Observations from Celtics 109, Lakers 96

After an ugly loss at home to the Sacramento Kings two nights ago, the Lakers sought to re-establish their championship identity Sunday afternoon against their longtime rival Boston. The Celtics, meanwhile, also came off a disappointing loss, theirs against the Suns in Phoenix. However, the Celtics had a lot to rejoice about this week as Kendrick Perkins, an integral part of their championship team, returned to the lineup. With Perkins on board, the Celtics were able to shut down the Lakers big men and defeat Los Angeles 109-96. Here are some observations from the much anticipated showdown:

Beyond the Arc

The Lakers have struggled with perimeter defense all season, and tonight was no different. The Celtics shot 9-for-17 (52.9%) from three-point land compared to 4-for-9 (44.4%) by the Lakers. Three different Celtics had three 3-pointers made:  Paul Pierce, Ray Allen, and Nate Robinson. It is tough to beat a championship-level team when you let them jack up nearly twice as many threes–mostly uncontested–as you.

Celtics Bigs vs. Lakers Bigs

The biggest difference between the two teams’ NBA Finals meeting a few years back and now is that the Celtics have loaded up with the size necessary to play against the Lakers’ length. Regardless of whether you think the Celtics size consists of old, washed up veterans, you cannot dispute that length is length. In a tough, grueling seven-game series, a few extra bodies down low cannot hurt.

Take a look at the following stat lines:

Celtics front court (Garnett, Davis, Shaq, Perkins): 15-25 (60%) FG, 33 points, 29 rebounds, 8 assists, 3 blocks

Lakers front court (Bynum, Gasol, Odom): 14-27 (52%) FG, 38 points, 18 rebounds, 3 assists, 2 blocks

The glaring advantage is in the amount of rebounds collected by each set of guys. They were physically outmatched and pushed around. And although the Lakers three bigs outscored that of the Celtics, the 38 combined points was below their season average of 45.2 points per game.

Offensive Imbalance

There was too much Kobe. Sure, in the second quarter he put up 17 points and helped the Lakers take a lead into halftime. But Kobe kept shooting…and shooting…and shooting. We all know that the Lakers have a terrible record when Kobe takes more then 20 shots, and tonight he took 29 shots. Down the stretch in the fourth quarter, right before the game got away, the Lakers ran numerous post-ups for Kobe and many of those possessions resulted in off balance shots before another Laker could touch the ball.

I remember looking down at the scoreboard and seeing an ESPN crawl that said “Bryant (LAL): 39 points…” And I remember thinking, “Oh crap, that is not a good sign.” I didn’t even realize he had racked up so many points, and I certainly didn’t like it.

Kobe was forced (or he thought he was force) to take over the game because he was getting zero help on the outside. Guards Ron Artest and Derek Fisher combined to shoot 2-for-16 for 8 points. When you couple that with the subpar effort by the Lakers front court, it was foreseeable that Kobe would shoot that much.

Team Basketball

Finally, the Celtics just had a better all-around effort by everyone from top to bottom. It really was a collective effort, and no stat demonstrates that more than team assists. The Celtics recorded 34 assists as a team (Rondo had 16) and the Lakers only recorded 10. Yep, Rajon Rondo had more assists than the entire Lakers squad. Furthermore, Kobe had 41 points and–you guessed it–ZERO assists.

The Truth Hurts

As much as I dislike Paul Pierce’s attitude and demeanor, I have to hand it to him for his performance this afternoon. On a big stage, Pierce stepped up and carried his team to victory. Pierce scored 32 points on a very efficient offensive night (11-for-18 FG), and he added 5 boards and 3 dimes. He hit tough shots all night long and was guarded by a variety of Lakers, including Artest and Kobe. If anything, it proved that Pierce is still a gamer and very much a go-to guy in big games.

Conclusion

Losers of two straight, the Lakers will seek to rebound–literally and figuratively–against the Rockets on Tuesday. While some Lakers fans will defend the team until their deaths, I am a realist and it frustrates me that the Lakers have yet to show up in a big game. There’s another big one later this week, but the Lakers need to make sure to take care of business against a scrappy Rockets team before they look ahead.

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