Celtics Give Themselves Permission to Lose, and Do So in Game Three
“Giving yourself permission to lose guarantees a loss” – Pat Riley
Honestly, I’m not quoting Pat Riley to provide a cute tie-in to the prior incarnation of the Celtics-Lakers rivalry. I cite the above-noted words because I find them to be the best summation of the Celtics’ collective effort in Game 3 of the NBA Finals, which they lost 87-81.
Heading into the game, there were a litany of excuses to lose floating about. The Lakers are back at home. Kobe is due. The league wants the officials to extend the series. The Lakers need the win more badly than the Celtics. And once the game was underway, even more excuses floated to the surface. Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett are both awful. Our starting point guard is injured. Our bench is mostly invisible. P.J. Brown is playing like he’s nursing a 17 beer hangover. The officials are indeed calling a more favorable game for the Lakers. Some little greasy guy named Sasha Vujacic is killing us. Yes, the excuses appeared to be sufficient for all Celtics not named Ray Allen or James Posey to give themselves permission to lose. And lose they did, as the esteemed Mr. Riley would say was the inevitable result.
The shame of it all was that this was a game to be had and thus a series to be all but over. Other than Vujacic’s unlikely breakout and Kobe Bryant’s slightly-better-than-average performance (36 points on 12-for-20 shooting) , they just didn’t play very well. Pau Gasol was lousy (9 points, 3-9 shooting, 3-8 from the line) but he looked positively Russel-esque next to Lamar Odom (4 points, 2-9 shooting, 5 turnovers), whose basketball IQ has officially progressed into the negative.
To summarize the game, the Celtics were thoroughly outplayed in the first half and were plagued persistently by poor shot selection. Here are some numbers to paint the picture: In the first two quarters, the Celtics shot 32.6% from the field, turned the ball over 8 times and shot only 7 free throws to the 22 awarded to the Lakers. And yet somehow, they found themselves only down by 6, 43-37. More than anyone else, it was Lady Luck who deserved the biggest high five from the Celtics heading into the locker room.
To their credit, in their only sustained stretch of good play, the Celtics won the third quarter 25-17 and retook the lead by 2. It was during that quarter that Ray Allen scored 10 of his 25 points and Kevin Garnett dished 3 assists and scored 8 of his 13. It should be noted that 44 seconds into that quarter, Rondo twisted his ankle and was removed from the game for examination. Although quickly re-taped and cleared to play, Rondo remained on the bench until the 7:59 mark. In his absence, Eddie House hit a couple of meaning ful threes but shot 2-for-8 overall. Poor Eddie House. The man is rustier than a French rifle so it’s a bit unfair to tap him on the shoulder at this point and ask him to go win the game behind the arc.
As a quick aside, while were on Doc Rivers, can we conclude that those “Wired” segments aren’t doing him any favors in terms of cementing his legacy as a cerebral coach. Here’s the word–for-word sample from his segment taken from a timeout in the second half: “You’ve been hanging in there all night, guys. Let’s pump that lead up. Let’s get stops and scores. Stops and scores…”
In the fourth quarter, if you’re looking for an answer for how the game was lost, spin the wheel because there are simply too many factors to list here. Repeated defensive lapses? Check. Poor ball handling and offensive execution? Check. Kobe playing semi-unstoppable with the refs on his side? Check. Vujacic left wide open to shoot threes at his leisure? Speaking of this, do you remember when Kobe had time to set his feet, size up the rim and floss his teeth before sinking that wide open three? Yup, he was Paul Pierce’s assignment there. Pierce was busy crowding the boards and not covering anyone else. Then, do you also recall that dagger three that Vujacic hit just under the two minute mark that put the Lakers back up by 5? Pierce’s man again. In retrospect, it remains amazing that the Celtics remained within striking distance until the very end, when they inexplicably seemed content to let the Lakers run out the clock up by 6 with 21 seconds remaining. Way to go end-to-end, guys.
In summation, this is officially a series again. Let’s hope this fact leads a few more Celtics players to conclude permission denied on the excuses to lose going forward.
[top image: http://www.flickr.com/photos/ekilby/]