Tuesday, June 8, 2010
Three Celtics keys for Game 3
By Chris Forsberg ESPNBoston.com
BOSTON -- The Boston Celtics and Los Angeles Lakers spent their lone off day between Games 2 and 3 of the NBA Finals crisscrossing the country. To most, playing a game the day after would be a daunting task, especially given the time acceleration coming this way.
To Boston, it's probably a blessing in disguise.
After two stinkers in Los Angeles, Kevin Garnett must find a way to get on track in Game 3.
The Celtics have struggled throughout the postseason with extended breaks. But with Monday washed by travel, the team is essentially right back on the court for a pivotal Game 3. Whether you believe in playoff momentum or not, it's at least safe to suggest the Celtics have shown an ability to carry over from one game to another better with shorter lapses between the contests.
With that in mind, we present three keys for Game 3, along with a few other trends the Celtics will want to continue from Game 2 if they wish to take control of this best-of-seven series:
1. Get KG going ... and keep him going
After laboring through Game 1, the Celtics clearly set out to establish Kevin Garnett early in Game 2, feeding him the ball in the paint on the first possession of the contest and generating an easy basket.
It was the perfect start, but it didn't last long. Garnett picked up his first foul just 2:15 in, then took another boneheaded one away from the ball just 23 seconds later and spent most of the quarter on the bench.
Garnett returned at 10:45 of the second quarter and needed only 2:37 to pick up his third foul, sending him right back to the pine. He ultimately played 24 minutes, finishing with a career postseason low of six points while attempting a mere five shots.
His touches tell the story: Boston was disappointed after getting Garnett only 12 touches (of his 38 total) in the paint in Game 1. In Game 2, he generated only six touches in the paint out a mere 18 total, according to the folks at ESPN Stats & Information.
Right now, the head-to-head matchup with Pau Gasol is embarrassingly one-sided. Just look at the cumulative stat lines:
Gasol -- 48 points -- 15-of-24 FG (62.5 percent) -- 22 rebounds -- 9 blocks
Garnett -- 22 points -- 9-of-21 FG (42.9 percent) -- 8 rebounds -- 1 block
The Celtics need Garnett to play smart -- avoiding the unnecessary fouls that have plagued him in recent games (see also: the karate chop to Dwight Howard's arm in Game 6 against Orlando) -- and try to get into a rhythm early. The Celtics can win games in this series without KG; they can't win the series without KG.
2. Life in transition
Plenty was made about transition points coming into the series. After all, the Celtics were the second-best team in the playoffs at posting fastbreak points, while the Lakers were one of the worst defending it.
Then the Lakers went out in Game 1, made 52 percent of their shots and seemed to clean up any misses on the offensive glass, forcing Boston to take the ball out of bounds much of the night and nearly the entire pivotal third quarter.
More on Celtics-Lakers
For more on the Celtics' near miss against the Lakers in the NBA Finals, read ESPNBoston.com's Chris Forsberg. Celtics blog
In Game 2, that changed, as Boston did a good job getting multiple stops, and the Celtics will need more of the same in Game 3 to be successful. With help from the folks at ESPN Stats & Information, here's a breakdown of the Celtics' transition points, including free throws generated off those breaks, for Games 1 and 2:
Game 1 -- 7 points -- 2-of-8 FG (25 percent)
Game 2 -- 24 points -- 7-of-11 FG (63.6 percent)
Ray Allen produced three 3-pointers in transition, drilling all three he took on the break. That alone produced more points on the run than Boston enjoyed in Game 1.
The Celtics certainly can't expect that type of effort from Allen every game, but they must continue to thrive in transition in order to fuel their offense.
3. No one-trick pony
Overshadowed by his record-setting 3-point barrage was the fact that Allen was rock solid defensively as well. Abused by Kobe Bryant in Game 1 after getting into early foul trouble (the majority of those fouls incurred trying to slow Bryant), Allen showed what he's capable of when not worrying about picking up a costly infraction.
From ESPN Stats & Information, check out the Game 1 and 2 comparison for Allen defending Bryant.
Game 1 -- 28 possessions, 29 touches, 6-of-7 FG (85.7 percent), 4 fouls drawn, 15 points
Game 2 -- 37 possessions, 41 touches, 6-of-15 FG (40 percent), 1 foul drawn, 13 points
The Celtics clearly did a better all-around job on defense, but the ability to hold Bryant to 21 points really put the onus on his supporting cast to step up. And even though the Lakers got a monster effort from Andrew Bynum (21 points over 39 minutes) and another solid performance by Gasol (team-high 25 points), the six remaining cast members contributed a mere 27 points.
The best of the rest
A few trends that must carry over from Game 2 in order for Boston to maintain its success:
• Not a single member of Boston's bench reached double figures, but the 24 points Rasheed Wallace, Glen Davis, Nate Robinson and Tony Allen combined to produce were vital to Boston's success.
The Celtics have to hope foul trouble doesn't limit their bigs again, but if it does, they'll need similar production from Wallace (7 points, 7 rebounds) and Davis (8 points, 7 rebounds), each of whom logged 18 minutes in Game 2.
Keep an eye on Wallace's back, as he seems to hit a wall late in games when it tightens up.
• The Celtics won't remind anyone of the Orlando Magic, but when they shoot a high percentage from beyond the arc, it makes them that much more dangerous. Coming off a historically bad night in 3-point land in Game 1, the Celtics shot 68.8 percent in Game 2. Sure, that was aided by 8-of-11 shooting from Allen, but the rest of the team still combined to go 3-for-5, which was a lot better than the 5-for-22 (22.7 percent) effort by Los Angeles.
• Rebounds, rebounds, rebounds. Boston did a much better job on the glass in Game 2, and it remains the key to the series. The Celtics absolutely cannot allow Los Angeles to be more physical and win the battle under the basket.
And of course, we'd be remiss if we didn't include this tidbit on the historical importance of Game 3 of the NBA Finals:
Since the 2-3-2 format was introduced in 1985, the winner of Game 3 when a Finals series was tied 1-1 has gone on to win the title on 10 of 10 occasions.
In the history of the Finals, when the series has been tied going into Game 3, the winner of that contest has gone on to win 28 of 32 series (87.5 winning percentage).
Chris Forsberg covers the Celtics for ESPNBoston.com. Follow him on Twitter.