Monday, June 14, 2010
Updated: June 15, 5:30 PM ET
What to watch for in Game 6
By Chris Forsberg
LOS ANGELES -- The last time the Los Angeles Lakers dropped back-to-back home playoff games, Tyronn Lue was a fresh-faced, second-year guard fighting (unsuccessfully) for court time.
Six teams, 531 games and one full decade later, Lue, now retired and in his first season as director of basketball development for the Boston Celtics, is hoping the Green can accomplish what the Portland Trail Blazers last did, in the 2000 Western Conference finals.
The Lakers haven't dropped consecutive home playoff games since losing Games 2 and 5 of that series but rebounding to win a world title. Los Angeles has played 77 postseason games since then without repeating the feat.
But there's a line of thought that believes the Celtics don't stand a chance if this series goes seven games, so Boston would have to win Game 6 and finish this series Tuesday night to be able to secure this year's NBA title.
Here's a handful of facts, figures and stats to keep in mind when the Celtics and Lakers clash in Game 6 tonight (ABC, 9 p.m.):
ISO NO LONGER SO-SO FOR PIERCE
Celtics captain Paul Pierce has struggled at times this postseason with generating consistent offense off isolation plays. According to ESPN Stats & Information, Pierce averaged only 0.86 points per play while shooting 36.9 percent off isolation plays this postseason.
Pierce's ISO production has spiked in the Finals, highlighted as he scored eight points off seven isolation plays (1.14 points per play) in Game 5.
Pierce is averaging 1.04 points per play while shooting 45 percent this series. Although Ron Artest had success limiting Pierce's total scoring output early in the series, it's clear Pierce is gaining more confidence as the series progresses, and the improvement in isolation is probably a big reason for that.
"I wanted to be aggressive from the jump," Pierce said after scoring a team-high 27 points on 12-of-21 shooting overall in Game 5. "Coach came out, ran the first play for me, came off the pick and roll, got a nice look and just wanted to continue throughout the rest of the game. Teammates did a good job of finding me open, setting picks. But it was all in the team flow, and it was great. I was just a little disappointed I wasn't able to get to the line as much as I shot the ball. I usually get to the line a little bit more."
NO BYNUM, NO PROBLEM (AROUND RIM)
Whether it was the lack of 7-foot Andrew Bynum or simply a concerted effort by the Celtics' defense to prevent shots around the basket -- or, most likely, a little bit of both -- Boston absolutely dominated production around the rim in Game 5.
According to ESPN Stats & Info, the Lakers averaged 34 points per game within 5 feet of the basket in the first four games of the series. In Game 5, Los Angeles settled for a mere 18 points.
What's more, the Lakers averaged 29.8 shots within 5 feet in those first four games and shot 40.5 percent on them. In Game 5, Los Angeles took a mere 17 shots around the rim and averaged just 21.8 percent shooting.
That's a major upgrade for the Boston defense, but it wasn't only on that side of the ball that the Green thrived. Boston's offense finished with 15-of-16 shooting (93.8 percent) within 5 feet when Bynum was on the court and 17-of-23 overall (73.9 percent). In the first four games of the series, Boston was shooting just 50.6 percent around the basket.
Those numbers speak to a larger commentary on the physicality Boston is now playing with. It's something that plagued the Celtics in Game 1, when Los Angeles outmuscled and outhustled Boston while dispelling the "soft" label attached to the team since 2008. Now, maybe just a little, it's coming back, particularly when Rasheed Wallace comes off the bench to jostle with Pau Gasol.
It's no surprise the team that wins the rebounding battle has won each game in this series.
KOBE WENT OFF
BUT NOT AGAINST TA
Kobe Bryant seemed otherworldly at times in Game 5, particularly during his 19-point, third-quarter outburst. But he certainly did nothing to dispute the notion that Tony Allen is his kryptonite this series.
Allen guarded Bryant for only 15 possessions Sunday, but the Lakers' star had only 1-of-5 shooting (20 percent) for two points in that span. Against all other defenders, Bryant finished with 36 points on 54.5 percent shooting over 60 possessions.
For the series, Bryant is 6-of-24 (25 percent) when defended by Allen.
After Game 4, Rivers lofted high praise at Allen, admitting he was the team's defensive stopper while cautioning against suggesting that anyone could truly stop Bryant.
"Tony, I got on him -- I don't know what game it was -- but I just, basically, we were talking, and he has to be, in some ways, our Artest," Rivers said. "That doesn't mean you're going to stop anybody. There's nobody, by the way, that's stopping Kobe Bryant. If it is, I haven't met him, or it because I don't think it would be a person.
"But Tony's job is to come in, and his main focus is defense, just be a defensive player, and that allows you to guard the big guys because you don't have any other worries, about offense or rebounding. You're worried about your assignment. Whenever you pick somebody to do that, it gives them a chance to be a better defender, and I think that's what Tony is doing."
STATISTICS & PROBABILITIES
* In the 40 instances in which a team in the NBA Finals has boasted a 3-2 advantage, that team has gone on to win 34 times. What's more, 24 of those teams won in six games.
* The last team to rally out of a 3-2 hole was the 1994 Houston Rockets against the New York Knicks.
* When leading a Finals series 3-2, the Celtics have never failed to clinch that series in 11 tries.
* When trailing a Finals series, 3-2, the Lakers are 1-6, with their lone triumph coming over the 1988 Pistons.
* The Lakers are 9-1 at home this postseason, with the Game 2 loss their lone defeat at the Staples Center. Los Angeles hasn't lost consecutive home games since April 4 (San Antonio) and 11 (Portland).
Chris Forsberg is the Celtics reporter for ESPNBoston.com. Follow him on Twitter.