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Monday, June 02, 2008

Los Angeles Versus Boston Preview

NBA Finals

Boston (66-16) vs. Los Angeles (57-25)

Season series: Boston, 2-0

Boston can win if…they can hold the Lakers' field goal percentage below .450, shoot at least .450 from the field and maintain a decisive advantage (greater than 10-plus ppg) in points in the paint.

Los Angeles will win because…they have the best player in the game in Kobe Bryant and anything that the Celtics try to do to contain him will either fail and/or open up easy scoring opportunities for Pau Gasol in the paint and the Lakers' various perimeter shooters.

Other things to consider: The Kobe Bryant-Pau Gasol-Lamar Odom trio works so well because Bryant has the skill set and mentality to be a big time scorer/closer while Gasol is well suited to being the second option and Odom is much, much better suited to being the third option than the second option. Gasol goes up too softly with his shot sometimes, but he has good hands, he can make an array of shots inside and outside of the paint and he is a good passer and rebounder; Odom gets out of control sometimes and either misses badly from point blank range or commits offensive fouls but when he gets most of his touches by slashing in from the weak side he is very effective. The Bryant-Gasol screen/roll play will be difficult for Boston to defend. Against Cleveland, Boston defended screen/roll plays that involved LeBron James by sagging off of James, daring him to shoot jumpers and making it difficult for him to complete passes. If the Celtics defend Bryant that way then he will bury a ton of jumpers; they will have to trap Bryant with Gasol's defender and then rotate another big man to Gasol. The Celtics are a good strong-side defensive team, so they may very well succeed sometimes at trapping Bryant and rotating to Gasol, but if the Lakers are patient and crisp in their execution then there should be wide open shots available on the weak side either for Odom slashing to the hoop or for three point shooters such as Derek Fisher, Sasha Vujacic and Vladimir Radmanovic.

The Lakers are a speed/finesse team that is being outrebounded 43.9 rpg to 40.5 rpg in the playoffs and they have been outrebounded in two of their three series wins. Pat Riley used to always say "No rebounds, no rings" but the Lakers have been so productive offensively (105.9 ppg on .478 field goal shooting) and so effective defensively (99.5 ppg on .433 field goal shooting) that their weakness on the glass has not been a problem. I expect Boston to outrebound the Lakers but in order to win the series the Celtics must convert that advantage into a lot of points in the paint--by scoring on putbacks and/or creating fast break layups in transition after defensive rebounds.

The Lakers are not known as a great defensive team but their point differential (6.4 ppg) and field goal percentage differential (.045) in the playoffs are better than Boston's (4.3 ppg and .026 respectively). Athletic teams/players can cause problems for the Celtics, as we saw in the first round with Atlanta and even in the Detroit series with the contributions made by Rodney Stuckey and Lindsey Hunter. The Lakers are a long and fast team that is very formidable in the transition game. The problem with the Suns and the Warriors is not that those teams are high powered offensively but rather that they are terrible defensively; the Lakers play at a fast tempo and score a lot of points but they don't give up a lot of easy shots defensively: Tim Duncan averaged 22.4 ppg versus the Lakers in the Western Conference Finals but he shot just .426 from the field and the defending champion Spurs collectively shot just .426. Duncan shot .495 and the Spurs shot .467 versus Phoenix in the first round.

ESPN.com's Bill Simmons is always blasting Doc Rivers' coaching but his critiques did not make sense in previous seasons when the Celtics were clearly not a very good team and they don't make sense now considering that the Celtics led from wire to wire in the regular season and have returned to the Finals for the first time since 1987. Just having talented players is no guarantee that a team will win; Flip Saunders inherited a Detroit team that had won a title and made consecutive Finals appearances yet he has never guided the Pistons back to the Finals. Rivers convinced All-Stars Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen to sacrifice individual scoring glory and concentrate on defense and Rivers also got the role players to buy into his defensive philosophy as well. It seems like Simmons not only has an ax to grind against Rivers but is not even paying close attention to the games, because Simmons recently asserted that the Celtics "live and die by jump shots"; as I predicted before the Eastern Conference Finals and documented throughout that series, the Celtics dominated the Pistons in the points in the paint category, so whatever one wants to say about Rivers' coaching it is not fair or accurate to say that the Celtics relied primarily on jumpers to beat the Pistons.

The strange thing about Allen in this year's playoffs is not just how poorly he has shot but how he seems at times to have lost confidence. If Kobe Bryant ever shot that poorly you can bet that he would still fire up his next jumper with supreme confidence. Allen is one of the great perimeter shooters of all-time, yet he has looked hesitant to shoot at times.

