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The Celtics' Big Three is in need of a new equation

Through three games in the NBA Finals, Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen and Paul Pierce have not been able to all play well as the same time. As a result, Boston is trailing the Lakers, 2-1.

June 09, 2010|Mark Heisler

From Boston — Anyone have an extra Big Three?

Anyone you can spare, whether it's two star players or even just one, please send them to the TD Garden immediately.

The Celtics used to have a Big Three of Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen.

Now it's Rajon Rondo, someone like Nate Robinson or Glen Davis and whichever member of their old Big Three has a discernible pulse that night.

If nothing else, it shows just how improbable the Celtics' run to the NBA Finals was.

Two years ago, the Big Three always showed up.

Last year, KG was lost in March, leaving just two.

This spring they put Humpty Dumpty back together while clawing their way through the East draw, even as Pierce struggled in the first two rounds and KG shot 39% in the conference finals.

Unfortunately, whether it's fatigue, Lakers defense, the referees (no, really) or the moon is in the seventh house and Jupiter aligned with Mars, it's now more like the Big Three Minus Two.

For Pierce, who yelled "Ain't coming back to L.A.," it's like Gen. Curtis LeMay, who popularized the term "bomb them back to the Stone Age," misplacing his B-52s.

Pierce is averaging 16.7 points in the Finals, and without his 11 in garbage time in Game 1, it would be 12.7. Remarkably, the Celtics won Game 2 as Allen scored 32 to make up for Garnett and Pierce shooting a combined four for 16.

Amazingly, they came from 17 down to get back into Game 3 with Garnett scoring 25, making up for Pierce and Allen shooting five for 25.

Not surprisingly, it didn't turn out to be the percentage way to go.

If it's a make-or-miss league, Boston Coach Doc Rivers came up with an alternative, complaining that his foul-plagued players can't develop any rhythm.

Games 1-2 were, indeed, called tightly, or prissily, putting lots of players on both sides in foul trouble.

Nevertheless, Pierce is averaging 40 minutes and Allen 38 to Kobe Bryant's 39.

Rivers, who could give ambassadorial staffs lessons in graciousness, spent the media sessions before and after Game 3 and Wednesday's off-day suggesting Lakers Coach Phil Jackson's complaints brought favorable whistles.

Of course, Jackson has said a lot in his time, like accusing Pat Riley of sending his goons, er, New York Knicks out "to hurt players."

Riles, who was accustomed to setting agendas, albeit more congenially before Phil started zinging him personally, was too upset to even reply.

This time, however, Jackson didn't say anything about thugs, league conspiracies to extend series, semi-civilized red-necked barbarians or, as in the 2008 Finals, Oral Roberts healing Celtics who left in wheelchairs.

That prompted this exchange Wednesday.

Q: "I'm not aware of Phil having said very much ... except that he didn't like some calls in Game 2. What did you hear him say?"

Rivers: "What you just said."

Q. "That's pretty mild."

Rivers: "Yeah, it is but it carries weight."

In that case, they'd better hope Jackson doesn't get upset and say something that flattens the entire 617 area code.

There is another possible explanation for the Big Three's struggles, aside from their age and their long postseason:

The Lakers have a handle on the Celtics offense, which starts with Bryant keeping Rondo out of the lane.

For the first three rounds, Rondo zipped past, around and through all comers, averaging 17 points and 10 assists.

His Finals numbers are respectable — 14 points, 9.8 assists — but he's no longer living in the lane, getting easy shots for teammates and putting up big scoring numbers himself.

Rivers insists other teams have put bigger players on the 6-foot-0, 175-pound, cat-quick Rondo.

Of course, if the other defenders were 6-6, 205, like Bryant, they weren't Bryant.

"[It's] intelligence, you know, being smart about how to use his length and his size to bother him [Rondo]," said Derek Fisher.

"I think it changes [Rondo's] passing angles, which I think was another little subtlety in some of Ray Allen's struggles shooting last night....

"When Kobe is guarding the ball handler, Rondo, [Russell] Westbrook, whoever, his length changes their ability to make tighter, crisper passes... for shooters [to catch in] rhythm....

"Even though he [Rondo] was still effective, it was mostly in transition and a lot of that comes from us executing poorly at times."

There's good news, all around.

For the Lakers, and me, personally, we're coming back to L.A., no matter what Pierce said.

For the Celtics, it's not make more shots or go home.

They are home.

mark.heisler@latimes.com

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