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June 4, 2010
Playoff Prospectus
Opening Salvo

by Kevin Pelton


at L.A. Lakers 102, Boston 89 (L.A. Lakers lead series 1-0)
Pace: 87.1
Offensive Ratings: L.A. Lakers 114.7, Boston 104.4

When I detailed yesterday the three biggest differences between this NBA Finals matchup and the series the two teams played in 2008, I left out the presence of Andrew Bynum. Sidelined by injury the last time these teams met on this stage, Bynum didn't necessarily figure to be much more of a factor this time around. He has been battling a tear in his right meniscus and averaged just 18.0 minutes per game in the Western Conference Finals.

It was a healthy looking Bynum, however, who played 26 minutes in Thursday's Game One and helped the Los Angeles Lakers fire the opening salvo in this series with a 102-89 victory. The L.A. frontline of Bynum and Pau Gasol helped shut down the Boston Celtics in the paint. Per Hoopdata.com, Boston shot a dismal 12-of-27 (44.5 percent) on attempts at the rim, including five misses in six attempts by Rajon Rondo and four out of six missed by Kevin Garnett.

Add in the Celtics' inability to generate points from the perimeter--they attempted just 10 three-pointers and made only one of them all night long--and the recipe was there for Boston to struggle on offense, as the team did despite making 30 free throws in 36 attempts.

For a half, the Celtics did enough at the defensive end to stay in the game. The Lakers then blew the game open in the third quarter, scoring 34 points in the period and converting on 17 of their 23 possessions. Stop me if you've heard this before, but the key was Kobe Bryant, who scored 14 of his 30 points in the third and needed just nine possessions to get them. Bryant was able to get stunningly easy looks in contrast to his shot-making display on difficult attempts in the Western Conference Finals. 14 of his 22 attempts came in the paint, and he also got to the free throw line 10 times to pad his numbers.

The Lakers' strong third quarter left them up 20 points, and while Boston opened the final period with a 10-1 run, the Celtics never got the lead into single-digits to truly threaten the Lakers. All told, Game One was more one-sided than the final 13-point differential would imply.

A big reason for that was Gasol's play. Matched up with Garnett much of the evening, the Spaniard clearly got the better of the matchup. He pounded the offensive glass for eight of his 14 rebounds, while Garnett grabbed just four rebounds in 35 minutes. Gasol added 23 points on 8-of-14 shooting; Garnett needed nearly as many possessions to score 16 points

The biggest positive Boston can take from Game One was Pierce finding ways to be successful against Ron Artest. While Pierce was quiet in the middle two quarters, he opened the game with nine first-quarter points and then had 13 in the final period, helping the Celtics try to mount a comeback. Pierce led Boston's way to the free throw line, making 12 of his 13 attempts from the charity stripe.

The key for the Celtics going forward will be finding another scorer to complement Pierce. That might be Ray Allen, who was rendered a non-factor by early foul trouble, scoring 12 points in 27 minutes of action. It might be Rondo, for whom finishing was the biggest issue. Rondo wasn't bad overall, but Boston needed more from him than 13 points on 6-of-14 shooting with other options limited. Rondo didn't help himself or the team by missing three of his four free throws, failing to convert when he did get into the paint against a Lakers defense designed to keep that from happening.

Looking for more scoring punch, Doc Rivers did give Nate Robinson extended playing time. While Robinson was not a major factor statistically (he was scoreless and missed all three of his shot attempts, though he did hand out four assists), the Celtics were +10 with him on the floor. He was at the helm for Boston's run to start the fourth quarter and also successfully teamed with Rondo in a small backcourt during the first half. The Celtics should be able to continue to use that duo when the Lakers go to Jordan Farmar and Shannon Brown at guard.

Phil Jackson too experimented with his rotation. In a surprising move, Sasha Vujacic came on when Derek Fisher got into early foul trouble. With Bryant defending Rondo, the Lakers were able to match up on defense without sacrificing scoring punch, and Vujacic and Bryant were capable of getting the team into its sets. Still, Vujacic wasn't especially effective and did not play after halftime. That's one wrinkle of which we might have seen the last.

Rivers is still figuring out how he wants to match up in the frontcourt. Kendrick Perkins did not play in the fourth quarter, with Glen Davis playing most of the period in the middle before being replaced for the last two minutes by Rasheed Wallace. Davis was ineffective against the bigger Lakers frontcourt while Wallace had nine points and four boards in 18 minutes. There's a compelling argument to be made for moving Wallace into a larger role and limiting Davis' minutes.

With some tweaks and a better defensive effort on Bryant, Boston still has a chance to steal a game in Los Angeles before heading home. Still, the surprise of Game One wasn't necessarily that the Lakers emerged victorious but that they had control for nearly the entire evening. That's not something the Celtics have experienced a whole lot lately, and it's not a great sign for them over the rest of the series.

Follow Kevin on Twitter at @kpelton.

Kevin Pelton is an author of Basketball Prospectus. You can contact Kevin by clicking here or click here to see Kevin's other articles.

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<< Previous Article
Rough Justice (06/04)
<< Previous Column
Playoff Prospectus (05/30)
Next Column >>
Playoff Prospectus (06/07)
Next Article >>
Every Play Counts (06/05)

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