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Xs AND O's : LAKERS' BIG THREE VS. CELTICS' BIG THREE

Numbers lean Boston's way

June 14, 2008|Lonnie White | Times Staff Writer

The Lakers are one defeat from summer vacation and their problems start with their top three -- Kobe Bryant, Lamar Odom and Pau Gasol -- being outplayed by Boston's main three -- Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen.

That's a major reason the Celtics hold a 3-1 lead in the Finals heading into Sunday's Game 5 at Staples Center.

In every Boston victory, one of the Celtics' Big Three has made a key play down the stretch. Garnett did it in Game 1, Pierce in Game 2, and Allen in Game 4.

The Lakers' top trio just hasn't been able to keep pace.

After combining for nearly 63 points, 25 rebounds and 12 assists per game over the first three rounds of the playoffs, Bryant, Odom and Gasol have averaged 53.1 points, 22.8 rebounds and 12 assists in the Finals. Decent totals -- but not good enough.

Bryant, averaging an NBA-best 30.8 points in the playoffs, has carried more than his share. But he's not Superman. The league's most valuable player is desperate for help, and he's not getting it consistently enough, especially from Odom.

In Game 4, Odom got off to a great start, but was not a factor down the stretch. He finished with a team-high 19 points, but had only four after halftime. It's important for him to stay involved in the Lakers' offense, and that doesn't happen when Bryant or Gasol go one-on-one.

Gasol has been more reliable than Odom against Boston, but he can contribute more. As Lakers Coach Phil Jackson has pointed out, Gasol's biggest weakness is being soft around the rim -- a deficiency magnified by the physical Celtics.

Too many times, Gasol has missed or had a layup blocked when he should have finished with a dunk. And too often he has been beat on defense when he could have stopped a play by being more forceful.

Another overlooked factor in the Finals has been Boston Coach Doc Rivers, who has pushed the correct buttons throughout the series.

That was evident in the Celtics' come-from-behind victory in Game 4.

After falling behind by 24 points, Rivers benched center Kendrick Perkins (who suffered a left shoulder injury in the second half) and point guard Rajon Rondo (hampered because of a Game 3 ankle injury) in the third quarter in favor of veterans Eddie House and James Posey.

It proved to be the winning combination as House and Posey teamed with Garnett, Pierce and Allen to give the Celtics their best lineup.

The secrets behind Boston's successful adjustments on Thursday?

Everything started with the Celtics having several players able and willing to pass up perimeter shots in order to drive to the basket against the Lakers' soft interior. And that spread the floor for Boston's half-court offense and exposed the Lakers' questionable on-the-ball defense.

The Celtics also uncovered a few shaky Lakers rotations and exposed how slow they react to perimeter shots.

Summary: It's a good bet that Jackson would love to have the services of injured big man Andrew Bynum for the remainder of the series.

Although the Lakers have plenty of length with 7-foot Gasol and 6-11 Odom, they really do not protect the basket well on defense. It's this lack of intimidation that's hurting the Lakers against Boston, which has done an excellent job of passing to the open man and finishing plays around the basket.

The Lakers miss Bynum's rebounding and athleticism in the middle of the defense.

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lonnie.white@latimes.com

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