Game 3 of these NBA Finals was just different. Kevin Garnett suddenly looked youthful, Ray Allen had the most absurd turnaround in maybe NBA history, Kobe shot like crap, and Derek Fisher took the game over by himself in the fourth quarter. As a team, the Celtics even outscored the Lakers 50-38 in points in the paint and had 7 more assists and still lost. Just weird, awkward stuff that probably shouldn’t be expected to happen again.
However, Boston’s biggest issue is that Paul Pierce is flat out playing awful basketball right now. At first, it was logical to assume that this was due to Ron Artest and his defense. Artest has played great shutdown defense in the playoffs. He shut down Kevin Durant in the 1st round, in a series where the rest of the Thunder played well enough to win. While Durant did average 25 points a game, it was on 35% shooting and 28% from three. Those numbers were down from 30 points a game on 47% shooting and 36% from three. Artest played a huge role in that 1st round series win.
In much the same way, Artest had appeared to be shutting down Pierce in Games 1 and 2. Tonight, it became obvious that it was more than just Artest’s defense. Artest had 2 fouls tonight within the first 2 minutes of the game. This meant that for much of the 1st half Paul Pierce would be defended by Luke Walton, which should have been an easy way for the Celtics to get Pierce into the rhythm that he had not found yet in the 1st games of the series. Not only did Pierce not find that rhythm, it seemed like the Celtics didn’t even bothered helping Pierce get into it. This would have been the perfect time to force feed Pierce plenty of isolation plays and run some screens to get him some easy open shots. Instead, the Celtics went continued playing basketball as if Ron Artest was still defending Pierce. Pierce finished the 1st half with one field goal, and finished the game with 15 points many of which were cheap points made with the game decided.
Ultimately, the Celtics need Paul Pierce to get going. While Rondo is the Celtics best player, Pierce is the most important one. The offense needs him to be able to penetrate effectively and spread the court with some deep shots. When this happens, the whole offense falls into place. The reason why the Celtics won the NBA title in 2008 was not because they were tougher than the Lakers, but because Pierce abused Vladimir Radmonovic and Lamar Odom. That has not been happening so far this series and its why the Celtics probably need to win the next two games to keep their title hopes alive. If Pierce doesn’t get going, he might be right that the Celtics “ain’t coming back to LA.”