We’ve seen different players come to the fore in each game of this seesaw series. In Game 3 Garnett and Odom both bounced back with big effects after subpar performances in Game 2. But the Game 3 MVP was veteran guard Derek Fisher, who delivered a superb, pressure-packed performance and carried the Lakers home down the stretch, sinking big shot after big shot in the final minutes.
The Lakers looked sharp out of the gates, ending the first quarter with a nine-point lead and extending it to twelve by the half. They led almost the entire game, stretching the gap to 17 points in the second quarter. However when all was said and done, most of their starters struggled on offense. Despite a whopping 29 attempts, Bryant made only 10 shots. Gasol went 5 of 11, while Artest was 1-4 and Bynum 3-9.
In light of Kobe, Gasol and Bynum struggling with shots, the Lakers defense was superb when it had to be. The Lakers forced six turnovers in the fourth quarter. Extra attention paid by the Lakers to Ray Allen paid off. Allen was 0-8 from three-point range, a stark contrast to his record-breaking performance in Game 2 when he came away with 8 threes en route to 32 ppg.
Despite trailing most of the game, the Celtics certainly had their opportunities. Glen Davis was instrumental off the bench, helping Boston close the deficit and work their way back into the game. And Kevin Garnett gave his best performance of the playoffs so far, finishing with 25 points, six rebounds and three assists. Boston made a push and got within one early in the third. But they missed a few clutch shots and were unable to convert on some key possessions. The Lakers showed resilience and withstood every rally. Derek Fisher was huge, making 11 of 16 in the fourth quarter and helping his teammates clinch a big road victory to regain home court advantage.
There has been a lot of buzz about the officiating heading into Game 4. Foul trouble has been a running theme in this series, afflicting a number of key players throughout the first three games. Early foul problems plagued chief guys on both teams in Game 3, forcing Artest, Perkins, Pierce and Rondo to the bench in the first quarter. Without shifting the blame entirely, both coaches have voiced complaints about the officiating. Jackson pointed to unfair calls against Fisher in Game 2, claiming he was forced to back off of Allen which in turn led to unchallenged shots. And with Allen, Garnett and Pierce having to sit out big stretches in Games 1, 2 and 3 respectively, Doc suggested the Big Three have spent too much time on the bench rather than on the court due to heavy-handed officiating. Even fans have complained about excessive fouls ruining the rhythm of the game. It will be interesting to see how the officials respond in Game 4.
But what matters most is how the Celtics and Lakers respond in what will be a potentially decisive matchup. No team in NBA Playoff history has ever come back after being down 3-1 in the finals. Will the Lakers be complacent after reclaiming their home court advantage or will they be able to hold off the Celtics, who face a deficit that will be nearly impossible to overcome if they drop another game at home? The Celtics need to turn it up on offense, defense and both boards tonight in order to tie the series. Rondo has to push the ball, attack and create opportunities while Boston’s primary scorers Paul Pierce, Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett must get in synch and finish at the rim when opportunity knocks.
Game 4 airs tonight on ABC at 9:00 PM ET.