Did you notice how happy Pierce and the rest of the Celtics were to celebrate with the Eastern Conference Championship trophy? Phil Jackson all but mocked the idea of celebrating a Western Conference Championship and Bryant made it very clear that his only goal is winning the NBA title. Sure, Pierce and the Celtics later said much the same things but keep in mind that Pierce, Garnett and Allen have never reached the Finals before. They are very excited to get there and I think that their initial reactions to beating Detroit spoke more of relief and satisfaction than hunger to win the next series. I don't mean to say that they are not hungry to win a championship but merely to point out that it has been a tough, grueling road for them--both in their careers and in these playoffs--just to get this far and they don't really know what it takes to win a title. Jackson, Bryant and Fisher all have experienced success in the Finals on multiple occasions and that could be most beneficial to the Lakers, particularly early in the series. A very good Seattle team fell down 3-0 to Chicago in the 1996 Finals before the Sonics really adjusted to the intensity level of a championship series and in a weird way it could work against the Celtics that they have the first two games of this series at home: they will have to deal with all of the hoopla and expectations that come from being at home and if they are jittery for even one quarter that could be enough to cause them to lose home court advantage and thus have an uphill struggle for the rest of the series. Both teams will have been off for several days, so the rest/rust factor should be the same for each of them.

Finally, you may be wondering what Boston's 2-0 advantage in the regular season series means. Frankly, not much: Gasol was not a member of the Lakers for either game.

The first meeting was a 107-94 home win for Boston on November 23, 2007. That was the 12th game of the season for the Lakers (7-5) and the 11th game for the Celtics (10-1). Andrew Bynum--who is of course out of action now due to a knee injury--had just moved into the starting lineup for the Lakers and he finished with four points on 2-7 shooting plus nine rebounds. Odom also shot 2-7 from the field. The Lakers were still putting their rotation together, as Ronny Turiaf started while Luke Walton and Radmanovic came off of the bench. Bryant had a slightly subpar game, 28 points on 9-21 shooting plus four rebounds and three assists. This was the third game in four nights for the Lakers, all on the road. The Celtics had been home since a November 18 game in Orlando and had only played one other game in that time.

The second meeting was a 110-91 road win for Boston on December 30, 2007. The Celtics improved to 26-3, while the Lakers fell to 19-11. Bynum again had a quiet game (eight points, two rebounds). Trevor Ariza started at small forward for the Lakers. This was the throwback game in which the Lakers wore short-shorts in the first half. Bryant had his third worst shooting game of the regular season (22 points on 6-25 shooting from the field)--and it was his worst in a game in which he attempted more than 13 shots. Bryant has shot .500 or better in 10 of 15 playoff games, so the Celtics should not count on a repeat of that performance. The Celtics led by double figures for a substantial portion of the game. This was the Lakers' only loss in a five game home stand and their only defeat in a 12 game span from December 21 to January 14. The most impressive thing about this victory is that it was Boston's fourth game in five nights, all on the road; it was also the sixth win in what would become a nine game winning streak. Nevertheless, the Lakers were without Gasol, while Walton and Radmanovic only played sparingly, so this was simply not the team that Boston will be facing in the Finals.

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posted by David Friedman @ 2:04 AM

19 comments

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19 Comments:

At Monday, June 02, 2008 10:18:00 AM, Blogger madnice said...

With that Seattle series I think the Bulls just wanted to celebrate in Chicago and gave them two games.

 
At Monday, June 02, 2008 10:48:00 AM, Blogger Apryl DeLancey said...

Yup - The 2-0 season number doesn't mean much since there was no Gasol. Both teams have their issues yet are very capable. Should be interesting...GO LAKERS!

 
At Monday, June 02, 2008 1:36:00 PM, Blogger Sony said...

I can't believe you give this stuff away for free and I pay for the L.A. Times and ESPN.insider's inferior content.

The market is inefficient.

 
At Monday, June 02, 2008 2:00:00 PM, Blogger Allen said...

I found it quite remarkable how accurate Kobe Bryant was on perimeter shots against the Spurs.

Do you think he can keep this up if the Celtics concede the outside shot to him, as Henry Abbott at TrueHoops suggests they will?

And how will he respond if he is getting shots he can make, but is not making them? Does he just continue to take them? What adjustments can he make if his outside shot is off this series? This worries me.

 
At Monday, June 02, 2008 3:46:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Madnice:

I also think that Ron Harper's injury had something to do with this but after the series I remember that several Seattle players talked about making the adjustment to what it was like to play in the Finals. The Sonics had a bit of that deer in the headlights look in the early going but as the series went on Gary Payton started playing more aggressively versus MJ and the Sonics went back to doing some of the things that made them successful during the regular season.

