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TRANSITION GAME

'Small ball' isn't long-term answer

June 10, 2008|Lonnie White | Times Staff Writer

Everything looked so easy for the Boston Celtics when they cruised to a 24-point lead over the Lakers in Game 2 of the NBA Finals. Shooting above 50% throughout the game, the Celtics had no trouble moving the ball around and finding open shooters against Coach Phil Jackson's gun-shy defense.

But after Kevin Garnett's 20-foot jump shot gave Boston a 95-71 lead with 7:55 remaining in the game, something clicked for the Lakers.

Featuring a "small" lineup consisting of Kobe Bryant, Derek Fisher, Sasha Vujacic, Vladimir Radmanovic and Pau Gasol, the Lakers outscored the Celtics 31-9 to close to 104-102 with 38 seconds remaining.

Although Boston was able to regroup and win, 108-102, to take a 2-0 lead in the best-of-seven series, the Lakers should have gained confidence from their comeback heading into tonight's Game 3 at Staples Center.

A key to the Lakers' rally was Jackson's decision to leave Lamar Odom -- who had five fouls -- on the bench and stick with Radmanovic at power forward.

To counter, Boston Coach Doc Rivers also went "small" and kept 6-foot-8 forward James Posey on the court in place of center Kendrick Perkins.

This matchup allowed the Lakers to put more defensive pressure on the ball and jump Boston's screen-and-roll plays, with Fisher and Radmanovic often leaving the Celtics' weakest scoring threats, Posey and Rajon Rondo, uncovered.

As a result, the Celtics were harassed into six turnovers over the final eight minutes, enabling the Lakers to score several baskets in transition.

Another factor was Bryant's aggressive defense on Pierce, who had given Radmanovic, Luke Walton and Trevor Ariza fits.

Pierce has burned the Lakers in a variety of ways, starting with quick dribble penetration going to his left.

But with Bryant defending against him for a chunk of the time, Pierce had only three fourth-quarter points before he made two free throws with 22 seconds remaining.

Bryant's defense helped disrupt the Celtics' flow because of Rivers' tendency to use Pierce as his main ball-handler late in games.

When that happened, the Celtics' offense became hesitant and the Lakers were able to effectively use double-teams and overplay passing lanes. That's how Fisher and Radmanovic picked up key steals down the stretch.

But in the end, the Lakers' comeback fell short and they now need to win four of the next five games in order to win the NBA title.

Jackson may be a Hall of Fame coach with nine league championship rings to his credit, but Rivers has so far coaxed more from his team.

Rivers' decision to play veteran P.J. Brown heavy minutes off the bench in Game 1 and his strategy of quickly double-teaming Bryant in the post have benefited the Celtics.

Jackson's decision to play reserves Jordan Farmar and Walton key minutes early in the fourth quarter of Game 1 and his keeping overmatched defenders against Pierce in Game 2 both backfired.

In Game 3, everyone will see whether Jackson can get it done again after the Lakers experienced success with their "small" look in Game 2.

Summary: If Rondo and Ray Allen are able to beat defenders on drives to the basket, the Lakers will be in serious trouble.

The Celtics pass too well to lose against a full diet of half-court traps and scrambles from the Lakers.

The Lakers must play better defense across the board. From Fisher's matchup against Rondo to Ronny Turiaf going head to head against Brown, the Lakers can't win the series unless they get the best of more one-on-one battles.

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lonnie.white@latimes.com

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