Czar’s 2010 Finals Preview: Lakers at Celtics Game 5

In Game 4 the Lakers and Celtics added another memorable chapter to their storied rivalry. It began much like Game 3, with the Celtics struggling on offense. But this time, Boston did what they’ve done all season – they bounced back.

Led by their bench, the Celts erupted in the fourth quarter. Paul Pierce had one of his better playoff games. Tony Allen was sound and solid on the defensive end and did a great job guarding Kobe. Glen Davis and Nate Robinson were superb off the bench, boosting the offense and energizing the defense. Big Baby played with force and with passion. He was in the zone and on a mission, racking up 18 points in 22 minutes. Meanwhile his accomplice Robinson put pressure on the defense while firing up his teammates and the crowd. Everybody on the bench had an impact.

The NBA Finals are now tied at two games apiece heading into Game 5. The time off between Game 4 and Game 5 will be beneficial to both teams. Phil Jackson questioned whether Kobe was fatigued at the end of Game 4 and whether he finished the way he is normally capable of finishing. The Celtics starting five also appeared fatigued as the energy and hustle factors were primarily in favor of the reserves. Hopefully after having a couple days off to rest up both teams will come back with the energy and legs to play an outstanding Game 5.

Though the Celtics demonstrated toughness and determination in Game 4, for Boston to come back and take the next one against the Lakers it’s going to take more than just one of The Big Three or two of the The Big Four to do it. The Celtics haven’t been able to put three guys having a good game together on the same night. They’ve always been missing a key component. One guy will have a big night but the other two starters will have a bad game, and the next night somebody else will step up. So it’s been a lack of consistent play from the players that they really count on that has made a big difference in each game. Boston needs energy and productivity from the first unit.

At the same time you have to give a lot of the credit to the Lakers defense for causing them problems on offense. Artest for example, has done a solid job controlling Pierce. But they need to do a better job rebounding – Boston pulled down twice as many offensive boards in the last game. Controlling Rondo will also be key because if they can’t control him off the dribble, he’s going to penetrate and create opportunities. At the same time if they put Kobe on him to try and chain him, Kobe may use up so much energy that he winds up losing steam come crunch time.

With fresher legs Boston is going to try to up the tempo of the game once again. In Game 4 the Celtics had 15 fast-break points and the Lakers only had 2. So Boston will elevate the tempo of the game to get more transition opportunities. In their favor, they had a 54-34 advantage when it came to points in the paint, so they were +20 – that’s a huge differential. That’s fast break layups, offensive rebounds, drives to the basket – Boston did a great job there. And again Boston will have to dominate the glass.

For the Lakers, Gasol will also need more touches and more shot opportunities. But the big question is whether Bynum will be able to play and if so for how long? They really missed Bynum the last game. That’s why the points in the paint situation was the way it was. That second big man factor that Bynum along with Gasol provides for the Lakers was not there. They drained Bynum’s knee after Game 4 and he’s had almost 72 hours to recuperate. There’s a gamble here – the long-term effect on Bynum’s knee if they do wind up playing him. But without him they’re not the same on the interior. And obviously if Bynum doesn’t play, Odom moves into the starting lineup which weakens the Laker bench so it’s a trickle down effect.

Game 5 airs tonight on ABC at 8:00 PM ET.

Czar’s 2010 Finals Preview: Lakers at Celtics Game 4

Derek Fisher #2 of the Los Angeles Lakers lays the ball in the basket against Glen Davis #11 of the Boston Celtics in Game Three of the 2010 NBA FinalsWe’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.

Kevin Garnett #5 of the Boston Celtics attempts a shot against Ron Artest #37 and Pau Gasol #16 of the Los Angeles Lakers in Game Three of the 2010 NBA Finals

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.

Fratello Fundamentals

Lamar Odom #7 of the Los Angeles Lakers takes the shot against Glen Davis #11 of the Boston Celtics in Game Three of the 2010 NBA Finals on June 8, 2010When you have an opportunity to take the final shot of the quarter, let the clock run down sufficiently before shooting in order to prevent your opponent from rebounding a miss in time to get another shot off.

In Game 3 of the NBA Finals, the Celtics had possession of the ball with 27.5 seconds left in the first quarter. In order to beat the 24-second clock, Wallace threw up a 3-point shot with 4.9 seconds remaining and missed. Fisher rebounded the ball and threw a long pitch ahead to Odom, who made a running layup and drew the foul with just .7 seconds left in the quarter. Odom sank his free throw and the Lakers wound up converting the defensive rebound into a three-point play, stretching their lead from six points to nine heading into the second quarter.

