The Garden was rocking louder than it has all postseason, a far cry from the mellow Staples Center. Kevin Garnett was a new man, scoring in the post like he was answering every critic who has ever questioned him going back to the 'Sota days. They were rebounding and running breaks and scoring at will and then, well, and then everything changed.
Game 3 of the NBA finals will be remembered for the plays Derek Fisher made down the stretch and for the numerous missed opportunities the Celtics had to retake the lead (along with more replay reviews than an SEC football game).
But when the Celtics look back at how they lost 91-84, they will look at the first quarter when a 12-5 lead became a 26-17 deficit and on into the second when the Lakers outscored them 32-8. As runs go, this was more like an ultra marathon — slow, long and painful — than a traditional hoops burst.
The Celtics let it get away, and this one will haunt them if they happen to come up short in this series. But let’s get one thing out of the way first: This was not the so-called swing game in this series. That happens on Thursday. Game 4 will determine who ultimately has the advantage in this series.
Despite Paul Pierce’s bold proclamation that the Celtics weren’t going back to Los Angeles, this series was always going to be decided at Staples, where the loudest cheers are reserved for Jack Nicholson, the promise of free tacos and the kiss cam, probably in that order.
As befitting what has already been an odd series, Ray Allen followed up his historic Game 2 performance by missing all 13 shots that he attempted. It was the eighth time in 1,119 career games that Allen took an O-fer, and his previous-high for misses without a make in a game was nine. (Hat tip to NBA.com’s John Schuhmann for that nugget.)
That happens. It’s weird, but it happens.
The number of possessions was in the low 80s, which, contrary to public perceptions, is the Lakers' preferred style of play, not the Celtics'.
“It was a replay of Game 1 in some ways,” Doc Rivers said. “The pace of the game was exactly what they wanted. You can’t run without misses, and they pounded us on the glass tonight.”
So, maybe it wasn’t so odd after all. If the Celtics are going to win games in this series they have to keep the Lakers off the glass. There’s no other hugely meaningful statistic than that, even Allen channeling Dennis Johnson in his Sonics days.
There are no major adjustments for the Celtics, which wouldn’t matter because they don’t make a lot of them anyway. They just have to rebound and not go through stretches where their offense disappears.
“The team that’s won the glass so far in this series has won the game,” Rivers said. “We have to do a better job on the glass.”
With that, here are three things we learned from Game 3/what they need to do for Game 4.
They were all writing his obituary after his wretched Game 2 performance, but Kevin Garnett showed that he still has some life left in his legs, even if they are a little less explosive than they once were.
The Celtics started the game by feeding Garnett in the post and he scored, just as he had in Game 2, but he didn’t stop there. Rajon Rondo found him for an alley-oop dunk that sent the Garden into hysterics, and by the end of the first quarter he had 10 points on 5-for-6 shooting.
The only problem was that by the four-minute mark he was exhausted. This pattern repeated itself in the third quarter when he also ran himself into the ground. Garnett scored 25 points and made 11 of his 16 shots, but Rivers still wants more.
“KG was great,” Rivers said. “Didn’t get enough. We talked about 20 shots before the game. He shot 16, should have had 25 as far as I was concerned.”
Pau Gasol decided to play up close on Garnett, which isn’t a bad strategy. As Dwight Howard showed in the Orlando series, there is nothing that makes Garnett more uncomfortable than being confined to tight spaces.
But Gasol is not Howard, at least defensively, and Garnett broke through the initial clinch and found wide open spaces on his way to the basket. Maybe he couldn’t finish a few plays the way he once did, but he finished plays well enough and got to the line when he didn’t.
Garnett also held Gasol to just 13 points, although that had something to do with the Lakers' inexplicably not getting him involved, as they sometimes are prone to do.
Regardless, Garnett is now back in play in this series and we can put to rest the whispers about his health that have been floating around the last two games.
“I was able to get into a nice rhythm,” he said. “Didn’t really think about too much tonight. Really wasn’t overly excited. Really just was numb, to be honest.”
