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NBA Finals: Defense and Adjustments

   by Al McMordie - 06/07/2010

When the LA Lakers won the NBA title a year ago, their defense was exceptional. In the NBA Finals against the Magic, in four of the five games they held Orlando to 41%, 30%, 42% and 41% shooting (all wins). The NBA Finals pit the best against the best, so it often comes down to defense and adjustments.

In Game 1 this year, the Lakers outplayed Boston in a double digit win. Two years ago, Kevin Garnett had 24 points and 13 rebounds in Game 1 against the Lakers, but in Game 1 this year Garnett had one rebound in his first 27 minutes of Game 1. He finished with four in 35 minutes.

Pau Gasol (age 29) humiliated Garnett in LA's Game 1 victory: He outrebounded Garnett, 14-4. KG is 34 years old with 45,000 minutes on his NBA odometer. Garnett was a shell of himself, especially with his interior defense and rebounding. It hardly matters that you score 16 points when you allow 23.

Garnett and Perkins grabbed seven rebounds combined, the same amount as Kobe Bryant. Rajon Rondo appeared frustrated by Kobe's menacing defense and stopped trying to streak for layups once he was stuffed by Lamar Odom in the first quarter.

LA outrebounded Boston, 42-31, and pounded the Green with 48 points in the paint. The Lakers scored 16 second-chance points to the Celtics' zero. Boston tallied just 5 fast-break points and hit one 3-pointer. "They just outworked us," Kendrick Perkins said. "They wanted it more.”

Then, in Game 2, the tables were turned. Boston held the Lakers to 40.8% field goal shooting (29-for-71), and forced 15 turnovers (including five by Kobe Bryant). Boston, for its part, "only" shot 42.9 percent, but it was 11-for-16 (68.8%) from three-point land, and that was the key difference.

So now it's about adjustments as the series moves to Boston this week for the middle three games. So what kinds of adjustments could we see? Two years ago when they met in the Finals, LA center Andruw Bynum didn't play because of an injury. Gasol was forced to play center and was controlled by Perkins, a terrific defensive player. Gasol's best game then was 19 points and 13 rebounds, but that was only when beefy Celtics center sat out a game because of a strained shoulder. Should the Celtics put Perkins back on Gasol and allow Garnett to play Bynum and Odom?

One matchup that didn't materialize in LA was the lightning-quick Rondo against 35-year old Derek Fisher. Kobe often guarded Rondo, which was an excellent move by the LA coaching staff, putting Bryant's size and experience on him. The Lakers limited Rondo to 13 points on six-for-14 shooting in Game 1, but Rondo was more effective in Game 2, with 19 points, 12 rebounds and 10 assists.

A problem for the Celtics in Game 1 was that Ray Allen came out guarding Bryant and picked up several quick fouls, forcing him to the bench. That took away their best outside shooter. Allen played Bryant well defensively in the 2008 Finals, so the defense was not a problem -- it's picking up fouls, as Bryant is so active and often unstoppable. In Game 2, however, it was Bryant who picked up fouls (five of them, to be precise).

In Game 1, LA was focused on taking away Allen's three pointers. In Game 1 the Lakers made sure that Allen would take no uncontested 3-pointers, and his two attempts were his fewest since that infamous 124-95 Game 3 loss to the Cavaliers May 7, when he was 0 for 1. So, what happened in Game 2? Allen set a record for trifectas made in an NBA Finals game, with eight (out of 11 attempts)!

Another thing to keep an eye on this week will be injuries. Both teams had a lot of rest after wrapping up the Conference Finals and then having two full days off after Game 1. However, Games 3, and 4 this week will each be played with 1 day of rest.

For the Lakers, the down time was helpful in that it allowed center Andrew Bynum to rest his right knee. He had about 2½ ounces of fluid drained a week ago, but the swelling returned soon after. Bynum played 28 minutes in Game 1, and then 39 minutes in Game 2, so the rest did him good.

Kobe was able to rest his rest his right knee and Lamar Odom was able to rest his sprained right knee and sore left shoulder. For the Celtics, Rasheed Wallace, Perkins and Rondo all had bumps and bruises coming into the Finals. It might not be a factor now, but as this week goes along with so many games in five nights it could wear down some injured players.
Good luck, as always...Al McMordie.

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