There are a few troubling trends that continue to haunt the Celtics. The Lakers game highlighted two of these negative trends: poor rebounding and offensive stagnation. I know the Lakers are long and tall, but to give up 15 offensive rebounds, leading directly to 24 second-chance points, is embarrassing and the direct reason for why they lost and [Bold Statement Alert!] why they're not likely to win a championship. You can't teach size, but you can teach boxing out, and KG and Allen need to be the first two in class. All game I was telling my fiancée that the Celtics should be up by 15 points, but they couldn't pull away because they couldn't control the glass. All those tip-ins and rebound And-1s killed the Celtics. There were three plays in particular where the Celtics' superb defense forced the Lakers into three falling-away long shots as the shot clock ran down (one by Gasol), and each time there were three Lakers surrounding the basket, basically boxing out their Boston counterparts. On the defensive glass there is no excuse for being boxed out by an offensive player. Those three plays resulted in a Gasol tip-in, a Matt Barnes follow-up, and a Bynum tip-in And-1. That's 7 points right there, and those came following superb defensive efforts by the team. The final rebounding numbers were 55 to 45, but I'd say that contested rebounds (where both teams went for the ball) were 10 to 1 in the Lakers' favor.
Rebounding cost them the game, but it wasn't the only negative Celtics' habit that reared its ugly little head. Since 2008, this team has been prone to long offensive droughts keyed by a lack of ball movement, a breakdown of the offensive set, or the lack of anyone other than Pierce being able to create their own shot. This is where Rondo being more like Nash or Paul or Westbrook would be helpful. All four guys can dish the ball for an assist, but only Rondo lacks the ability to hit the open shot on rotation or when the defense completely ignores him. The Lakers were completely ignoring Rondo in the 4th quarter, but instead of driving fearlessly into the lane, he pulled up for last-second jumper after last-second jumper. He bricked them all. That is not an offensive strategy that will get the team far come playoff time. It's amazing how just like in past games against the Lakers, Rondo went from being a force in the first half, attacking the basket and dishing assists, to being a non-entity in the second half. The only difference being that the Lakers decided to ignore him and pack the lane (Kobe technically was guarding him, but was never within five feet). With that defensive strategy employed, it's very difficult for the Celtics to get any semblance of an offensive flow. Doc, who I have criticized before for a lack of offensive creativity, needs to do something to fix this problem. The easiest solution would be to teach Rondo how to hit shots consistently - not even threes, just 12-footers. [Wait! I thought I wasn't going to talk about Rondo anymore?] The Celtics can win a lot of games with their defense, but when they match up with an equally talented defense, they're at a huge disadvantage, even in the East. The Bulls, Heat, Pacers, and 76ers all have multiple players who can create their own offense when the called set fails. The Celtics have one - Pierce, and he's going to have off nights. One game does not define a team, but it can highlight good and bad tendencies. I saw a lot I didn't like in that Lakers game. I'm sure Doc and the team did too.
The team isn't likely to shoot 39.2% very often, with the Big-3 combining to go 22 of 61, but against team's with length KG and his under-sized backups will suffer, and against physical defenders like Artest, Barnes, and Kobe, Pierce and Allen will suffer. Simply being tall and closing out on a jump-shooter affects the shot. A shooter knows when he has to shoot over length and it alters the angle of the shot. KG's shot looked off all day, rushed and often taken further from the basket than usual. He seemed to have one foot on the three-point line during each shot. The Lakers even affected his layups and dunks at the rim. KG's 6 for 23 day was a direct result of the Lakers' bigs being tall, long, and quick. Can the C's do anything to circumvent that Lakers' advantage? I don't think they can. KG and Bass just need to put themselves in better position to get off a clean shot, they have to attack the rim rather than finesse the rim, and they have to box out their men to grab rebounds. No one in the NBA guards Pierce quite like Artest. He's big enough, quick enough, and ‘handsy' enough to be all over Pierce from the get-go to the closing seconds. There is really no way around this - Artest can be a great one-on-one defender when he wants to be; against Pierce, he usually wants to be. Doc either has to set some more screens for Pierce or Pierce needs to do a much better job of getting to his spots before he gets the ball. Pierce can shoot over Artest from the free-throw line in, but it's much more difficult for him to get around Artest to get off a shot. Pierce at the top of the key with Artest draped over him is not a successful approach. Allen actually had a fine game, coming off a number of picks and nailing a number of big shots. But, Allen can be physically taken out of a game, and for spurts Matt Barnes, of all people, seemed to knock Allen off his game. He played the best of the Big-3, but Allen's not the type of player to carry a team with a 30-point effort. The Celtics spread the offense around, and the Lakers simply took away two key components (KG and Pierce).
Wouldn't it have been nice to have a true 7-footer like Przybilla out there last night? He could have banged for fifteen minutes with guys like Bynum and Gasol, and he certainly would have grabbed some of those boards that Gasol and Bynum seemed to endlessly tip in the air for fun before finishing off a put-back. Ainge needs to offer Przybilla a contract immediately. This team craves size.
The refs, in an odd turnaround, let the guards play physically, but cracked down in the post. Since the Celtics don't attack the basket, they suffered by only shooting 5 free throws the entire game. 5!!! That's almost unheard of. The Lakers shot 20, with almost all of them coming in the paint (and on And-1s) - 6 for Bynum, 5 for Kobe on drives, and (this is insulting) 6 for Barnes on drives and put-backs. Almost nothing was called on the perimeter, which allowed Artest, Barnes, and Kobe to be as physical as possible with Allen and Pierce. In truth, the C's got away with a few hard fouls on Bryant (which was nice to see!), but it was more than made up for by the times Bynum got to the line on And-1s. I tell the guys on my League team, if you're going to foul someone near the basket, foul them so they don't get the ball above their shoulders. The C's let Bynum get off put-back after put-back. I know he outweighs everyone on the team, but... well, I'll tell you one thing, Perk wouldn't have let him do that all night.
One final note: I know some of you will disagree, but I did not like seeing Celtics players helping Lakers players off the floor. Jermaine did it once with Kobe, and it was even referenced by the TNT analysis guys. Sportsmanship be damned, Celtics players do NOT help Lakers players off the floor. You're playing to win the game and suck the soul out of the other team, not be buddies. Let his teammates help Kobe off the floor. Jermaine should be standing shoulder-to-shoulder with Celtics, glaring down at Kobe after sending him to the floor with a hard foul.
Was the Lakers game the end-all of the season? Absolutely not. I'm not writing off the Celtics, by any means. But, this game did reveal a few truths that we all know are there, regardless of win streaks or playoff positioning. The Celtics are a poor rebounding team and they suffer from offensive droughts. Nothing has changed from recent seasons. Can this team win a title while suffering in those two key areas? It definitely makes it more difficult. I'll leave it at that for now.