Lakers and Celtics believe execution and effort will determine Game 2
As soon as Celtics forward Paul Pierce enters the locker room at halftime, he immediately grabs the box score and looks at three categories. Those include deflections, turnovers and the opposing team's field-goal percentage, factors Pierce believes reflect Boston's effort.
Down by nine points at halftime of what became a 102-89 Game 1 NBA Finals loss to the Lakers, Pierce didn't exactly feel pleased when he scanned the stat sheet and noticed the Celtics finished with seven first-half turnovers and allowed the Lakers to shoot 52.6% from the field. At least, Boston grabbed four steals, but that effort went to waste since the Celtics stole only one possession in the second half.
Both the Lakers and Celtics enter Game 2 aware that ultimately they will determine the outcome of both the game and series with sharp execution and effort, areas that are of particular importance for teams that are evenly matched in talent and experience.
"Effort plays, hustle points, loose balls, that stuff, wins championships, because it changes momentum of games," Lakers guard Kobe Bryant said. "Sometimes you have to dig a little deeper within yourself and try to pull out the energy to try to make that play. Those are big plays, no doubt."
And if one team doesn't make those big plays? Well, Pierce can only imagine the worst-case scenario. "If guys aren't willing to give it their all or sacrifice whatever they need to do at this point in the season," he said. "then shame on them truthfully."
Sure, there are some other areas that could determine the outcome. Boston guard Rajon Rondo acknowledged that muscle spasms in his back still linger from when he suffered the injury Game 4 of the Eastern Conference finals, but he insisted, "I'm fine." Lakers center Andrew Bynum missed Saturday's practice, received more treatment for the torn cartilage in his right knee and described it as "OK."
But there are plenty of other variables that will decide Game 2, such as rebounding, second-chance points, fouls and, of course, the three variables Pierce continually looks at in the box score during every halftime. The Lakers dominated those categories in Game 1, outrebounding the Celtics, 42-31, outscoring them 16-0 in second-chance points and responding better to the officials' whistle-happy tendencies. While Boston guard Ray Allen acknowledged that "I don't think I ever got in the flow" because of his five fouls, the Lakers managed their foul trouble with the bench still securing the lead.
While the Lakers limited Rondo to 13 points on six-for-14 shooting and the team to one for 10 from three-point range, Boston Coach Doc Rivers argued that the problem was rooted in the team's inability to make defensive stops -- another area that has much to do with effort.
"Rondo is not going to get going if we don't get stops," Rivers said. "Our offense is directly connected to our defense. Every team's is, for the most part, if you want to run. If we're going to take the ball out of bounds, if they're going to shoot free throws, they're going to get second shots, Rondo is not going to be in the open court. If we can get multiple stops, we can get multiple runs. So we've got to get stops."
So why is effort such a huge factor in the NBA Finals? Lakers Coach Phil Jackson provides a reason.
"The talent that lies on both teams, I think you're going to see good basketball being played," Jackson said. "But it's going to be those little things that make the difference."
That's why the Lakers have maintained a stoic attitude since their Game 1 win and the Celtics have maintained a calm approach. Jackson's teams may be 47-0 in playoff series after they win the first game, but that statistic actually points to how a team responds after Game 1, a critical component considering Lakers forward Pau Gasol predicts Boston will "be more aggressive in Game 2." The Celtics may have put in a poor effort in Game 1, but they've managed to respond well to their regular-season travails and to their two losses to Cleveland in the Eastern Conference finals.
But for those Boston fans who think the Celtics have no shot to come back, and for those Lakers fans who believe the Lakers will coast to another title, Lakers guard Derek Fisher gives a good reason why neither team should overreact.
"We also have to remember the fact we are playing against another team that's really really good, also," Fisher said. "Sometimes it's not just you didn't do what you needed to do. Sometimes the other team was better that day."
With the Lakers hoping to take command of the series Sunday, they have to simply find a way to match their Game 1 effort even against Boston's adjustments. With the Celtics feeling the pressure to tie the series, they believe they just have to master the three categories Pierce dissects at halftime.
"I know the defensive scheme is going to be there," Pierce said. "But it's just about how hard and how willing you are to sacrifice your body to go out and do it for 48 minutes."
Follow the L.A. Times Lakers blog on Twitter: twitter.com/latmedina. E-mail the Lakers blog at firstname.lastname@example.org