Celtics Fall From Penthouse to Outhouse



by Mathew Hurley, Managing Editor

So much can change in one game!

After winning Game Two outright in Los Angeles as a six-point underdog, the Boston Celtics looked to be in command of their NBA Championship series with the Lakers. They seemed to think so anyway. Paul Pierce told everyone the series wouldn't even get back to LA. That could turn out to be right if Boston doesn't get its act together. But, not the way Pierce meant!

Heading into Game Three, Boston had home court advantage for the series, knowing they could just win their home games before hoisting another trophy. After losing Tuesday Night 91-84 to the Lakers, it's now literally do or die time. Boston must win three of the next four games to celebrate...and at least one of those will have to come on the road.

It's hard enough beating the Lakers once in a series at Staples Center. Can Boston do it twice? Three times?

Our key indicator stats show it's going to be difficult. Boston's only victory came when:

  • They shot lights out from long range
  • Kobe Bryant was taken out of the game by the refs
  • The Lakers were flat defensively for a half
  • Rajon Rondo was moving very well despite a balky back

In Games One and Three losses for the Celtics:

  • Boston was 5 of 28 from long range
  • Kobe Bryant has played well, but not great
  • The Lakers have been aggressive defensively (allowing 89 and 84 points)
  • Rondo was battling through back woes and unable to thrive

So, to win THREE of the next four games:

  • Boston  has to shoot lights out THREE times in four!
  • Kobe Bryant has to stay under wraps or get into more foul trouble. If he has two "vintage Kobe" efforts, then the Lakers are home free.
  • Boston has to hope the Lakers fall back to sleep defensively from overconfidence. That's likely to happen again at some point, but probably not three times in the next four games.
  • Rondo's back is going to have to magically cure itself...and we all know that rest is the only thing that cures a bad back.

We outlined the position by position edges for you in early previews. Game Two saw Boston take command of the guard position thanks to Ray Allen's hot shooting and friendly officiating. In Game Three, Allen couldn't throw the ball in the ocean, and the refs were back to giving stars the star treatment. The position by position edges remain.

Let's see what the betting markets think of the matchup...

LOS ANGELES leads 2-1
Vegas Line: Boston by 3, total of 191

Oddsmakers know that people like betting the bounce back in the NBA Playoffs...and that they also like backing a "must win" team on its home floor. That's kept this line at Boston -3, even though the Lakers won outright at +2.5 back on Tuesday Night. Lakers fans can't believe their good fortune to be getting points with what they consider to be the superior team. Boston faithful has seen several one-sided home victories this year from their perspective. They have no problem laying three. If Ray Allen is making his shots, the line isn't going to matter.

In Vegas, this is going to be a VERY heavily bet game, as fans of both teams can make a good case for their side.

The total of 191 is down a bit from the 192 we saw on Tuesday. That game landed on 175, but saw horrible shooting from both teams beyond the arc, and a big decrease in free throw attempts from the earlier games. Oddsmakers know there's likely to be more points in those categories this time around, so the adjustment has been minimal.

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Let's take a closer look at the scoring breakdown...

Three-Point Scoring: Lakers 6, Boston 12
Two-Point Scoring: Lakers 64, Boston 56
Free Throw Scoring: Lakers 21, Boston 16

Only 18 combined points on treys, after seeing 48 in Game Two! Boston has to be discouraged that they won that category but still couldn't win the game. The Lakers are actually long overdue to hit some treys after going just 4-5-2 in the first three games. They're capable of 6, 8, even 10 or more on their best nights. The Lakers are up two games to one and still have ways to improve their production.

Free throws were down to 37 combined points after 54 and 51 in the first two games. Referees called fewer fouls, and the offenses seemed satisfied to settle for jumpers rather than trying to blow through people. Both defenses are so good at drawing charges that discretion may be the better part of valor in that regard.

The most important factor we want to discuss here is "Inside Scoring." We've shown you all throughout the playoffs that the teams who win "one's and two's" are generally the better squad, with opponents needing to make a bunch of treys to counter-act that. Boston isn't used to being the team that has to make three's. But that's clearly the case in this matchup because the Lakers have done such a good job of improving their inside game.

INSIDE SCORING (one's and two's)
Game One: Lakers 90, Boston 86
Game Two: Lakers 79, Boston 70
Game Three: Lakers 85, Boston 72

That's a front line of Gasol, Bynum, Artest, Odom (off the bench), then more strong stuff inside the arc from Kobe on drives and jumpers. Boston can't stop them ALL without getting into serious foul trouble based on what we've seen so far.

If three-point shooting had evened out, the Lakers would be up 3-0 and looking a sweep right in the eye. Boston won long range scoring in Game Two thinks to Ray Allen. That's there only hope based on what you see above. They've lost "Inside Scoring" by 4, 9, and 13 points...which is an average of almost nine per game with a midpoint of nine. That means Boston needs to be +3 or better in made treys (for plus nine points) just to get back to even on the scoreboard.

Even though individual performances have been all over the place (has anybody played three good games in a row?), this is still the fundamental of the series. The Lakers are better inside, and Boston needs to make up for that deficit from behind the arc.

That's true if Artest plays great or not...Odom is invisible or not...Gasol is a scoring machine or a guy standing and watching Kobe shoot...Fisher is hitting jumpers or not. Ray Allen has to score big...and Rajon Rondo has to move freely and contribute in all facets of play. You figure out how those elements work themselves out, and you're going to have the side and total winners (assuming Boston will go Over when they hit their treys, and Under when they won't).

JIM HURLEY has been working very closely with his SCOUTS AND SOURCES to gauge the Boston mindset. The Celtics have to be demoralized after losing at home. That Game One loss was just the Lakers holding serve. The Game Three loss was Boston losing it! Big difference in terms of being a punch to the gut. He's working with his STAT HANDICAPPERS to determine when (and how often), Boston is likely to have those big scoring games from outside. Will we even see it at all? Or, are the Celtics truly capable of doing that three more times? He's working with his COMPUTER PROGRAMMERS to see what the simulation software is spitting out. He's working with his WISE GUY CONNECTIONS to see what professional wagerers are betting.


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Maybe we're two games away from crowning a champion...or maybe this is destined to the full seven games and be an all-time classic. Lakers fans will tell you one thing. Celtics fans will tell you another. We'll tell you THIS. Don't you dare make a move until you hear what JIM HURLEY has to say!



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