When you have possession in the final stretch, it is critical not to shoot the ball too early. Run the shot clock down to approximately 5-6 seconds before starting your attack to the basket. It will take a few seconds for the play to develop and you can get the shot off with 2 seconds left on the clock. Waiting until the 2-second mark will allow enough time to shoot and, if you should miss, for your teammate to tip it back in. If an opposing player grabs the rebound after a miss, at least he won’t be able to get the ball down the court in time to score.

Czar’s 2010 Finals Preview: Lakers at Celtics Game 3

Photo by Jon Soohoo/NBAE via Getty ImagesWith pitching phenom Stephen Strasburg set to make his much anticipated MLB debut for the Washington Nationals and Game 3 of the Celtics-Lakers finals getting underway shortly, sports fans have a lot on their plates tonight.

After dropping Game 1 the Boston Celtics captured an impressive bounce-back victory in Los Angeles on Sunday to even up the series. The Celtics came back with the grit and determination that they themselves felt was missing from their Game 1 loss. Ray Allen was simply spectacular, particularly in the first half when he sank seven straight 3-pointers. He went on to finish with 32 points and set a new NBA Finals record for 3-pointers in a game with his eighth of the night in the third quarter. Other key contributions came from Rajon Rondo, who took over in the fourth quarter and finished with a triple double – only the eighth in Finals history. And both Wallace and Robinson delivered off the bench.

But Doc Rivers could be the MVP of the game. He saw that Ray Allen had a red-hot hand and ran play after play for him. His defensive matchups were effective. And most significantly, he ran out on the court late in the fourth and demanded a decisive timeout when he realized his team was struggling to advance the ball past half-court. His timeout to avoid the eight-second backcourt violation was critical as the Celtics retained possession of the ball, thwarted an opportunity for the Lakers to make it a one-possession game, and extended their lead to seven on their next trip down the floor.

Matchups will be key tonight, as well as players stepping up who didn’t get the necessary productivity in Game 2. Although Pau Gasol and Bynum had huge games along with Kobe’s 21 points, the low productivity from Lamar Odom was a major factor in the Lakers not playing to the same level that they did in Game 1. I look for Odom to be much more active in Game 3. Defensively, I think that the Lakers will go back to playing Kobe on Ray Allen more consistently rather than having him chase Rondo around the floor. This may be one of the adjustments Phil Jackson makes tonight.

The Celtics accomplished what they had to do, which was to win one game on the visiting court. Now the series moves back to Boston for the next three games, and the Celtics have a chance to go back home and try to take a 2-1 advantage in Game 3.

Game 3 airs tonight on ABC at 9:00 PM ET.

On the Road with Mike: Memphis Italian Festival

I flew down to Memphis, Tennessee on Thursday to attend the 21st annual Memphis Italian Festival in Marquette Park, which benefits the Holy Rosary Parish School. The festival offers a number of family friendly activities including contests, musical performances, grape stomping and of course endless concessions cooking up Italian American food favorites from sausage and pepper sandwiches to zeppoli. For me the highlight of the three-day celebration is the Galtelli Cup Bocce Tournament that kicks off the fair. Each year 32 teams compete on six courts in this single elimination tourney. My team Bella Sera (representing Delta Wholesale) was comprised of me and a few friends I became close with back when I coached the Memphis Grizzlies: David Hudman, Bill Lucchesi and Jim Lucchesi.

Our team took the title in 2005, ‘07 and ‘08, but we had to sit last year out due to a scheduling conflict so I was concerned we might be a little rusty. The tournament is always competitive, however this year we were met with an unexpected obstacle. After the first round on opening night the sky opened up and heavy rains poured down hard and long, effectively shutting down the tournament and leaving the bocce courts completely submerged under water. This forced all of the contestants to return on Friday to complete the competition. We were doubtful that the flooded courts would even be playable, but the festival volunteers did an incredible job restoring the courts. They got there early the next morning, panned water, raked, added dirt on top and managed to get 5 of 6 courts back in working order.

Despite the disruption our team maintained its focus and returned to the competition in top form. It’s unusual for all four guys to give consistently good performances, but we all played well and contributed. After a fun yet demanding day on the courts, team Bella Sera came away with its fourth Ralph Galtelli Cup. Afterwards we celebrated our victory at the Rum Boogie Café located in the heart of downtown Memphis on the corner of Beale Street. Rum Boogie happened to be celebrating its 25th anniversary so they featured different live blues bands every couple hours and the place was hopping. We capped off a great weekend with a great night on the town.

Click here to view photos from the 2010 Memphis Italian Festival.