 
At Monday, June 02, 2008 6:04:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Sony:

I'm glad to hear that you like this site. The best way to correct market inefficiency is to spread the word to fellow basketball fans.

 
At Monday, June 02, 2008 6:20:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Allen:

Kobe is a very good jump shooter, particularly from the midrange (15-20 foot) area. When he is open and on balance he shoots an excellent percentage from that range. Against the Spurs, he shot the midrange jumper even better than he usually does.

In the Lakers' first game against Boston he shot a little worse than his overall percentage this season. In the second game, as I noted in the post, he had perhaps his worst shooting game of the season. I think that he just had a bad game; if the Celtics play him like they played LeBron then Kobe will make a lot of jumpers in this series. I doubt that they will simply concede him the jump shot. They will try to keep him out of the paint for sure and then contest his outside shots; against LeBron they really sagged into the passing lanes and basically dared him to shoot.

Kobe will not change his approach based on whether he is making or missing shots. Based on talking to him on several occasions, if Kobe has an open shot that is within his shooting range (and is appropriate given the score, time remaining, etc.) then he is going to shoot it. In fact, this is what the Cavs wanted LeBron to do as well. Asst. coach Chris Jent told me during the Boston series that when the Celtics left LeBron open he wanted LeBron to shoot the ball with confidence and not dribble into traffic or force passes. Kobe does not need anyone to tell him this because he already understands it very well. As Jeff Van Gundy said during a recent telecast (this was in reference to Rondo but it applies in general) it is not unselfish to pass up open shots; in fact, it disrupts a team's rhythm. I think that it is not accurate to say that when Kobe misses shots he forces the issue; it may seem that way because a lot of players lose confidence when they miss shots while Kobe keeps shooting anyway but in fact he is doing the right thing. Part of why Ray Allen has been a mess during extended stretches of the playoffs is that he went through periods where he did not shoot his shots with confidence and either passed the ball or drove instead of letting it fly.

If Kobe misses a few jumpers the adjustment that he will make is to not lose confidence, to focus even more on his technique and to make the next few jumpers. If that is the shot that the Celtics give him it would be a mistake to drive into traffic and turn the ball over or commit an offensive foul. Kobe will attack the hoop when there are driving lanes.

 
At Monday, June 02, 2008 8:08:00 PM, Anonymous allen said...

I hope you're right, David.

 
At Monday, June 02, 2008 9:23:00 PM, Blogger Jeffrey said...

Before the playoffs started, I think most people would have picked Boston to win the whole thing. Obviously, the last 6 weeks have told a completely different story, so much so that LA is the consensus pick. What do you think happened to Boston during the playoffs? Bad luck? Poor coaching decisions? Pressure get to them? My feeling is that if Boston can figure out how to get back to playing like they did in the regular season, Boston's got a better than even chance to win.

 
At Tuesday, June 03, 2008 12:32:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

David, I recently stumbled onto your blog and really enjoy reading your in-depth analysis.

Keep up the good work!

Johnny

 
At Tuesday, June 03, 2008 6:55:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Jeffrey:

Before the playoffs, I picked L.A. to beat Boston in the Finals, so from my perspective there is not anything that needs to be explained unless the Celtics beat the Lakers. However, I will do my best to address your question.

I'm not a big believer in luck being a major factor in determining the outcome of games of skill. Furthermore, the Celtics have been lucky/fortunate in the sense that things that they cannot control have worked in their favor--for instance, their key players have remained healthy during this long playoff run.

I don't know why Doc Rivers is such a lightning rod for criticism. I don't think that he is a bad coach and he certainly is not as bad a coach as Bill Simmons says he is.

I do think that the Celtics have not always responded favorably to pressure situations. On the other hand, they have won two game sevens plus a close out game in Detroit.

The only thing that has struck me as odd about Boston's playoff run is that the Celtics lost three games to Atlanta instead of one. I expected the Cleveland series to be a dogfight that would last seven games and I expected the Celtics to beat the Pistons in six.

As for your last point, I'm not sure that the Celtics are not playing the way that they did during the regular season; in the regular season you play a lot of subpar teams but in the playoffs you play good teams that are able to zero in on your team's weaknesses. Also, while the Celtics were a 66 win team the Lakers played at roughly a 66 win pace after acquiring Gasol. As I indicated in this post, it is my opinion that the Lakers can present some serious matchup problems for the Celtics, particularly with the Bryant-Gasol screen/roll play. Boston will likely have an edge on the glass but unless that edge is converted into easy scores the Celtics will have some problems putting up enough points to beat the Lakers. It is worth remembering that the Lakers swept a 50 win team and beat both teams that played in last year's Western Conference Finals, including the reigning NBA champion (of course, the Celtics beat both teams that played in last year's Eastern Conference Finals).

