Lakers finally get a win in the Finals

By Jason Wojciechowski on June 11, 2008 at 7:20 AM

The Lakers proved they could win ugly tonight, pulling out the 87-81 home win over the Celtics. As indicated by the fact that L.A. only scored 87 points, a lot went wrong: Lamar Odom had a poor offensive game, joined by Pau Gasol; Vladimir Radmanovic had foul trouble that kept his shooting off the floor again; Ray Allen went off for 25 points by raining in five open threes; the Lakers shot just 62% from the foul line, missing 13 free throws; Boston grabbed fourteen offensive boards.

So what went right? Kobe was aggressive all night, getting into the lane and making shots at or near the lane, and getting foul calls he wasn't getting in Boston (he shot 18 of the Laker free throws). Sasha Vujacic had one of those nights, shooting 7-10 to essentially negate Ray Allen's offensive contributions. Paul Pierce was horrendous, shooting 2-14 and picking up five fouls. (This was partly a result of some misses of open shots he'd been making in Boston and partly a result of getting way fewer of those open looks as the Laker defense tightened up on him, led by Sasha and Kobe.) Kevin Garnett only shot 6-21 as his jumper wasn't falling and he only found his way into the lane a few times (though this seemed more by Celtic design than by Laker defensive efforts -- he didn't miss many paint shots or give the ball up from the lane many times because he pretty much hung around the perimeter the entire game).

How about the foul situation? Simmons figured Bennett Salvatore would be in this game, which isn't so prescient when you think about it: he hadn't worked the first two games, and he's in a small group of guys whom you know are going to work the Finals, so you have to figure this game is his. But Simmons also figured that Salvatore would pull one of his screw jobs, which didn't really happen. The Lakers shot more free throws than the Celtics, but only 12 more, not the egregious 28 of Game 2. Twelve is easily explainable by more aggressiveness in this game and the Lakers' offensive style in general: they're a cutting, driving, posting team that should be getting fouls against a team that clutches and grabs as much as the Celtics do. The Celtics, by contrast, are a jump-shooting team, with the exception of Paul Pierce.

Even more than the foul shot situation, there were only two horrible calls all night, but both went against the Lakers. One was Kevin Garnett's obvious travel in the third quarter, when he was doing his KG PIVOT thing where he jukes left and right like six times. In the midst of all this, he basically forgot which foot was his pivot and switched it before going up for a fallaway jumper. The refs completely boned it, failing to blow the whistle, and PJ Brown ended up with an offensive board and two foul shots. (Of course, the whole thing would have been null had the Lakers managed to secure their defensive glass, but that's for another time.) Second was the Kendrick Perkins / Radmanovic foul, where Vlad-Rad was futilely attempting to guard Perkins in the post. Rad had Perkins fronted, and the nice lob pass came over the top. While the ball was in the air, Rad basically just gave the foul, knowing he couldn't handle the bigger offensive player down there, grabbing onto Perkins's arm. Perkins caught the ball anyway and put it in for a layup. For some reason, the refs let the continuation go and gave Perkins a three-point play, despite the obvious fact that Vlad had fouled Perkins before he ever caught the ball.

In short, the Lakers didn't receive any special help from the refs tonight, and, as I've been saying, they didn't need it. Was it a closer, uglier win than I would have liked? Sure. Was it still a well-earned win? Sure.

What needs to happen in Game 4, knowing that Paul Pierce at least will shoot better, and maybe KG as well (he's bound to start draining these shots at some point, right?)? Better play from Lamar Odom. He wasn't out of control offensively tonight, and he came alive in the second half, getting to the bucket a couple of times to set up Pau Gasol offensive-rebound scores, but he made silly defensive fouls in the first half and almost made a terrible play with six seconds left. Instead of recognizing that the Celtics were (stupidly) conceding the game and thus dribbling the clock out, he went in for a dunk, but pushed off, and got called for an offensive foul. He has to, in short, wake up. Gasol needs to have a Game 2-type offensive game again, instead of the 3-9 showing of tonight where he was basically a non-factor. You weren't even aware he was on the floor most of the time. He had twelve rebounds and didn't let KG get an easy offensive boards over him like he did in Game 2, so that's a plus -- he needs to keep that up, but have a few more of his shots fall. Oh, also, don't shoot 3-8 at the line. It'd be nice if Derek Fisher shot better than 1-6, but that's not something anyone needs to hound him about. He took the shots tonight that he always takes and sometimes they don't go in. It's not critical so long as someone else steps up, as Sasha did tonight. Sasha won't shoot 70% again, but hopefully with contributions from Odom and Gasol, he won't have to, and his hounding of Pierce and Eddie House into frustrated pushes and elbows will continue to be valuable even when his shot isn't falling (so long as he's taking those shots in the flow of the offense like he was tonight).

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