While the score of Game 3 may have indicated that it was a sloppy, poor played game it was much more to say that it was just a very slow game. The play was at times both sloppy and poor, but both teams still averaged over a point per possession. The Lakers had 83 possessions and the Celtics had 82. In the regular season, the Lakers averaged 95 possessions in a game and the Celtics averaged 94. Ultimately, this slow pace was very beneficial to the Lakers. In order to win a pivotal Game 4, the Celtics must look to push the ball.
Rajon Rondo has quickly become of the league’s premier point guards. Undoubtedly, he’s a top 4 point guard at the worst. However, he can be limited in the half court offense. Rondo still struggles at times to hit mid-range jumpers. If his penetration is stopped (which, admittedly is difficult), his effectiveness is greatly reduced. In the open court, Rondo has some of the best vision in the game. He does a great job of setting up teammates for open shots. On top of that, when Rondo has you one on one in the open court, odds are he’s going to make you look bad. Rondo’s speed and quickness is otherworldly. He’ll blow right past you for an easy two points.
Ray Allen also steps his game up in a quicker game. In Game 2, the Celtics ran the court off misses and set up Allen for tons of open threes. He hit 8 of them, including 7 in a row, to set a new NBA Finals record. His ridiculous play won a must-win game for Boston in Game 2. In Game 3, the play slowed down and Allen damn near set a NBA Finals record for shooting futility. While he’ll never play that bad again, Allen undoubtedly gets his best shots in the open court.
A third benefit is the easy points Kevin Garnett can gain to get him into a rhythm. Game 3 started out quickly, with Garnett scoring 6 easy points. It set up Garnett for one of the better games of his playoff career and he nearly earned a Finals win all by himself. He may have done this even without the quick start, but it certainly got him into the game immediately. Its an easy way to get the psychotic big into the game, which the Celtics need in order to negate the Lakers’s height advantage.
Finally, a break neck pace neutralizes Andrew Bynum. Bynum started out Game 3 looking lost. He was nothing short of awful. While Phil Jackson worried that the quick turnaround from Game 2 to Game 3 would effect Bynum’s play, the pace of the game only compounded that concern. However, as the game went on (and slowed down) Bynum become much more effective. He didn’t match his play in Game 2, but he was able to provide some inside balance that the Lakers needed (partly because even Gasol’s points came from 15-18 feet out.) As noted earlier, the Lakers have a height advantage and one way to take that away is to increase the pace of the game.
Ultimately, I still think the Lakers are slightly better than the Celtics. The fact that they were able to slow down the game from its early fast pace is a testament to this. That said, it is imperative that Celtics don’t allow that to happen again if they want to win Game 4 and this series.