If you’re a Celtics fan, you have to be concerned by what you saw in this game. The Lakers looked like the better team. Here are my thoughts on why the Lakers look so different from the 2008 team that was dominated by the Celtics:
1) Andrew Bynum: Bynum is the biggest player on the court by far, and single-handedly radically changes the face of this series. The Celtics dominated the paint in 2008. In this game it was the Lakers who dominated inside. They outrebounded the Celtics 42-31.
Bynum also makes Phil Jackson a much better coach. His presence down low allowed Jackson to pull Pau Gasol out of the lane, and use him in the way he was meant to be used: In pick and roll and in the high post. See my comments on my series preview for some particular instances.
Gasol on the loose and on the move is easily the best big man in this series, and that spells big trouble for the Celtics.
2) Phil Jackson: I hammered Jackson in my preview, because I think he was a major factor in the Lakers loss in 2008. I’ll give him his props now. He did make an adjustment. He did figure out how to use Pau Gasol against the Celtics, even if it was the presence of Bynum that forced him into it. You can count the number of times Gasol was posted up in the triangle on the fingers of one hand.
Phil Jackson also dictated the matchups to Doc Rivers in this game 1. He started with Artest on Pierce, of course, but also went with a surprise move, Kobe on Rondo. I think that took the Celtics by surprise.
But there is no excuse for Doc Rivers to accept the matchups that Phil Jackson wants to force him into. He doesn’t need to guard Ron Artest with Paul Pierce, and Kobe with Ray Allen. That matchup proved disastrous for the Celtics: Kobe had his way with Allen, scoring 26 points in the first three quarters, and removing Allen from most of the game with foul trouble. It wasn’t until the fourth quarter that Rivers finally put Pierce on Kobe. And what happened? Pierce shut him down. Kobe didn’t get his first points in the fourth quarter until 2:15, when he drew a dubious call and made one of two free throws. That and his unguarded last-second showboat three pointer with the game already on ice were his only points in the fourth.
Rivers needs to get Pierce on Kobe all game, every game.
3) Ron Artest: Artest had a huge game offensively, which is of course a plus, but his real work was on defence. He made it very tough on Pierce, and also did great work under the boards. Artest adds a real element of toughness to this Lakers team that was sadly lacking before.
Again, Doc Rivers found an answer against Artest’s defence, but not until the fourth quarter. They started running high pick and roll with Pierce and Garnett, to free Pierce up.
Rivers can take a page from Phil Jackson’s new playbook!
4) Kevin Garnett: Sadly, Garnett is simply a shadow of the player he was in 2008. Slow, unable to run, unable to jump, unable to finish, unable to defend, unable to block shots, unable to rebound. Did I leave anything out?
As a result, his confidence is shot. His failure to convert both a wide open dunk, and the point-blank put-back in the fourth quarter was absolutely pitiful. Especially knowing what a proud warrior he has been.
This in itself could be the number one reason these Celtics can’t beat the Lakers. It looks a lot like Kevin Garnett is finished.
It’s not over, yet. But if the Celtics are to win this series, its going to have to be their guards that carry them. In particular Rajon Rondo, who had a very lackluster game. Rondo was clearly bothered by the increased length of the Lakers, but also seemed to rush a few wide-open layups. First-game jitters, being guarded by Kobe, back injury? Whatever it was, he better become a superstar again in a hurry, or the Celtics are in big trouble. The Lakers look bigger and faster.