. Rondo sprinted to recover the ball along the left baseline (a great effort), dribbled under the hoop to the right baseline and, instead of resetting, inexplicably tried to switch directions (with a behind-the-back dribble!) and walk the baseline tightrope back toward the hoop. He fell over, and out of bounds.

Rondo especially looked over-excited in Game 5, which is understandable. He missed easy reads he has made the entire season. Just watch the last 2:00 of the 1st half. With 1:30 left, Rondo engaged in a solo fast break, driving right at Kobe Bryant under the rim and attempting a wild lay-in. The refs whistled him for warding off Bryant with his right hand. Yes, Rajon has made shots in this situation before, and his aggression is generally a good thing, but you’ve got to think twice before attacking an All-Defense-level guard like this.

Two possessions later, Rondo brought the ball up the middle in transition and drew the defense. Paul Pierce was waving his right arm, wide open on the right wing. I’ve watched this Boston team so many times that my eyes by instinct moved over to Pierce, expecting the ball to be in his hands any second. It didn’t get there, and Rondo missed a wild shot in the paint.

And then there was the final possession of the half, a debacle for a team that has too many end-of-quarter debacles, which is a strange thing, since Doc’s end-of-game play-calling has gotten so good. Rondo brought the ball up the left side in transition with Ray Allen trailing right behind them. Rajon dribbled under the three-point arc and drew the defense in, and again my eyes instinctively turned to Ray, expecting Rondo to throw that patented two-handed pitch-back to Allen for an open three. But Rajon hesitated for some reason, and by the time he handed the ball to Ray near the left corner, the defense had recovered.

They have got to clean this stuff up. Yes, the Lakers are one of the best teams in the league at forcing turnovers, but think about this: Boston shot 60 percent and played NBA defense as well as you will ever see it played, and they still won by just six points at home. Part of that is Kobe Bryant, who is terrifying in every way at this point, but it is also the result of mental errors that are bad even by the standards of a turnover-prone team.

And we’ve seen a bunch of them in this series, including a series of botched outlet passes so bad they were almost shocking.

We know Boston will bring its all-world defense to Los Angeles this week. As great as that defense is, it alone will not be enough to bring home the title. They will need to score efficiently again, but they’ll likely have to do it without the benefit of red-hot shooting.

  • JayAllDay

    Ok, the celtics won, and you bash them like this….are’nt you supposed to be a celtics writer? Yes they had their shortcommings this game but they won with Shobe going for 38, the bench only scoring 13, Ray going 0-4 from 3-point land, and Rondo with 7 turnovers.

  • MK

    JayAllDay – That’s the exact point the article is making. They had shortcomings AT HOME while shooting damn near 60%. If they turn the ball over like that on the road, where they probably arent going to shoot 60%, they will be in trouble.

  • Matt

    Well, I think the point is, while tonight was an exciting win and we’re all happy to be one win away from #18….. getting the next one will be SO much tougher. You can bet Boston will watch the tape of everything Zach has mentioned and work to correct it.

    GO GREEN!

  • JMM

    Great analysis Zach.

  • Jay P

    Where I agree with this article, and they definitely need to clean a lot of that stuff up.

    You’ve got to think Bryant wont be able to put up that kind of performance again… right?

    Honestly, I’m doubting it myself now, I’ve been saying it all series, that those shots just can’t keep going in, they can’t, they’re too tough. Every time the guy puts up a shot I swear I say “Awesome defense, that’s a terrible shot no way it goes… fuck it went in again.”

    There is no more Kobe Bryant can do to bring a championship to LA, he’s done things in this series that are inhuman. If LA can’t get both at home, it wont be because of him, that’s for damn sure.

    But I still have to believe those shots can’t continue to fall.

  • triple-dot

    @JayAllDay

    The Celtics won, but if you watched the game, and if you look at the stats, you should agree that their margin of victory should have been much larger. The Lakers shot 39% from the field, only two of their players scored in double figures, their big was held to 6 points, and STILL they only lost by six, for reasons outlined in this blog post. True fans are not afraid of brutal honesty.

  • Jay P

    @triple-dot

    There’s no question about it, when you commit 17 turnovers and lose the rebounding game, that’s how you let a team stay close when you should be killing them and every shot you put up goes in.

    That being said, last nights game was a lot of what we’ve been saying all along “Celtics are getting great looks, those shots will fall” and they did last night. Paul, Kg, Rondo all got the exact same looks they’ve been getting in every game so far, they just went in this time, where they weren’t before. And Ray still missed open 3s. In spite of it all, Ray hits a couple of those 3s, which you have to believe will eventually fall again, and then the game still would have been a double digit victory.

    I’ll accept more turnovers, if their being aggressive. But they have to win the rebounding game, that’s the biggest problem in my eyes.

  • Perry

    Points well taken.

    Definitely a myriad of thrown away possessions. In that 2nd quarter Rondo had maybe his most reckless stretch of his career. Celts however are playing as a ‘team’ and the shooting percentage is coming within their sets. Can we say the same about the Lakers?

