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NBA Playoff Notes: Adjustments and Defense

   by Al McMordie - 05/25/2008

For the record, 75% of NBA teams in a 1-1 series that win Game 3 go on to win that series. That will give a little comfort to the Celtics after their surprisingly easy win in Game 3. It is already shaping up as an odd series. After home teams dominated the last round, the Celtics and Pistons then saw the road team win two of the first three games.

Detroit stole the all-important home court edge with an impressive Game 2 win in Boston. That looked huge as the Celtics had been 0-6 SU/ATS in the postseason on the road. Yet, the Pistons turned right back around and gave the Green their first playoff road win in Game 3, 94-80. They let a great opportunity slip away, as Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen were in early foul trouble.

The Pistons also could be faced with the prospect of Chauncey Billups (hamstring) in a diminished role. Billups took another step back over the weekend. After a strong Game 2, he labored mightily, scoring six points (1-for-6) in Game 3 with concern over his strained right hamstring.

"I am tired of talking about it," Billups said. "There's nothing I can do (about the injury). It's not like I have a lot of time. I just have to try and do what I can do and just try to get through it. It's just so disappointing to let one like this go. We had this series where we wanted it, but this [game] is over now. We have to refocus."

The Pistons shot poorly (38.4 percent), including 1-for-13 on 3-pointers. They were outrebounded by 16. They gave up 16 second-chance points. Of concern is that while both of these teams were terrific defensively during the regular season (Nos. 1 and 2 in the league), Boston’s defense has been far more consistent. In the first three games, the Celtics shot 52%, 48.6% and 46.4%. Even losing Game 2 they shot over 48%. The Pistons have shot 38% and 42% in their two losses, scoring 79 and 80 points.

At least this veteran team is confident: "We played awful," said Rasheed Wallace. "But I don't see it as that big a thing. It's whoever gets to four wins first." "Game 4 is a crucial game for us," Pistons coach Flip Saunders said. "No ifs ands or buts -- that's our biggest game of the year."

Out West it’s been a different story, with the Lakers putting a whuppin’ on the defending champion Spurs. San Antonio blew a 20-point third quarter lead in Game 1 as the Lakers outscored them 44-20 in a sensational comeback. Kobe Bryant was 10-for-18 shooting in the second half. Then the Lakers shot 55% in winning Game 2, 101-71.

While the Spurs are known for great defense, the Lakers held San Antonio to 40% shooting in the first two games. Which means the under started 4-1 in the Conference Finals, which is no surprise as defensive intensity rises as the Finals approach. A huge key is that Kobe Bryant is not doing all the shooting. The Lakers have done an excellent job of sharing the ball in establishing a balanced attack against the Spurs' slow-reacting defenders, led by Bryant's 24.5 points per game average on 55.3% shooting.

Their best play starts with Lamar Odom passing the ball into the right post to Pau Gasol, who is defended by Tim Duncan. From the top of the key, Vlad Radmanovic runs to the free-throw line and sets a screen for Bryant, who runs from the left side of the key toward Gasol. With the Spurs keeping an eye on Bryant, Odom slides into the key to set a back screen on Radmanovic's defender. Then Gasol, an excellent passer, completes the play with a simple toss to Radmanovic, who is usually open after making a cut to the basket around Odom's screen. San Antonio Coach Gregg Popovich has to try to figure out a way to defend the Lakers’ triangle attack. It’s not easy, with so many Laker offensive weapons and a great coach who knows how to make adjustments. Good luck, as always, Al McMordie.


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