Lakers' and Celtics' front lines anticipate more challenges in Game 2
Hours before Game 1 of the 2010 NBA Finals started, Lakers center Andrew Bynum stuck to his daily routine, hoping the repetitive discipline would ensure a measured and consistent performance.
Bynum flipped through his typical pregame play list, including the likes of Jay-Z, Drake and Lil Wayne. Bynum visualized how he wanted to play on the court, ranging from getting easy putbacks, helping on defensive rotations and complementing Pau Gasol and Lamar Odom. And of course, Bynum received treatment on the torn cartilage on his right knee, an injury that has been bothering him since Game 6 of the Lakers' first-round matchup against Oklahoma City.
"It helps me a lot," Bynum said of the routine. "It establishes the same thing every time so you're always ready."
Meanwhile, Boston Center Kendrick Perkins deviated from his normal pregame ritual, changing from his normal Southern hip hop playlist that features Bun B of UGK and T.I. and to R&B.
"I was trying to woosa for a minute, trying not to get no ticks so I could go into the game relaxed," Perkins said, referring to the fact his six postseason technical fouls means he's one away from receiving a one-game suspension.
The pregame routine from Bynum and Perkins served as one example of how the Lakers' and Celtics' fight to control the front line partly based on tinkering with adjustments. And in the Lakers' 102-89 Game 1 victory over Boston on Thursday, the Lakers made the biggest adjustment of all. The Celtics currently have the responsibility to make the proper adjustments Sunday in Game 2. The Lakers currently have the responsibility to counter those adjustments and produce the same results.
The results largely went the Lakers' way in Game 1. After missing the 2008 Finals altogether because of a sore left kneecap, Bynum played through his current knee injury and scored 10 points on an efficient four-of-six clip and six rebounds in 28 minutes. After the Celtics pushed Gasol into listless performances, in the 2008 Finals, including an 11-point, eight-rebound and five-turnover performance in Game 6, he answered back. In Game 1 of the 2010 NBA Finals, Gasol finished with 23 points on eight-of-14 shooting, 14 rebounds, eight offensive boards and three blocked shots.
Meanwhile, the Celtics front line appeared pretty listless. Perkins and Boston forward Kevin Garnett combined for only seven rebounds, giving the Lakers a 42-31 advantage on the glass. The Lakers manhandled them with 16 unanswered second-chance points. And more importantly, the Celtics' drop-off in play only renewed the confidence in the Lakers' front line, which already had plenty to prove in wanting to rectify their 2008 Finals performance.
"I dont think anyone is intimidated," said Bynum, who sat out of Friday's practice and received treatment, described his injury as "all right" and plans to do some work in Saturday's practice under the basket. "We know this team. We've been waiting for two years to get our chance at them. This is it. I think they were trying last night and I think they'll try on Sunday, but we're not even worried about that. We know if we play the basketball we can, we'll be fine."
There's a reason, however, why Bynum expects Boston is "going to be more aggressive and try to attack us." It all goes back to the Celtics' and Lakers' approach in making adjustments. Just like Perkins plans to revert back to his old pregame playlist, Boston plans to return to its original approach in playing more aggressively, a category in which the Lakers severely outmatched Boston in Game 1.
Celtics Coach Doc Rivers replayed those gaffes in a detailed film session Friday to illustrate the necessity that Boston shows a better effort Sunday in Game 2. Asked what Rivers emphasized during the exercise, Garnett simply said, "I can't repeat that on camera." When asked if he could clean up or at least paraphrase the message, Garnett replied with a terse, "No." It's safe to say that behind closed doors, Boston's coaching staff shared plenty of thoughts that will remain on the players' minds until Game 2.
"The intensity level was up," Perkins said of the Lakers' front-line play. "You could tell when the ball was shot, when they were on defense, they were boxing out. They were finding bodies and then rebounding. You could tell they were trying to make it an emphasis to go out here and play physical."
Unlike the Celtics, the Lakers have aired their thoughts out publicly, a welcome sign considering the only such talk during the 2008 Finals on the Lakers' inside game consisted of scrutiny. There's plenty of factors that point to the improvement. Lakers guard Kobe Bryant and Bynum equally agree the team's playoff series against Oklahoma City and Phoenix presented tougher challenges for Bynum because the up-and-down pace forced him to run in transition and fully test his knee's durability.
"He understands opportunities and he wasn't there with us in '08," Bryant said of Bynum. "He was there last year [against the Orlando Magic] and he has an opportunity in front of himself this time around, and he wants to take advantage of it."
As has Gasol, whose arrival with the Lakers in February 2008 has yielded three consecutive NBA Finals appearances and whose versatility, Bryant thinks, has helped complement his own game. Yet, the Lakers' current Finals run has included a storyline about Gasol's toughness, since his "soft" reputation reached an all-time high after the Lakers' 2008 Finals loss to Boston. Bryant argued the only difference now points to Gasol becoming more acclimated with the team. Lakers Coach Phil Jackson highlighted Gasol's "maturation." And Gasol himself saw some legitimacy to the criticism, but thought it soon became overblown.
"I understand better the nature of the game here. I grew as far as my body and how do I play the game," Gasol said. "So I could say that I'm a more mature player and more effective now than I was before. I was athletic, lanky. I had more explosiveness than I have now, but I was weaker also, and I wasn't accustomed to the physicality of the league and the amount of games that are played.
"All that talk just made me realize that there's some truth to that, but at the same time, I would never question myself like that," he added. "I just have to work even harder to be a better player, bottom line."
Regardless of how the "soft" criticism on Gasol soon became a repetitive talking point, Perkins noticed a much different player than in the 2008 Finals.
"He came out and played with a chip on his shoulder last night," Perkins said of Gasol. "He played hard, very very hard. He made smart decisions and he was feeling good last night. He made a lot of his shots. He did what he needed to do to get them a win."
And in an interesting twist, the scrutiny under Garnett increased just as the criticism on Gasol has subsided. Gasol was only happy to facilitate that storyline.
"On Kevin's part, he's also lost some explosiveness," Gasol said. "He's more of a jump shooter now you could say, comes off the lane. Before he had a really, really quick first step and was getting to the lane and he was more aggressive then. Time passes and we all suffer it one way or another, but he's still a terrific player, a terrific competitor, and he's going to bring everything he's got. You can count on that."
In fairness, Gasol's comment above provided much more context than the sound-bite version a reporter relayed to Garnett, highlighting the portion about his game consisting of less drives to the basket and more on jumpers. "Not at all," Garnett said when asked if Gasol's comments upset him. "I have no comments on his comments."
Nonetheless, both teams have plenty of comments on how the fight for inside supremacy will be a series-long adjustment, meaning the outcome in Game 1 provides a blueprint for the Lakers to replicate and a blueprint for the Celtics to rewrite."We'll make the proper adjustments," Garnett said, "and come out stronger in Game 2."
"I expect the whole team to be more physical because they felt like last night we were the more physical team out there, and they take pride in being the physical team," Gasol said. "But again, we've just got to be ready for it."
-- Mark Medina
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