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The Boston Celtics faced off against the Los Angeles Lakers in Game 3 of the NBA Finals Tuesday night at the TD Garden. Tied at one win apiece, both teams were looking to seize momentum for the rest of the series by winning the pivotal third game. In the previous 32 Finals in which the series was tied 1-1, the team winning Game 3 eventually took home the championship 28 times. So, it goes without saying that this was a crucial game for both teams. The Celtics got out to a strong start, but the team’s shooting went cold midway through the first quarter. The Lakers suffered no such power outage and built up a 17-point lead by midway through the second quarter.
The Celtics, keyed by strong play from their bench, came back to bring the score within one by the fourth quarter, but in the end they could never get over the hump. The Lakers, led in the fourth by Derek Fisher (16 points), made too many shots down the stretch, keeping the lead perpetually out of reach. The Celtics wound up losing the game, 91-84, and falling behind in the series, two games to one.
First the good news: Kevin Garnett. After struggling as much as he has in the first two games of this NBA Finals, it was refreshing to see him bust out of his slump so emphatically. He put up a more-than-adequate 25 points to go with his 6 rebounds and 3 assists. Unfortunately, he had virtually no help. Paul Pierce, despite some key three-pointers down the stretch, and Ray Allen combined to go 5-25 from the field, and all five of those made shots belonged to Paul Pierce. Ray Allen followed up his record-setting Game 2 performance with an unbelievable zero made shots from the field. He was 0-13 from the field, missing multiple open shots that he was able to drain two nights ago.
And while he had a strong start, Rajon Rondo slowed down from the second quarter on, putting up only 11 points and 8 assists. The bench almost made up for it with 26 points (as compared to the Laker bench’s 22), but in the end too many missed shots from key shooters doomed the Celtics offense, which didn’t have trouble getting open so much as it did knocking down shots (except for Garnett). The Celtics’ offense requires multiple contributors to work, and Tuesday night there was only one player contributing. It was not enough to match the Lakers’ offensive production.
Anytime you can hold a team to 91 points, your defense has done a pretty good job. The biggest problem once again was rebounding. The Celtics got out-rebounded 43-35, and it led to too many second chance points for L.A., most of which came via the free-throw (21 made from the line, as opposed to the Celtics making just 16). But overall, the defense was not the problem for the Celtics. Up until now, they had won all but one game in which they held their opponents to under 100 points. And the defense held the Lakers’ shooting percentage to under 45%, which is not bad, all things considered.
Overall, the defense did its job. A couple of more rebounds would be nice, but the Celtics did not get outscored in the paint (50-38 in the Celtics favor), so the rebounding troubles were not quite so debilitating as they were during Game 1.
The problem with teams that thrive on perimeter shooting is that when the shooting goes cold, as it did on Tuesday, it’s tough to score. The Celtics got good post play from Kevin Garnett, and his offensive explosion is hopefully a sign of good things to come. The defense played well too. This was a game that the Celtics really should have been able to win. But they didn’t, and the fault really lies with Paul Pierce and Ray Allen. If either of them had even decent shooting nights, the Celtics likely would’ve won. But with them not scoring, the Lakers were free to double-team inside and concentrate on the only Celtic able to do anything: Kevin Garnett.
For the next game, we’d better hope Pierce and Allen find their shooting stroke again. The Celtics’ success in the playoffs (and the Lakers’ too) has shown that teams with just one top performer (Miami, Cleveland, Orlando) do not do well. To win at this level, you need contributions from multiple sources. Tonight, the Celtics only got a game from Kevin Garnett (although, to be fair, Glen Davis played pretty well off the bench). If this continues, the Celtics will lose this series. If one or two more green players step up, the Celtics can absolutely win this series. They still have a great chance to go 2-for-3 at the Garden and head back to the Staples Center up one game. But to get there they’ll need more from their shooters.