    Milk Carton Defense was the term Kobe used to describe his teammates defensive effort. Is that leadership or a display of team unity?

    Scoring breakdown. Kobe: 38 points. Other 11 Lakers: 48 points. You can’t win that way in the NBA Finals.

    Fisher/Artest/Farmar – 4 for 19 combined. What off season move looks better now…Sheed or Artest?

    The Bynum from games 1-3 is gone. So it’s basically the 2008 team again.

    Why will the Celtics win game 6?

    1. Kevin is starting to measure Gasol. One of his blocks came in recovery as Gasol managed to turn baseline. Kevin is starting to take Gasol out of the series.

    2. LA’s bench was a little better, but the Celtic bench are still making clutch plays. Sheed’s three was huge. What can you say about TA’s monster block?

    3. Pierce is back…all the way in this series. He’s shooting 45% on isolation plays – 8 pts on 7 possessions last night.

    4. Rondo was reckless at times, but I think he’s feeling like his old self since early in the Orlando series.

    5. Jackson’s comments about the Celts blowing fourth quarter leads will work to his detriment. Celts heard that shot arcoss the bow loud and clear.

  • I love Green

    Great news for game 6 Bynum’s knee has only 1 day to rest, so don’t expect him to be playing a lot of minutes.

  • The blind

    Rondo, Rondo, sometimes he does drive you nuts.

  • Coolin

    Zach, I am suprised you wrote this stuff about Rondo and the stupid plays he has made, you usually talk as though he is greatest and smartest Celtic to ever suit up.

    Doc and Paul both need to talk to Rondo and tell him that this is the time to be smart and not try and force any dumb plays. If Rondo can have a 3.5 to 1 assist to turnover ratio in Game 6 the Celtics will be sitting in a position to win.

    When Paul is hot just get him the ball Rondo, this is what Doc should be saying to him over and over again until the end of Game 6. He needs to be saying this to him starting now as I type because he won’t do it if he is not told to do so.

  • Jay P

    @Perry

    You make a good point about KG. He’s showing why veteran savy and experience win out 90% of the time.

    It’s obvious Gasol is a more complete player now than in 08, and Garnett can use his physicality and speed to beat him again, since he’s lost some of that due to injury and age. But as the series has progressed, he’s measured him, learned the timing, and is adjusting to shut him down in new ways.

    KG is as smart of a defender as there is, and he’s proving it in this series.

  • Sophomore

    @Zach, you just made me poop my pants.

  • urbeltic

    I agree this crap needs to get cleaned up in LA. But I think its gonna happen, because I am a huge believer in Doc these days. The guy is coaching at an extremely high level. I mean, he is just saying the right things, doing the right things, motivating, encouraging, outmaneuvering. He is hitting on all cylinders.

    And let’s be honest, as Doc rises its fun to watch Phil Jack crumble. I mean the whole “the Celtics are going to lose in the 4th, and they’ve proven it over and over…blah blah” crap works when Michael Jordan & solid veterans are sitting on your bench, but when its Kobe and a bunch of confused/dazed/nervous (Gasol, Lamar, and Artest) players on the bench…you are not going to get the same result. I think PJ just can’t break free /adapt from his tried and true superstar-team-coaching-style. Plain and simple. Obviously his coaching style has worked with this teams in the past (the dude has rings@!!!), but a great coach knows how to adapt (like Doc).

  • dont_drink_the_koolaid

    all true….but that was a great f-ing team win. it will be very difficult to close out the lakeshow in hollywood…..but i believe in this TEAM. might be that ray allen starts shooting daggers again, sheed starts abusing them in the post, truth just keeps on rolling, nate goes for 20, heck, i wouldn’t even be surprised if some strange string of events led to finley icing the series with a 3.

    leave the TV for a second as you don’t know what you’ll miss. this is great, great basketball.

  • http://www.celticshub.com Zach Lowe

    @kool-aid: Agreed. super-riveting.

    And Ray Allen is the biggest X-factor in the series right now, even including Bynum.

  • DRJ1

    Couldn’t agree more with Zach. Rondo was driving me crazy in that game… it was like he reverted back to his rookie year or something. Too much energy? Or too much adulation in the press that went to his head? I went with the former, and HOPE it’s not the latter.

    Take away Rondo’s SEVEN TOs (to only 8 assists), and you have a pretty decent 9-TO Celtics game (ignoring the rebounding). Hopefully Rondo will watch tape and learn from this experience… Calm down, son… learn from KG how to be amped up but still under control.

    As for Ray, he might have had some distractions lately, and maybe some sleep deprivation, as a result of his kid being sick again: http://bostonherald.com/sports/basketball/celtics/view/20100614son_shines_for_ray_allen_after_scare_child_ok/

    Hope the kid’s fine. Hope Ray gets his rest and peace of mind.