 
At Tuesday, June 03, 2008 6:58:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Johnny:

Thank you.

I look forward to breaking down the Finals game by game and then analyzing Team USA's performance in the Olympics.

 
At Tuesday, June 03, 2008 9:08:00 AM, Blogger madnice said...

Its about time people are realizing your work, David. All of the other sites, stupid nba shows, and fakexperts are no where near. Ive even copped a few books like Game Seven that Im sure not many people even know about because of this site. I wonder if Bill will somehow update his book since a few more game sevens have been played.

 
At Tuesday, June 03, 2008 5:12:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Thanks, Madnice.

 
At Wednesday, June 04, 2008 12:58:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

David,

I found your blog through lakers blog at LA times, and your analyses are eye-opening. Keep up the good work!

As for this series, which laker guards Pierce? Kobe tends to float in defence, and I don't think Vlad is quick enough. Do you see Phil Jackson playing Ariza?

 
At Wednesday, June 04, 2008 7:11:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Anonymous:

I doubt that after so much time off that Ariza can play a major role in this series but I would expect Jackson to put him out there for spot minutes and then increase his playing time if he performs well and is not winded.

I expect Radmanovic to start out on Pierce. Depending on how that matchup and the other matchups are going, the Lakers may trap Pierce in certain areas of the court and they may put Odom on Pierce for stretches. Keep in mind that Jackson got a lot of mileage out of a lineup that had Kobe at small forward while Farmar and Vujacic played guard and in that scenario Kobe would guard Pierce if Pierce is in the game. Athletic players have caused the Celtics some problems--think of the Atlanta series and also Detroit's guards Stuckey and Hunter--so if Farmar and Vujacic can make enough shots to justify keeping them in the game that lineup could cause enough disruption that Pierce does not even get a lot of scoring opportunities when that group is on the court (due to their ball pressure taking time off of the shot clock).

 
At Wednesday, June 04, 2008 6:27:00 PM, Anonymous DHS said...

I've always felt that raw rebounding number comparisons were potentially misleading, because they do not account for differences in rebounding opportunities.

So, just out of curiosity, I ran playoff rebounding percentages on each of the Finals participants:

Offensive Rebounding:
Boston: 27.2%
Lakers: 21.77%

Defensive Rebounding:
Boston: 68.95%
Lakers: 65.35%

That didn't really change the picture much, but I thought it might be of interest.

 
At Thursday, June 05, 2008 6:07:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

DHS:

I agree that raw rebounding numbers can be deceptive. As I have stressed about several different issues in various threads, context is very important.

The Celtics are a more physical team than the Lakers and will probably outrebound them in the Finals but the question is whether or not that will outweigh some disadvantages that I expect the Celtics to have in other areas. My opinion is that the Lakers will do well enough in those other areas to compensate for a slight rebounding deficit, as I explained in this post. If the rebounding deficit turns out to be significant or if the Lakers do not in fact have big advantages in other areas then of course the Celtics will be in very good shape--but I don't expect that scenario to hold true over the course of the series, though it may happen in a game or two.

 
At Thursday, June 05, 2008 5:37:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

anymous reggie

the celtics is better defensively than the spurs i think kobe will be dominant in this series still though. who's gonna guard pierce? kendrick perkins is a liability he is too small in height to guard pau too slow to guard lamar or vlad plus vlad will bring him out to the permiter which will take away rebounding oppoutunites. kevin garnett will get his i think i dont think pau could guard him but he did have 19 boards and 4 blks and in key stretches playd well aginst duncan who garnett to me is on par with. ray allen got to make shot to try to keep kobe honest he has no chance of stopping kobe i think they do it by commite on that kobe will get his they have to make sure he doesnt got to the free throw line like san antonio did even though kobe still dominated him he is closest to jordan right now going even though im not a big fan of his he is great though he has a great midrange game they cant play him like lebron what they wanna do is make him 3 point shooter keep him away from the midrange game and from the basket and dont let other guys get involved gasol could be bigger in this series tim duncan pushed him away from basket i dont know if kg does that to him or is as strong as tim duncaan is. bench is clealry favor for lakers with farmar sasha turiaf etc rondo fiser will be intresting rondo plays well the celts win he tends to play better at home. phil jackson has a clear advantage over doc rivers. so i think lakers split win 2 of 3 at home kobe has a classic game 6.

the bulls should of swept seatle in 96 jordan got relaxed after game 3 they let them win 2 games i agree with madnice mike played with him and they wanted to do it in chicago too. the bulls won 3 at home and 3 on the road.

 

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