NBA Finals still in infancy

Remember, not so long ago, when we thought this series would be about which team was tougher or which team the referees would mess with more?

When this year's NBA Finals was cast as a sequel to the 2008 edition of this Los Angeles Lakers-Boston Celtics rivalry?

Two games in, none of that seems relevant. Nor does it seem as though any of it will be relevant any time soon.

This series, which is tied at one game apiece, is amorphous. Not much has taken shape yet, except that both teams were annoyed about how many whistles they heard in the first two games and amused by actor Dustin Hoffman's routines on the Kiss Cam.

Heading into Tuesday's Game 3, each team seems to be feeling the other out, jabbing and pawing through the first couple of rounds, trying to time its opponent without taking too many chances.

The Lakers were the more physical team in Game 1, but that wasn't why they won. In Game 2, both teams were physical and penalized equally -- or excessively -- by the referees, with 29 fouls apiece.

Boston's Kevin Garnett, not L.A.'s Pau Gasol, has been the power forward lacking power; Kendrick Perkins has gone two games without picking up a technical foul; Lakers center Andrew Bynum threw in an alley-oop after hobbling around in the series against the Phoenix Suns; and Lamar Odom has inexplicably disappeared.

(OK, that last part isn't a surprise.)

A certain segment of the basketball-watching population had expected Gasol to be putty and Bynum to need putty just to keep his right knee together after two games of the series. Instead, the Celtics are the team with the power forward having an identity crisis.

Although Garnett hasn't shared any feelings of self-consciousness, much less crisis, it's clear he hasn't been himself lately.

"Obviously I would have liked to be in a better flow," Garnett admitted after his tepid, foul-plagued Game 2 performance. "But fouls, it goes like that."

Considering what Gasol might or might not have said or suggested about Garnett's age, ability and effectiveness after Game 1, "Fouls, it goes like that" is about the last thing you would have expected the maniacally intense Garnett to say after Game 2.

Garnett seemed so amped up at the start of Game 2 that he played out of control, picked up three quick fouls and never got on track in 24 uninspiring minutes of action.

As surprises go, it was a stinging one. But it would've hurt a lot worse if the Celtics had lost Game 2 and had to face an 0-2 hole heading home to what Garnett refers to as "the jungle" but is actually named after some bank that doesn't exist on the West Coast.

Heading into Game 3, Garnett is probably looking for a fresh start. But Lakers-Celtics series have baggage; there are no clean slates or fresh starts. Still, although this series has yet to connect to the 2008 Finals in substance or form, there's nothing to indicate it won't start following the script by the time one city has to start organizing for a huge parade downtown.

In the meantime, improvisation reigns.

Ramona Shelburne is a columnist and reporter for ESPNLosAngeles.com.