at L.A. Lakers 89, Boston 67 (Series tied 3-3)
Offensive Ratings: L.A. Lakers 104.9, Boston 76.4
The latest wacky turn in this funhouse series saw the Los Angeles Lakers dominate virtually from the opening tip of Game Six, easing to a 22-point victory that evens the series and forces a deciding Game Seven.
As has been the case much of this series, Game Six bore little resemblance to its predecessors. Yes, the Lakers owned the only other comfortable victory in this series, their win in the opener, but that game got away from the Boston Celtics during the third quarter in large part because of foul trouble. This time around, Boston never had an answer for the Lakers at either end of the floor.
The big adjustment for Los Angeles was a simple yet important one. Phil Jackson reminded his players that they happen to have arguably the NBA's most skilled big man as a teammate, and it might be a good idea to get him the ball every now and again, especially early in the game. Establishing Pau Gasol in the post and playing inside-outside worked to perfection. He handed out nine assists to strongly threaten a triple-double and the Lakers offense had much better balance as a result.
The surprising beneficiary of the open looks created by Gasol was Ron Artest, who delivered another goat turns hero performance (this time in the larger context of the Finals rather than within a span of 30 seconds of game time). Artest knocked down a trio of three-pointers and was 6-of-11 from the field overall, scoring 16 points. Artest's pair of threes and eight points in the first quarter were critical to the Lakers' good start.
Featuring Gasol doesn't necessarily mean ignoring Kobe Bryant, and the first quarter displayed that fact. Bryant still found room to pick his spots and contribute 11 points, making five of his eight shot attempts. He was not dominant in any other segment of the game, but finished with 26 points, 11 rebounds, four steals and three assists.
The Lakers lost nothing when they went to their bench, which maintained the energy in a reversal of what we saw in Games Four and Five. It was Jordan Farmar who delivered the signature hustle play, diving to secure a loose ball that turned into a Lakers transition score. Meanwhile, Shannon Brown amped up the crowd with a pair of highlight-reel dunks and was solid in his minutes at the point when Derek Fisher got in early foul trouble. Sasha Vujacic dropped a pair of three-pointers and Lamar Odom was strong on the glass, finishing with 10 boards.
The second unit helped the Lakers build their lead and perish thoughts of a Celtics comeback during the second quarter, playing a key role in a 15-4 run that left the Lakers up by 22 points. Boston would get little closer.
While it was their offense that got the Lakers off to a strong start, their defense made the more lasting impression, holding the Celtics to five threes in 23 attempts and dismal 37.7 percent shooting inside the line. Boston didn't turn the ball over especially frequently; everything else about the Celtics' offense was a disaster.
Of the Big Four, only Ray Allen shot at least 50 percent from the field. His hot early shooting, including two triples in the first half, helped power Boston for a time. Ultimately, the Lakers clamped down and the Celtics had nowhere else to turn. Neither Paul Pierce nor Kevin Garnett enjoyed the kind of success operating one-on-one they had at times in Boston.
The Celtics' ball movement was also compromised, and Rajon Rondo was a big reason why. Despite Rondo's strong Game Five effort, the Lakers decided to back off him a little more with Bryant. The result was that Bryant was able to disrupt Boston's away-from-the-ball offense without sacrificing better looks to Rondo, who shot 1-of-5 outside the paint and just 4-in-10 in the painted area. Especially early, the Lakers were much improved in terms of contesting at the rim, making life more difficult for Rondo. With his driving less of an issue, Rondo also saw his ability to create for others suffocated.
Kendrick Perkins' sprained right knee only made matters worse for Boston, ending Perkins' night--and perhaps his series--midway through the first quarter. On this night, Glen Davis and Rasheed Wallace were unable to pick up for Perkins, missing all 10 of their combined shot attempts. Davis was competitive on the glass (nine boards), but has a tougher time matching up with the size of the Lakers' starting frontcourt, while a desultory Wallace shot 0-of-6 from downtown, picked up four fouls in 17 minutes and succeeded only in managing not to pick up a technical, thus avoiding a suspension for Game Seven.
Ultimately, it was a game to forget for the Celtics. In that case, the good news for them is this: This series has had been marked by amnesia from start to finish, unfolding in an entirely unpredictable fashion. Two nights from now, this could be the game that got the Lakers back on track to win a championship, or it could be totally meaningless. For now, we can only guess which.
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Kevin Pelton is an author of Basketball Prospectus.
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