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Accentuate the positive

June 10, 2008 | 11:18 pm

PROGRAMMING NOTE (6.11):  Join us today for Purple, Gold, and Blue at 11 am.  Our guest will be Henry Abbott of ESPN.com's outstanding TrueHoop blog.  Click on the show widget at the side of the page, or go straight to our show page to listen in.

Kobe_vs_celtics_game_3 Given the circumstances, you'll have to forgive the Lakers for not worrying about style points after their roadkill ugly 87-81 victory over the Celtics in Game 3 of the NBA Finals Tuesday night at Staples.  Facing a must-win against a squad that had beaten them four consecutive times over the course of the season, all that mattered was the final score.  Some sort of grand message (announcing their presence with authority, if you will) would have been nice, but beggars can't be choosers.   For every positive development, there's a worrisome one to go along with it.  Kobe's 36 points and 18 free-throw attempts, meet 13 points and 5-18 shooting from Pau Gasol and Lamar Odom.  20 points from Sasha Vujacic, who drilled seven of the 10 shots he took, meet three points, four personals from Vlad Radmanovic.  Overall, L.A.'s new Big Two logged 56 of L.A.'s 87 points, while the rest of the gang was a scary 11-39, good for 31.   

But while the Lakers didn't exactly flow smooth and swift like the Amazon (for the purposes of this writing, we'll all assume the Amazon flows smooth and swift - no emails, please) with the ball, they came up big where it mattered most, on the defensive side of things.  The Lakers limited Boston to 35% shooting, bottled up Paul Pierce (six points on 2-14 from the floor), and held KG to a 6-21 night.  Only Ray Allen, with 25 points (only three in the fourth) did any real damage.

The grimy nature of the affair, one both teams seemed reluctant to control, Doc Rivers was asked if he felt his Celtics missed an opportunity to steal one from the Lakers.  "Either that, or they should have blown us out.  One of the two." 

Exactly.  So maybe it's tough to draw a lot of lessons.  The most important thing, though, is that the Lakers finally broke through against the Celtics.  They finally have tangible proof they can beat the green.  Tonight's performance, if repeated, won't be enough to sustain them the rest of the series, but it could be the starting point they need to move on to better things.  However you slice it, the NBA Finals are officially a series again. 

AK with the breakdown, below.

BK 

THE GOOD

  • Kobe Bryant: Thankfully, the nights where Kobe has needed to put his team's scoring squarely slack on his back have been fewer and far between this season.  That preserves considerably more energy for a night like tonight: 36 points off a very economical 20 shots (12 downed) and 18 trips to the line.  The Mamba's free throw fortunes weren't all that prosperous (maybe he was just trying to blend in), but he more than made up for those gaffes.  The highlight reel basket may have been a gorgeous up and under slither to the rack, but what personally made me the happiest was how the overwhelming number of shots were from 19 feet or closer.  Mid-range game for days, the lane driven even more and only two treys attempted.  Ironically, even on a night where the situation may have been difficult, I thought Kobe did a nice job of making life (relatively speaking) easier on himself.  His defense on Paul Pierce also stood out.   
  • Sasha Vujacic:  Sasha began the night with a 22-foot air ball and a rare miss at the stripe, prompting a "This ain't good" remark under my breath.  From there, he quickly sank a pair of freebies, then just about every shot he took.  7-10 from the field for a playoff career-high 20 points, the only Laker to hit double digits not named "Kobe," " Bean," or "Bryant."  The three ball he canned with just under 120 seconds to go (on the heels of a very rushed brick to boot) was nothing short of ginormous.  Vujacic's spark off the bench wasn't just vital.  It was literally life saving for a team that couldn't get much going at all. 

