Game 3: Not Loving L.A.

1212679756It’s a curious thing, momentum. The Celtics had all of it heading to Los Angeles, and then proceeded to play one of their patented road games where no one moves, passes, or plays any semblance of offense (except Ray Allen). The Lakers had no such momentum—and despite winning last night’s game, they still probably don’t.

Oh sure, Kobe Bryant did his usual number, and Sasha Vujacic proved to be Danny Ainge’s Slovenian doppelganger, but their problems (rebounding, secondary scoring, getting anything from their frontline) still persist.

What to make of it? We offer five observations after the jump.

1. There was a lot of focus on Paul Pierce’s lackluster return to LA, but, offensively, Kevin Garnett was just as bad. Every 45 seconds or so, ABC analyst Mark Jackson criticized the Celtics (and KG in particular) for not going to the low post. That’s fair, but the reality is that when Garnett does go down there, he can’t do a whole heck of a lot against the long arms of Pau Gasol or the physical Ronny Turiaf.

So Garnett settles for jump shots, and so far in this series, they haven’t gone in. The Celtics can win when KG struggles, but not on the same night that Pierce unleashes his evil, unproductive twin, last seen throwing his headband in the Atlanta series.

2. We can all agree that Kobe is a wonderful player. He’s the most skilled offensive player in the game, and he is one of the very few who lives to make big shots at the end of games. But as ABC busies itself canonizing him, as it did last night with a sappy halftime profile segment, the network is missing a very different story. Thus far in the Finals, Kobe has berated his teammates, sneered at officials, and yelled, “Get up bitch!” when he missed a free throw. Is it any wonder that Gasol turns into a shrinky-dink when Bryant screams at him?

3. It was amusing to watch the rest of the Lakers try to act tough. Lamar Odom started the game like a spaz, and not coincidentally, spent most of the game in foul trouble and bricking ill-advised shots. Jordan Farmar hilariously tried to mix it up with PJ Brown, who gave him his classic bemused look. (Son, PJ has gone toe-to-toe with Charles Oakley and Anthony Mason. You don’t want any part of PJ Brown). And then there’s Vujacic, whose next big shot on the road will be his first. No one has risen to his elbow-swinging bait yet, but it wouldn’t be a shock if someone had a Zaza Pachulia-style pick waiting for him soon.

4. Eddie House: professional. What more could you ever want from a guy? Eddie was great in the third quarter after Rajon Rondo left with an ankle sprain, and he showed more energy and toughness than anyone had a right to expect. That said, Doc still should have gone back to Rondo to start the fourth quarter.

House is simply not a point guard, and predictably, the offense bogged down when he ran to the corner while Pierce and Allen tried to run the offense. When House really needed a breather, Rondo was forced to come back in after the Celtics had blown the lead, and he was tentative and uncomfortable. Doc takes a lot of heat. Some of it is deserved, some of it isn’t. But that fourth quarter will not be part of his career highlights package.

5. The refs didn’t cheat. Hoo-ray! Sure the Lakers shot a ton of free throws early, but they were the more aggressive team last night. There were a couple of strange callsor more accurately, a couple of strange no-calls, like when the Lakers played pinball with Leon Powe a couple of times in the second quarter. But still, the game was called evenly.

Maybe it had something to do with Tim Donaghy’s allegations, conveniently leaked before the game, that two refs “fixed a 2002 playoff series,” or maybe Joey Crawford, Bennett Salvatore, and Mark Wunderlich just had a good night.

(Side note: By now everyone who cares about such things knows that the series in question was between the Lakers and Sacramento, specifically the sixth game, which was so over-the-top there were even calls for an investigation from Ralph Nader, of all people.)

Either way, it’s bad news for the league when people are pleasantly surprised that the officiating was competent.