After watching Game 3, one thought kept popping back into my head: THESE two teams made it to the NBA Finals?? Only one starter on either team shot over 50% from the floor. Kobe Bryant shot just over 30% and made some awful shot choices. As good as Ray Allen was on Sunday he was equally as bad last night. Basically, two players had good games - Kevin Garnett and Derek Fisher and the rest looked like they didn't belong in the Finals. Some of the offensive ineptitude can be credited to defense - but not all of it. The Celtics couldn't space the floor and Rajon Rondo refused to drive to the basket. For the Lakers, Bryant forced up bad shot after bad shot as the Lakers lead vanished. And then there was Derek Fisher who bailed out the Lakers in the fourth quarter to give them a 2-1 series lead.
We've Got a Kevin Garnett Sighting
Garnett had scored just 22 points in the first two games and had been dominated by Pau Gasol. KG made sure that didn't happen in Boston. The Celtics turned to Garnett early. On the first possession, he made a quick move on Gasol that resulted in a layup. On the very next possession he ran the floor and caught an alley-oop from Rondo. He hit his first five shots and finished 11 of 16 for 25 points. But make no mistake, this isn't the 2008 version of Garnett. He might be able to have offensive games like this every once in awhile but he's not nearly the defensive presence he used to be.
Ray Allen Nearly Set Another Record
On Sunday, Allen set an NBA Finals record by hitting 8 three-pointers. Last night he nearly set the record for worst shooting performance in Finals history. Allen finished 0 for 13 (one miss shy of tying the worst shooting performance) including 0 for 8 from three-point range as he finished with just 2 points. The Lakers did a better job on Allen. Derek Fisher worked through screens quicker and others helped out as well to prevent Allen from getting as many wide open looks. But he still had a handful of great three-point looks and just couldn't knock down any of them. If he hits just 2 of those 8 there's a great chance the Celtics win this one.
Refs Take Center Stage Again
This week on RCS we did a Top 10 list of times refs became a bigger story than the sport they were covering. It seems like these refs are trying to make a case to crack that top 10. Game 3 wasn't nearly as bad as the previous two. They called an average of 56 fouls in the first two games and 47 last night. It was still far too many and disrupted the flow of the game. At least this time it hardly affected playing time. Ron Artest had to sit early after picking up two fouls about midway through the first and Paul Pierce had to sit in the third.
What put the refs in the spotlight last night was the use of instant replay. New to this year, in the final two minutes of the game the officials can look at instant replay to determine who touched the ball last. Last night it happened three times with two very interesting situations that bring to light flaws in the process.
First, Kobe Bryant slapped the ball away from Kevin Garnett and officials ruled it was off Kobe. Doc Rivers called a timeout and Phil Jackson called for the play to be reviewed. It was determined it actually went off Garnett's fingers. The Celtics got back the timeout because of the review but if they hadn't called it in the first place it never would have been reviewed and they would have maintained possession.
Then, with under a minute remaining, the officials ruled Rondo had touched the ball last after it went out of bounds following a missed free throw by Pierce. The review showed that Lamar Odom was the last to touch it but that Rondo had clearly fouled Odom. But the replay is to determine who touched the ball last and the officials can't call a foul based on the review. After the game, Charles Barkley brought up a great point about this scenario. He said sometimes officials don't call fouls and instead award the other team possession of the ball. We've seen that type of thing happen all the time. I don't know if that's what happened in this scenario but it's certainly possible. But now, with the review they had to give the ball to the Celtics despite the blatant foul by Rondo.
Kobe Forgets About His Teammates
Against the Suns, everything seemed to be falling for Bryant. He made some of the most impossible shots in that series. He was not making those shots last night yet continued to take them. His shot selection was horrible. Some of the blame can be placed on the rest of the Lakers. Bryant would often be handed the ball with about 7 seconds remaining on the shot clock and the rest of the Lakers would spread the floor and watch Kobe work. But Bryant put up some of the worst shots I've seen him take all season. He took long threes, double-clutching jumpers, and didn't look to drive and kick. Bryant finished the game 10 of 29 including 1 of 6 in the fourth quarter. Maybe the people over at Slate have a point - maybe Bryant isn't the best closer in the game.
Derek Fisher Plays the Role of Closer
With Bryant taking awful shots, someone had to come through for the Lakers. Why not Derek Fisher? He always seems to come through in the clutch - and especially on the road this postseason. Fisher scored 11 of their first 20 points in the fourth to keep the Celtics at bay. He hit 5 of his 7 shots and hit the most important bucket of the game with under a minute remaining. Off of another Ray Allen missed three, Fisher caught the Celtics off guard by pushing it and getting past the entire defense. Four defenders trailed on the play while Fisher laid it in off the glass and got hammered by Glen Davis. Fisher converted on the free throw for the three-point play to give the Lakers a 87-80 lead.
It's been an exciting series and all three games have been relatively close but I expect more from both of these teams. There hasn't been a game yet where both teams have played at an extremely high level. Maybe the defenses are too good to allow for any sort of flow in the game but I just think we haven't seen the best from either team. For the Lakers, they've had performances like Artest's 1 of 10 shooting on some astoningishly bad shots and last night it was Bryant making some awful decisions. For the Celtics, Pierce has basically had one good quarter (fourth quarter of Game 1), Garnett had done little through the first two games, and last night Ray Allen had potentially his worst game ever. Will there be a game this series where both teams play at a high level? We have at least two more games to find out.