    In addition to adding some good D to the mix, The Machine also provided the game's single funniest and weirdest moment. As the third quarter's final seconds ticked away, Sasha found himself on the wrong end of an Eddie House forearm while pressuring his way towards the ball.  Vujacic hit the deck, then immediately jumped up, got in House's face for a brief second, then just as he looked like he was about to head butt Mike Bibby's brother-in-law (trivia alert!), he jetted off to guard his man.  Very bizarre.  I couldn't tell exactly what was happening from our nose bleed perch, but it read like, "Eddie House, you're lucky I have a defensive assignment to attend to, because otherwise, we'd have words, sir!!!"  Classic Sasha.  He also deserves props for recovering from a KG screen that left him absolutely leveled.  For a few seconds, The Face wandered the court like he was punch drunk.
  • The Defense: The Lakers' offense may have been ugly, but it was Giselle-smokin'-hot compared to the 35% shooting Boston scrounged up.  Credit the Lakers for not allowing their woes on one end of the court to translate into continual defensive lapses.  Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce combined to sink a scant 8-35 of their attempts, which obviously went a long way in securing the Laker win.  Credit Lamar Odom, Pau Gasol and Ronny Turiaf for The Big Ticket often operating from mid-range and beyond, while Kobe, as mentioned earlier, played a big role in checking Pierce.  Ray Allen may have been hot (8-13 for 25 points), but if future nights feature The Big Three as a solo operation, the Lakers will always be in the ball game. 
  • The Bench: Tonight, "the mob" finally represented like they were part of the five families (a "Godfather" reference, for those unschooled in their "Barzini"). Outside of Sasha, they didn't paint the scoring column much, but everyone brought something to the table while on the court.  Jordan Farmar had four boards, five dimes, a high wire block, a handful of nice defensive moments and fired up the crowd by going nose to neck with P.J. Brown (since that's as high as he reaches on the guy) after a loose ball scrum.  A couple of the Taft alum's boards came courtesy of taps from Ronny Turiaf, who added a couple of swats and forced KG into some difficult (and missed) shots.  Trevor Ariza got more minutes, drilled his first jumper, and looked a little more in the swing of things (although the rust is hardly gone).  And while Luke Walton still isn't coming through offensively (dude needs to start making those layups pronto), he set up Farmar beautifully on a very patient pick and roll and held his own defensively, forcing traveling called on Brown and Leon Powe.  Most importantly, they played like a unit, which we haven't seen this series. 

THE BAD

  • The starting front court: When your Lawrence Tanter-introduced small and power forwards combine for more fouls (9) than points (7), that generally ain't a good thing.  Any hopes that home cooking would immediately 180 the struggles experienced by Vlad Radmanovic and Lamar Odom since the series inception were anything but realized.  Vlad one upped Game 2's quick pair of fouls by racking a trio before taking a first-quarter seat.  Three minutes into the second half, he picked up a fourth foul after basically leaning on Kendrick Perkins, providing absolutely no resistance against a converted layup.  From there, he grabbed some wood and didn't reenter the game.  LO made an even quicker first-quarter exit, with two whistles coming in less than five minutes of play.  His second quarter became a cameo after a third foul came in a mind boggling 23 seconds.  After kicking off the second half with precisely zero points, Lamar proceeded to miss six of his eight attempts and turn the ball over a startling four times. Yes, there were nine rebounds and four dimes to ease his pain, but similar to treating a broken foot with Aspirin, it's only going to feel so good.
  • Free throws:  21-34 for an inspiring 62% (rounded up).  Kobe Bryant was uncharacteristically off, hitting only 11 of his 18 tries.  If this was how the Lakers would have shot the ball had Game 2's reffing crew been a little more kind to them, we can all stop complaining.  Farmar noted after the game how, despite their muddy production, had they been better at the stripe, Boston would have been blown out.  I can't decide if that makes me feel more relieved or disappointed.

THE MIXED BAG

  • Pau Gasol: On one hand, he grabbed a dozen boards and converted a couple of huge putbacks as the game wound down.  On the other, he was 3-8 from the line, 3-9 from the field, missed some undeniable bunnies around the rim and didn't block a shot.  Gasol did enough to make his presence matter, but not nearly enough to make it truly felt. 

AUDIO

AK


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