  • gone green

    I cant see LA winning another game. I think not so much for Kobe, but for the rest of the team I think its mental. I didnt see anything the resembled a look of we can win this game. I believe that shows a lack of leadership on Kobes behalf. There no way that for the chip a team can not play hard. A lot of it had to do with Kobe “taking over the game” and not getting his teamates involved. If Boston comes out hot early I can see the rest of the lakers (not Kobe) folding it up and rolling over. As a leader you have to make sure that the players are into the game at all times. The difference between a mature Kobe and a mature MJ is that MJ realized that his teammates made his job easier if they were into the game then he didnt have to take every shot or make every play. just the crucial ones and if they werent playing well he encouraged them to keep playing. not give me the ball. Kobe is a selfish player and as great a game as he had last night. It cost the Lakers a win

  • mitch

    I remember telling zach a while back that without nate robinson the celtics wouldnt win the championship….and he laughed at me….believe me now zach?

    game 6 against orlando victory was because of nate

    game 4 victory was because of nate and big baby (shrek and donkey)

    point is…when the teams offense is stagnant…the guy i have been rooting for this whole season comes and makes my prediction a reality

  • http://celticshub.com Stephen

    It’s almost as if with Kobe’s 3rd quarter barrage that he’s protecting himself from ridicule in case the Lakers can’t come back and win this series which I don’t think they will. Expect at least one more scoring outburst from him so then when it’s over he can say “”I didn’t get any help”. C’s need to ride their 2 game winning streak to a game six victory. We don’t want it coming down to a 4th quarter–game 7 showdown with Kobe. Get it done C’s—-Tomorrow !!!!!

  • urbeltic

    @Stephen…totally agree.

  • http://celticshub.com Stephen

    At some point during game 6 Ray Allen comes up big!!! Bank on it.

  • http://www.hotmail.com Josh

    Oh banner 18, how I long for thee!

  • http://celticshub.com Stephen

    One more day Josh—-One more day!!!!

  • DeVelaine

    I’ve been reading a lot lately about how since LA has home court, they have to have been the better team. What’s not mentioned here… If the C’s lost to LeBron, LA wouldn’t have home court as both Cleveland and Orlando had better records (and probably would have rolled over and died for Game 5). LA didn’t earn home court; Boston *gave* it to them by beating those two teams.

    Which just means that the C’s can take it (and the title) back again. Tomorrow is Game 7, no matter what the schedule says. That’s what the team believes, and that’s how they’re going to play, LA crowd be damned.

  • Happoo

    Come on, we all know 7 is coming. Regardless of loyalties why would you want anything but a killer series. All the way down to the 4th quarter with either team able to pull it out… This has epic written all over it!!*

    *(Let’s hope; considering I have tickets for game 7)

  • J Peezu

    Why Celtics win game 6
    17 Turnovers will not happen game 6
    13 free throw attempts. expect Boston to be more aggressive and get to the line more in Game 6
    Lack of 3 pointers. Now that Boston is driving and creating space. They are also forcing LA into the air on 3s and stepping up or driving and taking the 2 pointers which forces LA to think more.

    Bostons offense has been like a damn where you have a leak here, you plug that leak and you get a leak somewhere else. I think in Game 6 the damn will break and Boston will win big!!

  • nevadamike

    Just read the article. The Celts had all those problems and still won. Who is the better team here? What are the chances Ray Allen has only 1 good shooting game in this series? He will be on again. Celtics shooting great but if they would hit some of their wide open shots they wouldn’t have lost a second game.

    Can’t give Phil Jackson credit for being a great coach. He coached the best teams and won. Let him, or any coach someone might call great, coach a team like the Memphis Grizzlies or any other bottom dweller. If he wins with what those teams have, then you can call them great.

  • Justin

    Actually, the shooting could very well happen again. Because 23 of the Celtics 70 made FG were in the paint. . . 7 of those were in transition. they made 40 shots total.

    so when you really do the math, the Celtics shot 17-47. . . which is 35%

    which is by NO means “hot shooting”

    3-12 from 3pt land, 17-47 overall not counting the easy points in the paint.

    if all the Celtics have to do to win game 6 is do better than this. . . . .I like our chances

  • dont_drink_the_koolaid

    @zach. fish is my new most-hated opponent (at least varejao is clownish)….but i got to give him credit for bodying up ray and getting in his head. always business rayray is clearly frustrated. its not a fluke he is missing shots the last couple games….

    i’m tempted to say there is no xfactor on the Celtics….the whole team is xfactors….someone always steps up….while kobe just keeps being kobe.

  • jeremy

    I read all the articles posted on the Dime and Truehoop today, and this is the only one that presents a cogent and worthwhile commentary. Michael Wilbon in the Washington Post, for example, almost seems to have been watching a different series. And all the articles that feel the need to mention what’s happened in this situation before (Finals at 3-2, leading team now playing on opponent’s home court), that’s just silly; the sample size is way too small to be at all relevant. Anyhow, good post. This has been a great series, can’t imagine tonight’s game will be anything less than a real barn-burner.

  • paxton

    I think the person that wrote this trash is filled with ignorance! Yes they made many mistake but they have had great 4 quarter when they win which they will need and Rondo aggressive play!!! You want to talk about mistakes look at the lakers.

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