Everyone seems to be expecting a Lakers win including a dominant Kobe performance and a parade to the charity stripe. I'm curious as to how it will really play out.
1. Is Kobe going to play a team game or is he planning to
have a 50-point evening?
It would not be a surprise if Kobe decides that he needs to
be the Alpha Male of the series and put the Lakers on his back as DWade did against
the Mavs did a couple years ago. The differences are important though. First,
the Heat did not have dynamic offensive performers and had demonstrated through
the first three games of that series that they were totally reliant on Wade to
score. In fact, I’m pretty sure there was only one time in those 6 games that
someone else even cracked 20 for the Heat. Second, the Heat felt desperate and
were in full-fledged panic mode before DWade really took over. Third, the Heat
loved Wade and knew that he had the full blessings of Shaq and Pat Riley to be
the star of the show.
I don’t think Kobe will think through it enough to recognize
that pulling a DWade tonight might undo an awful lot of the good he’s done this
year. His ‘brothers’ won’t really be okay with him taking 38 shots. Of course, since it's Kobe, he may not care that much…
2. Will the Lakers get a consistent low post presence?
As much sound and fury has been made about the free throw
disparity in Game 2, too little has been said concerning the almost comical
lack of a Lakers low post offense in the second half.
Particularly considering how well Gasol played, playing through the post so little just
seems absurd. Despite his great (and deserved) reputation as a game manager,
Phil Jackson didn’t seem to respond as one would have expected. I also felt as
though I may have been the only person in America to notice that Leon Powe
didn’t get challenged to play tough defense. How does the Zen Master fail to
respond when Leon Powe is the most impressive big on the court?
3. Which Celtic can take his show on the road?
The Celtics can put a stranglehold on this series but no one
seems to expect that will happen. Certainly there won’t be the free throw
disparity as in Game 2 but the reasons that disparity existed in the first place can travel pretty
well. The Celtics play with force and energy; the Lakers can do that but only
in the backcourt. Kobe and DFish work really hard and play with intensity as
does Vujacic (even if it is awkward and manic at times). Turiaf has the force
and energy but like Mark Masden before him, has too many physical limitations
to be an impact player. The way this dynamic has unfolded in Games 1 and 2 is
pretty straightforward: Gasol and Odom get most of the rebounds they’re
supposed to. Garnett, Perkins and Brown get lots of rebounds they’re not supposed
to. That explains a lot and unless lots of rebounding fouls are called (for the
only time since the first round), the Celtics can keep up that trend.
Also important is that Paul Pierce can get into the paint
more easily than anyone could have expected. That leads to easy buckets and
lots of fouls on the Lakers. Pierce also seems to relish big situations and
playing in LA. While no one expects Ray Allen to come up extra big tonight,
there’s a chance Pierce will make every effort to assert himself. If he gets
the Celtics to a 3-0 lead and becomes MVP of this series, Pierce will be
elevated to the 2nd tier of stardom in the public perception and
that’s important to him. Despite all the cries of ‘ubuntu’ this season, it’s
always been clear that Pierce thinks of himself as underappreciated. This
series can go a long way to making sure that is no longer the case.
If the Celtics bigs continue dominating the paint and Pierce
can come up with a transcendent performance, the Lakers may quickly find
themselves on the brink of a devastating defeat.