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It’s All About The D

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Paul Pierce has stopped just short of donning a cape and tights.  By comparison Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen have been quiet.  But it’s the kind of smoldering quiet that hints at an unspoken threat of 30+ points any minute now.  Rajon Rondo has a blown past expectations like he blows by defenders, dropping dimes like an inebriated cashier.  Leon Powe is now an overnight sensation with his 21 points in just under 15 minutes of inspired hardhat work.  Yet none of this is nearly as important as defense.

Several of Paul’s three pointers and Rondo’s assists have come out of transition offense.  What do you think started those fast breaks?  Turnovers and rebounds.  What causes turnovers and missed shots?  You guessed it.

There’s no denying that the Celtics hit their shots early and often.  The offensive efficiency in the 2nd and 3rd  Still, the primary reason they were up 24 points was because of a superior, smothering, unyielding defense.  They never let the Lakers get comfortable.

Read more A lot is being made of the free throw discrepancy.  LA can’t understand how they only went to the line 10 times.  Here’s one theory:  The Celtics wouldn’t let them in the paint with the basketball.  It is hard getting calls shooting 25 footers.  Every basketball coach from junior high on up teaches the defensive fundamentals of beating your man to the spot and moving your feet.  Apparently Tom Thibodeau just teaches it much better than most.  The Lakers simply found no open lanes.  Pick and rolls had no roll.  Dribble drives stalled.

Red on Roundball taught me that every player with the ball has 3 options: Dribble, pass, or shoot.  The defense of the Celtics eliminated one of those options for much of game 2.

Of course everything shifted in the 4th period.  The Celtics played fell back into prevent defense and mentally relaxed.  The intensity that is so critical to good defense evaporated and the Lakers took advantage.  The lane opened up, which forced the defense to overreact which left jumpshooters wide open.  The Lakers played with urgency and they dominated the quarter.  Only after being pushed up against the proverbial wall did the Celtics respond with a clutch blocked shot by Pierce.

You can even take it back to game 1 (Remember that game?  Seems like ages ago, doesn’t it?).  The Celtics never really put the Lakers away until the defense clamped down hard and didn’t let them get a quality look at the basket in the final minutes.

Will Kobe go off for 40 or more?  Will Gasol put together a complete game?  Will the Lakers role players show some more life on their home court?  Will Odom show up at all?  It depends largely on what the Celtics defense gives them.  If the Celtics can stay focused and intense all game, they can continue to eliminate options for the Lakers.  They can keep LA off balance and outside their comfort zone.  In short, they can throw a big monkey wrench in the middle of the triangle and force Kobe and his crew into mistakes and infighting.

I don’t mean to take anything away from Paul or Powe or anyone on the other end of the court.  But the Celtics are in the Finals because they move their feet, rotate to the right spots, swipe at balls (and not hands), keep their hands up and in the shooter’s face, box out, and chase down loose balls.  Defense is about hard work and trusting in your teammates.  The Celtics are 2 wins away from a Championship because they (usually) play with heart and hustle.  The Celtics can finish their quest if they can focus on those simple keys that have carried them so far.