Much has been made about the surprising way Boston stole Game 2 Sunday night. Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol combined to dominate the Celtics’ frontline with a combined 46 points and 13 blocked shots. Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett were about as timid and unemotional as they’ve ever been in the playoffs. But, it was Rajon Rondo providing the dirtiness and Ray Allen, biblical in his shooting prowess, who smoothly snatched the game – and maybe the series – out of the Lakers’ grip.
After breaking down what Rondo needed to do to change his level of play in Game 2, let’s dissect how Jesus turned around his game in the Celtics’ win.
As Ray Allen noted after Game 1, he wasn’t all that concerned with the way he played during the opener. He said it felt like he wasn’t even out there. That’s a fair assessment: foul problems limited him to 27 minutes, 11 off his playoff average, and a dozen points after coming in with a 17.3 playoff average.
Contrary to what many Southern Californians will say, that was an atypical performance for perhaps the best shooter ever to walk the planet. It was almost predictable Allen would get it going quickly in Game 2. His intensity was apparent even three hours before the game while warming up.
What makes Allen so special is his ability to hit deep shots from virtually anywhere, in any position and off any move. Most long-range shooters prefer to rub off screens on their right shoulder because when they rise up to shoot, it is much easier to remain on balance and bring the ball into the shooting position.
Allen is money coming both ways. Not only that, but he showcased throughout his career, especially in Milwaukee and Seattle, that he can shoot it off the dribble as well.
The problem the Lakers ran into on Sunday was that while Allen is a spectacular jump shooter coming off screens, pin-downs and off the dribble, he is downright scary as a standstill one. And that’s exactly what they allowed him to be in the first half.
Besides the first three that he hit, in transition and off of a Glen Davis screen, every long-range shot Allen made was catch-n-shoot. Some of that was poor defense, but more of it was caused by Rondo’s aggressiveness. Three times in the second quarter, Rondo found Allen open in transition for threes. In fact, it was comical how similar all three plays appeared: Rondo rebounds, Rondo pushes it up the center of the court, Allen runs up the right side, Rondo finds him, Allen takes a split second to release the shot, Allen is wet. This was supposed to be the NBA Finals; instead, it looked like a three-on-two fast break drill.
In the half-court, Boston’s bigs are some of the league’s best screeners. It is a well-known fact that Garnett has gotten away with hundreds of illegal screens throughout his career and seems to have passed along this trait to Kendrick Perkins. All joking aside, there were multiple instances in Game 2, often on the same possession, where Fisher was decked as he shadowed Allen.
Kobe Bryant was also burned. While he did do a great job for the most part guarding the sharpshooter, Bryant tried to go over the screen one too many times (one of the worst things a defender can do when checking a dead-eye shooter). Allen faded into the left corner and got a wide-open three.
Actually, no one could stick with Allen last night. Shannon Brown got burnt not once, but twice on the simplest aspect of guarding a shooter: keeping a body on him. With Boston up 39-28 late in the second quarter, Brown not only left Allen’s side, but did it to help on Perkins on the block. Allen sidestepped to the left wing and got a wide-open shot.
Then, in the third quarter, Brown did it again. L.A. had finally come all the way back from a 14-point deficit to take a 66-65 lead when Allen made his record-breaking eighth trey of the game. Davis picked up an offensive rebound and with Brown stupidly crashing into the lane, kicked it out to Allen. Once again alone on the left wing, it was only a formality that Jesus was going to cash in.
To their credit, the Lakers did play him better in the second half. Their bigs, particularly Bynum, did a great job of hedging out and limiting Rondo’s passing lanes. Also, Derek Fisher did whatever he could to stick to his hip.
But realistically, there was probably nothing the Lakers could’ve done in Game 2 to cool Allen off. In Game 3, expect Fisher to continue to be extremely physical with him. Depending on how the referees call it, the Lakers’ point guard will hold, scratch and grab as often as possible. Bryant should only see spot duty on Jesus; he gambles and tries to go over screens too often. While he is a great defender, he often has lapses of concentration and looses trace of Allen after the first few trips down.
Perhaps the biggest key for L.A. will be slowing the Celtics fast break chances. In the Garden, Boston thrives off their runs. These are normally keyed through Rondo’s attacks that lead to open shots for Allen and Pierce. While the Lakers’ have been poised and efficient on the road throughout these playoffs, they will have to be at their most proficient in Boston.
Allen’s shooting gave Rondo the space he needed to post another triple-double. That shooting is essentially the only way Boston can stretch out the Gumby-length of L.A. If he can continue to shoot like he did in Game 2, and in the 2008 Finals, Boston’s offense should work smoothly.
Through the first two games, we saw the Jekyll & Hyde of Ray Allen. However, both sides should expect Allen to perform at a level closer to Sunday night rather than Game 1 the rest of the series. Limiting him in Boston will be essential for L.A. to bounce back.
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