Preview: NBA Finals Game 2

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(Courtesy: L.A. Times)

The Lakers didn’t waste any time in Game 1 showing how much they’ve been waiting for this rematch against the Boston Celtics. After extinguishing the Suns in Game 6 of the Western Conference Finals, the Lakers immediately went to work in preparing for the Finals. Guys like Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol, Lamar Odom, and Derek Fisher usually gave lip-service to the media as to how the Lakers are treating facing the Celtics in another 7-game series. And oddly enough, the Celtics were also cautious about what things to say to the media without sounding overly confident.

As it turned out, Game 1 was a disaster for Boston and a major statement of a game for the Lakers. But it’s just one game. And that’s how both teams are treating it.

Doc Rivers believe that his Celtics still feel like they’re the champs because he thinks that their title defense run last year would have turned out better if Kevin Garnett was healthy. That kind of sentiment mentality is another huge difference between these two teams from just 2 years ago.

The Lakers use the past as motivation for today while the Celtics are more concerned about the “what-ifs” rather than the “what-shoulds.”

But Rivers is known to bring mutlitple adjustments to a game. The only question is: How many? Stopping Kobe Bryant is at the top of his to-do list heading into Game 1, but soon found out that it’s much, much easier said than done. Kobe led all scorers with 30 points (his 12th 30-point game of the playoffs) and simply destroyed all 3 defenders Rivers put on him. Ray Allen had the first watch on Kobe and got 2 fouls early in the 1st quarter. It’s clear that Ray can’t guard Kobe, so Rivers have some tough decisions to make.

Keep Ray on Kobe to save Paul Pierce and sacrifice their outside shooting or sacrifice their best post-player by putting Pierce on Bryant and hope that Allen can hit enough three-pointers to beat the Lakers?

Whatever the case may be, the Celtics cannot afford to concentrate their defensive efforts on Kobe. The Lakers have proven before that they can win with Bryant as the main feature on offense or as their main facilitator. Boston can hope that the other starters for the Lakers will all have a bad game on Sunday, but we all know that will never happen.

For the Celtics to have any hope for Game 2, they will need to keep their wits, intensity, and energy on both sides of the court for the full 48 minutes. Anything less than that isn’t enough to keep this determined Laker team on a mission to return a huge favor. From what we saw in Game 1, maintaining their energy is something the Celtics have no answer for.

Most people think that the Celtics will go with the zone defense, and some believe that Boston will try to get the ball out of Kobe’s hands before he gets a chance to score. The problem with those type of defenses is they demand a lot of active bodies and a lot of reactionary movements. For a team that’s only as effective as much as their legs could literally carry them, those strategies don’t sound too encourging for them at all. And they’re also thinking of running more on offense?

How will that help them in staying aggressive all game long when most of their starters (who happen to be their best players) couldn’t even stay on the floor for half a quarter without panting heavily out there in Game 1?

As for Rajon Rondo, he will be counted on even more on Sunday not only to make plays for his teammates but to score, defend, and rebound. We know Rondo can dish an assist, but we also know he isn’t a shooter. Heck, he isn’t even a reliable free-throw shooter. As far as his defense goes, his mentality is to strip the ball. He may be quick but he isn’t a good positional defender. And if he decides to roam on defense, Fish and Jordan Farmar will surely make him pay. Sure, they may ask him to drive the ball more. But against the size of the Lakers, against Bryant’s defense, and Boston’s lack of shooters, how many opportunities could he really get? Slim at best.

So what are the keys for the Lakers for Game 2? Here goes:

  1. Be the aggressor again: The Celtics are known for being aggressive but aren’t use to being treated the way the Lakers did in Game 1. They’re simply not used to being pushed back, so the Lakers must keep challenging them and forcing their will onto them. It’s also necessary for the Lakers to look to dominate the boards again even if the Celtics are an average rebounding team at best.
  2. Defense: Boston certainly got a first-hand look at that Laker defense on Thursday and found out that it’s way better than advertised. The Lakers must continue to make Rondo a jumpshooter rather than a passer. They will also need to pay a little close attention to both Allen and Pierce and keep them from getting open looks at the basket. As long as the Lakers challenge everything without putting the Celtics to the line too much, they’ll be alright.
  3. Expect a zone defense: It’s not a guaranteed Rivers will employ this defense, but it wouldn’t hurt for the Lakers to be ready for it. In fact, the Lakers should come out expecting anything from Boston. Game 2 is basically the Celtics’ last hope in making a statement in this series. They fail to win it, this series could be all but over for them.
  4. Keep composure: Other than their intensity. The Celtics are known for their in-game antics of trying to rile up the other team by giving an extra shove (or if you’re KG an extra punch on your forearm or two) or by trash talking. It wouldn’t be a surprised if they try to get either Artest or Gasol get sidetracked out of their game by trying to draw any heated retaliation to help them win.
  5. Attack from inside: Boston’s frontcourt lineup may have the bulk, but they don’t have the length of the Laker big men. Even with the strength of their defense is in the paint, the Celtics weren’t prepared to face a team with so many talented post-players with size, so the Lakers should oblige them by letting them see more of their abilities in the paint.

Boston may or may not come out with the amount of fire they talked about after Game 1, but they will surely try to take over the game in the first 12 minutes because they know they don’t have the stamina to keep up with the Lakers if they find themselves playing the catch-up game all night long.

But the Lakers should only be worried about bringing more to Game 2 and be prepared for anything the Celtics may throw at them. They cannot let their success in Game 1 cloud their ability to give their all on every play in every quarter of the game on both sides of the floor.

If they weather whatever gameplan Boston has planned for them and dish out their own style of punishment, the Lakers will make Game 2 and the rest of this series a long, excruciating experience for the Celtics.

GO LAKERS!!!

Other Notes: Twenty-seven-year UCLA Bruins basketball head coach and one of the best minds in sports history John Wooden passed away at 6:45 PM on Friday at the Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center. He was 99-years old. His daunting influece in the game of basketball and unparalleled accomplishments put him in a league of his own. A truly remarkable man and a true champion. You will be missed, coach!

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