Where Does This Series Go From Here?

Pierce vs. Artest is just one of many matchups to watch.

Boston and L.A. find themselves tied at 2-2 with game 5 today in Boston for the Celtics’ 3rd straight home game. Boston needs to win it… and they should.

The Celtics have too many answers for the Lakers. Or should I say – They should have too many answers for the Lakers.

No. they don’t have Kobe Bryant. Bryant is expected to win that match up almost every game. But the Celtics shouldn’t expect that and they can prevent it. Every great player can be stopped. The question is – at what expense?

There are so many factors in play in this (or any) series. When the talent level is this close, it is almost impossible to pick a single factor and say that is the difference. There can be a lot of differences. This series has proved that.

Kobe Bryant has not been stopped. But he has been slowed down a bit. There is no reason that the Celtics can’t keep doing that. Just as they did to Dwyane Wade, Dwight Howard, and Lebron James.

If Kobe is working so hard to score and making such an effort it can actually throw off the Laker offense, even if he is scoring. The Celtics must keep the rest of the Lakers in check, while making hard for Kobe. It requires great effort on defense to do that, but it is big key for the series.

The Bynum Factor
A bigger issue is Andrew Bynum’s knee and his playing time. Bynum completes the Lakers’ defense. That defense has been rock solid for large segments of each game. That shouldn’t stop the Celtics either. They have Rajon Rondo and the manpower to overcome even that with the right strategies.

As impressive as the Laker D has been, they have had their slumps in each game, too. There are very specific reasons. Those reasons are all of the answers that the Celtics team can offer. There are 3 players on the Celtics that are first options on any team. They have 2 players (Rondo and Rasheed) that are second options on any team. And now the Celtic bench is getting more dangerous.  

Doc has as much as conceded that if L.A. gets into their half court D, the Celtics are in trouble. That has been true. The big difference is the active length of Bynum and Gasol. They are tall. At least one is mobile. The Celtics have to figure out how to divide and conquer.

Rajon Rondo is the tip of the spear. He can and will press the attack. But he has three great options running along side of him in Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen, and Paul Pierce. Not good options. Great options. Add in Rasheed Wallace and you have top offensive players at all positions. Either Perkins has to contribute more offensively or Rasheed has to play more, including with the starters.

Bench Becomes Bigger Factor

The new factor is the Celtic bench. Nate Robinson is showing that he can be counted on to provide a little offensive mayhem while Rajon Rondo gets a well needed rest. He also knows the plays well enough and is willing to execute them so that Ray Allen, Rasheed, and Glen Davis get looks where they want them.

Glen Davis will not get to the basket as easily with Bynum in the game. But he can still set great picks, get offensive rebounds, and hustle up and down the court to put pressure on the Laker defense. If that jump shot is working, even better. He can use his body to push Bynum just far enough away for it to be an issue.

Ray Allen should have more than one good game offensively in a playoff series. If he is on, it puts lots of pressure on the Lakers to score to keep up. His defense on Kobe is noted and very important. But he can also neutralize Bryant by scoring himself. Derek Fisher has played excellent defense. But he must and can be rubbed off with some good screens. It is not a well understood part of the game by the casual fan, but execution on screens is critical.

Rajon Rondo. He has to keep Derek Fisher being a non-factor offensively and create some defensive havoc. But he must get some rest (not a lot – 6-8 minutes) to do so.

That is where Nate Robinson comes in. Nate can be a real problem for the Lakers, especially later in the game when they are getting tired and he has fresh legs and energy.  His dive to the floor to get that loose ball has not gone unnoticed. It was a huge play. Nate can be nasty offensively.

Rasheed Wallace

But again, I go back to Rasheed Wallace. If there is a single factor that was planned from the beginning of the season to be a big edge for the Celtics – it was Rasheed Wallace. He is the Andrew Bynum neutralizer.

Inside or out, he is a problem to deal with for Bynum. Sheed’s defense is solid and can be great. His hands are as quick as any big man’s. Deflections, knock aways, and steals cause major issues for his opponents. And he can still generate critical blocks. He just has to play solid position defense and rotate for help quickly. He can be a monster for the Celtics.

An under reported story of this series is that Paul Pierce is winning the match up between Ron Artest and himself. Paul has only scored more than 20 points in one game. As the Celtics have done with Kobe, Ron has slowed Pierce down. But Pierce has shut Artest down offensively. Artest has scored 15, 6, 2 and 9 points. But the Pierce match ups have been maybe closer than they should be.

Like Ray Allen, the Celtics can and should get points from Pierce. Kevin Garnett can still cause big problems offensively for the Lakers. It is well known that the biggest thing the Lakers have done is not let more than one of those guys have a big game each game.

The Lakers have one guy (at times two guys when Gasol is on) who can hit shots with a hand in his face. The Celtics have three. They must stand up and do just that. They used to all be doubled teamed and still score. They are in single coverage a lot now and they can even get open shots with good offensive strategy through ball movement. No team has the roster to make that pay like the Celtics.

The problem is doing that and still defending with great energy. That is where the Celtic bench comes in. If they can hold the Lakers even or outplay them when they are in the game, it gives the starters the needed rest to play well and hard at both ends of the court.

It is clear that the Lakers should have more questions to answer and problems to solve than the Celtics do.

That is not to say that the Lakers are not a great team. They are. But their defense should not be able to stop this Celtic team as well as they have. There are too many answers here.

I was surprised to see that the Celtics' confidence has been cracked at points in this series. There have been so many missed shots that should have been made.

But I have also seen the same crack in the Lakers confidence for periods in the last couple of games.  The Celtics need to press that issue and, like Lebron, let Kobe know this is not his year.

The Lakers have Kobe and Pau Gasol. The Celtics have an army. They should have too many answers for even a valiant Laker defense. This is the game they need to make that point.

Going into L.A. up 3-2 puts tremendous pressure the Lakers and gives the Celtics the breathing room they need to take home title 18 and break another superstar’s heart. Teams should win titles, not superstars. The Celtics are starting to show they have the definite edge there.

Both teams have questions. The Celtics should have more answers.

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