Poll results about Finals reveal cautious split among Lakers fans
We all knew the Lakers-Celtics NBA Finals match-up would yield plenty of story lines and feature the competitiveness we expect from these two teams. Among the 11 Finals match-ups between the Lakers and the Celtics, only twice have the series been decided in four or five games. Boston swept L.A. in their first Finals match-up in 1959, and the Celtics defeated the Lakers, 4-1, in the 1965 Finals. Of the other match-ups, four were decided in seven games, and five finished in six. Based on results from last week's poll, 66.9% of respondents predicted the series would last at least six or seven games, ending in the Lakers' favor.
That's why it shouldn't be a surprise that the series is tied 1-1 heading into Game 3 Tuesday night at Boston's TD Garden. But what is surprising is the way many of the events unfolded. Based on recent poll results, the majority of respondents weren't worried about the series outcome as much as how differently the Lakers played in Games 1 and 2. Even though a majority still predicted the Lakers would win the title -- 38.7% took the Lakers in six games, and 29.8% picked the Lakers in seven -- the Lakers' Game 2 loss caused enough concern for 82.5% to deem Game 3 as crucial to the Lakers' success in the series.
The reasons were varied. There's 22% who said the Lakers need to win Game 3 to retake home-court advantage. A Lakers win would ensure them retaking control of the series, 17.2% argued. Meanwhile, 41.3% deemed retaking control of the series and regaining home-court advantage as equally important. Though 66% said they believe the Lakers would win Game 3, some respondents remain worried about a few things. Only 17% said they believe the Lakers are in control of the series, with 48% saying the 1-1 tie shows the Lakers and Celtics are locked in a competitive match-up. Nonetheless, a Lakers loss Tuesday night would surely add to the 35% who said they believe the Celtics are controlling the series.
Generally, respondents were satisfied with the team's play, with 58% giving the Lakers a "B" grade. Yet, there was concern among the 42% who said the Lakers' Game 2 performance significantly changed their perception of the series. The Lakers loss of home-court advantage raised concerns among 21%, while their play prompted 7% to pull their hair out. And then there was the 16% who were equally disturbed by the Lakers losing at home for the first time this postseason and for their lackluster performance.
The sentiment swung from game to game. There were the 45.5% who felt generally pleased with the Lakers' Game 1 win because of the team's physical play, Pau Gasol's match-up with Kevin Garnett, Andrew Bynum's ability to play through his injury, Ron Artest's defense on Paul Pierce, Kobe Bryant's dominance and the appearance that the Lakers set the tone in the series. But with the Lakers' Game 2 loss, 36.2% were concerned about the Lakers lack of an inside presence late in the game, their fourth-quarter meltdown, poor defense on Ray Allen and Rajon Rondo, Artest's poor shooting, Lamar Odom's ineffectiveness and, of course, the officiating.
Don't get started on that topic with Lakers fans, though 45% of respondents said the officiating has been equally bad for both teams. There was very little charge of bias geared toward the Lakers or the Celtics, but a fair number -- 18% -- said they believe the constant whistles serve as music to the NBA's ears, ensuring a prolonged series. But 10% simply said both teams simply need to adjust to the calls.
These results perhaps serve as a sign that fans do indeed react to the Lakers' fortunes on a game-by-basis. Or they could mean that fans are rightfully concerned about whether the habits of Game 2 can suddenly be erased, when it's expected that Boston will maintain its level of play. We'll see how far the pendulum swings -- and in which direction -- once Game 3 ends.
-- Mark Medina
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Photo: Lakers forward Ron Artest tries to split the defense of Boston forward Paul Pierce (34) and point guard Rajon Rondo in the second half of Game 2 on Sunday. Credit: Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times