Reporting from Boston -- It was a subtle yet game-altering adjustment.
And it came about because of an astute observation by Lakers assistant coach Brian Shaw. Still, Shaw had to implore Lakers Coach Phil Jackson to use this in-game strategy against the Boston Celtics in Game 3 of the NBA Finals on Tuesday night.
It was a simple two-man game between Lakers guard Kobe Bryant and Derek Fisher on the wing that pushed the Lakers to a victory and a 2-1 lead, allowing the Lakers to reclaim home-court advantage in the best-of-seven series.
Moreover, it repeatedly freed up Fisher to score 11 of his 16 points in the decisive fourth quarter. Eight of Fisher's points came directly from working with Bryant.
Toward the end of the third quarter, Fisher passed the ball to Bryant at the elbow of the free-throw line when Shaw noticed Rajon Rondo and Ray Allen doubling Bryant and leaving Fisher alone.
Shaw began to wonder whether Rondo, who was defending Fisher, or Allen, who was guarding Bryant, was blowing the coverage. Shaw knew the Celtics didn't want to leave Bryant one on one. So the idea was to use Bryant on the backside of the offense to set screens and especially to set a solid screen to force the smaller Rondo to switch off on him. It seemed to confuse the Celtics.
"That's not something that we normally do," Shaw said after practice Wednesday as the Lakers prepared for Game 4 on Thursday night. "But once we saw that they weren't playing it right, we just made sure during the timeouts we kept in Phil's ear about 'Let's keep on trying to exploit this one-two thing with Fisher and Kobe on the backside because they haven't adjusted and they haven't played it right.'"
Shaw said he eventually noticed Celtics assistant Tom Thibodeau, Boston's defensive guru, yelling instructions at his players on how to defend that play.
"It was one of those things last night, if Fish and Kobe weren't making the plays, everybody else out there was scared to make the plays," Shaw said. "So we had to go with our two 14-year veterans."
Lakers assistant Frank Hamblen has been in charge of putting the game plan together, and he has outlined a few things his team still must do to beat Boston.
• Ball movement.
Hamblen is opposed to the Lakers' dribbling the ball too much. He wants them to pass it. The Lakers had just 13 assists in Game 3, their lowest total in the series.
Win the rebound game.
In the two games the Lakers have won, they outrebounded the Celtics.
Be balanced on offense and get Pau Gasol more touches inside. Gasol took just 11 shots; he made five.
Hamblen said the Celtics will look to get open looks for Allen, who missed all 13 of his shots, including eight three-pointers. He looks for Boston to push the pace with Rondo and for Kevin Garnett to continue to attack.
"We're using that old cliche, 'We're just thinking about the next game,' as well as Boston is," Hamblen said, laughing. "We're just tickled pink to be in the situation we're in."
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