That’s good, because the Celtics need more of that. They have to trust that he can be reliable presence on the left block. Garnett acknowledged that he hasn’t played the way he wanted to in Los Angeles, but if there was a silver lining in the loss, this was it.
Garnett doesn’t have to be 2008 KG for the C's to win this series, but it sure doesn’t hurt either. On the flip side …
Ray Allen’s linescore looks worse, but in truth he had a decent number of open looks, and save for a handful of possessions in the first half when he appeared to be rushing things, he just had one of those nights. Yes, it was a dramatic reversal from his Game 2 outburst, but Allen will adjust.
“It’s a hell of a swing, I’ll tell you that,” Rivers said. “You know, it’s basketball. That’s why you can’t worry about it. Of the 13, I think eight of them were great looks, and all of them were short. All of them were flat. It happens to the best of us.”
The bigger concern for the Celtics is Pierce, who once again struggled to get his game in gear, scoring 15 points and most of them late. Through the first three games Pierce is shooting just 36 percent and he has as many made field goals (13) as fouls.
The second part may be related.
“Paul never got a rhythm,” Rivers said. “Every time he came down the floor, another whistle blows and he had to sit down. He was completely taken out of the game by the foul calls.”
More on this is in a bit, but the other side of the coin is that it was Ron Artest who got into early foul trouble and Pierce couldn’t take advantage of Luke Walton’s presence on the defensive side.
Pierce is the Celtics' leading scorer in the series, but that’s a bit misleading because that’s different than saying that he has been their best offensive player, and he usually is that.
“I thought I missed some shots in the first half that were some good looks,” Pierce said. “I’ll take those looks all night long, the ones I got.”
Pierce has a tough matchup with Artest, and he has been good about staying patient and not trying to turn it into a one-on-one duel, which would absolutely be the wrong play. But he does have to find a way to get into the offensive rhythm, foul trouble or no foul trouble.
Speaking of foul trouble.
DOC RIVERS WOULD LIKE TO SAY A FEW WORDS ABOUT THE OFFICIALS
Rivers began the night by saying to the media that he was “miffed and amazed that the other team complained about the fouls, since we’ve been the team that’s been in foul trouble for two games.”
Rivers was referring to Phil Jackson’s comments after Game 2 that he didn’t like some of the calls that went against Kobe Bryant. Safe to say Rivers had a lot more to say after Pierce spent the night locked up with foul difficulty.
“Maybe I should start complaining about fouls,” Rivers said. “Maybe I can get a turnaround like it was turned around tonight. That was amazing.”
The free throws in Game 3 were even — 24 apiece — but the Celtics were whistled for 27 fouls to the Lakers 20, and Bryant played almost 44 minutes and was called for just two.
Rivers does have a point. In each game, one of the Big Three has been in foul trouble. Allen in Game 1, Garnett in Game 2 and now Pierce in Game 3. This has been a constant source of irritation for Rivers in that he his three superstars don’t always get superstar calls the way they once did.
It’s also worth pointing out that the Celtics' strong start was muted after Kendrick Perkins and Rajon Rondo were called for four fouls in one minute of game time. More than the foul trouble, the calls were made mostly on the perimeter, which is never a good thing the way the Celtics play defense.
No matter how the games have been officiated, and they have all been called differently, the referees have played a role in the way the games have been played.
This is basketball, and the refs’ whistles always have an impact on the flow of the game. But from the sheer amount of free throws (182) to the endless parade of foul-related substitutions, they have had a greater impact than fans and participants would like.
Rivers' ploy is an obvious one, and maybe it will wind up being effective if not exactly cost-efficient, but it would do this series a world of good if no one had to after one of these games.
One thing is certain: Neither team has played its best at the same time yet. Game 3 was the tightest of the three, but Game 4 will be the pivotal one. While the Lakers have gained the edge, neither team really has gained the advantage yet. We’ll find that out Thursday night.
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