Lakers-Celtics, Game 6: The L.A. Defense Was Good, But Not That Good

Over at SB Nation's Lakers blog, Silver Screen and Roll, the spirits are understandably high after Tuesday's night blowout victory. The Lakers were fantastic on offense, but even more so, their defense is what won it for them. Again, we go to Silver Screen's Dexter Fishmore:

That's how you play an elimination game. Faced with a win-or-go-golfing scenario for the first time in over a year, the Los Angeles Lakers came up with a defensive performance for the ages. They harassed the Celtics for 48 glorious minutes with length, hustle and a rediscovered ferocity that had gone missing in Boston. The result was an 89 to 67 bludgeoning that evens the NBA Finals at three victories a piece. Game Seven, for all the tacos, is Thursday night.

If you'd forgotten that the Lakers were capable of choking an opponent out with world-class defense, that's understandable. As recently as early March, they led the NBA in defensive efficiency, but a late-season fade, plus points allowed in bunches in playoff series against the Utah Jazz and Phoenix Suns, took some of the gleam off the Lakers' defensive rep. Tonight that great Laker D came roaring back, and not a moment too soon. They allowed the Celtics to score a pathetically low 0.78 points per possession. That's not just the lowest efficiency mark by a Laker opponent in these playoffs. It's the lowest mark of an opponent all season long. To put it in further perspective, at no point in these playoffs or the regular season had the Celtic offense been held below 0.83 points per trip.

Did the Lakers pick the right time for one of the greatest defensive performances in NBA Finals history? Yes. Yes, I'd say they did.

Now, I don't mean to rain on L.A.'s parade here, but let's not go too crazy.

Last night's defense was good, but it was helped by an anemic, impotent, and downright half-assed performance from the Celtics for most of the game. Here's my recap of last night's game: "Both teams traded blows back-and-forth until it was 12-12, then Kobe hit a couple tough shots, it was 18-12, Kendrick Perkins got hurt, and the Celtics mailed it in from there."

Midway through the second quarter it was over. We talked about this yesterday:

Three things that beg consideration in advance of Game 6...

  1. The Celtics are old.
  2. The Celtics have been fighting nagging injuries throughout the playoffs.
  3. The Celtics have a tendency to get complacent.

After a cross-country flight on Monday, on just a day's rest, and comfortable in knowing they've got two shots to beat L.A. this week, it's not inconceivable to think the Celtics could come out flat tonight, get down by double digits early, and pack things in by the middle of the third quarter.

It doesn't mean that the Celtics deserve a free pass for their effort last night, or the Lakers' defensive excellence means nothing. But within the larger narrative of this series, last night made sense, and was even a little predictable. The Celtics looked like crap, because that's been their M.O. all season when they've gotten a chance to get comfortable. The Lakers looked great on offense and defense, because... When not getting hounded by Boston defense, they're still the Lakers.

But don't let last night's statistics fool you. L.A. was good, but not that good. Boston did it to themselves, too. And coming into the game, we knew they might.

Now? Game 7 is here, we know Boston'll show up because that's what they've done all series, and all postseason. And we know the Lakers just put together their most complete game of the playoffs, have Kobe Bryant on their team, and will be playing at home with the winningest coach in NBA History on their side.

Um, are you excited yet?

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