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Bob Ryan

Blowing whistle on Game 3

Email|Print|Single Page| Text size + By Bob Ryan
Globe Columnist / June 10, 2008

LOS ANGELES - Good to get out here, away from the heat . . .

Now, where was I?

Oh yeah, the Celtics. The job is 50 percent done. And it really didn't look very hard, did it? Sure, sure, sure, the coaches had to come up with the game plans and the players had to execute it, but Games 1 and 2 of the NBA Finals against the mighty, mighty Lakers, the darlings of the Western Conference and the national media, looked suspiciously like about 35 or 40 of the Celtics' regular-season games, and never mind that final 7:36, when the Lakers scored 31 points while knocking a 24-point deficit down to 2 (Vladimir Radmanovic's Hopkinton-to-Public Garden open-floor travel prior to scoring points 99 and 100 being conveniently ignored by all three referees).

I can tell you what the ramifications of that spirited comeback will be: zero. If the Lakers win Game 3 tonight, it won't have anything to do with the fourth quarter of Game 2. The Celtics committed a few stupid turnovers, the Lakers made four threes, and Kobe Bryant had a little late flurry for the stat man. You'll note that when the Celtics absolutely, positively had to make plays - at both ends of the floor - they made them.

Phil Jackson acknowledged the essential truth of the matter in his own mirthful way when asked if his team could carry that fourth-quarter momentum with them into Game 3.

"No, no," he replied. "It's 2,500 miles away. It's too far to carry it."

Fine. But will the Lakers win Game 3? Almost undoubtedly. They're a bunch of sorry Tinseltown suckers if they don't. I'm sure they have pride, and I keep assuming that Kobe will erupt for 40 and the Staples Center crowd, by all accounts, is actually legit, more like an Eastern or Chicago crowd than the old arrive-late, leave-early traffic beaters of yore.

Here's your mortal-lock cinch: They'll get calls. Kobe might need to borrow a sleeve for his right arm from Allen Iverson or Ray Allen before the night is through because he will spend a lot of time shooting those uninterrupted freebies from that stripe 15 feet from the basket.

Phil Jackson started getting ready for Game 3 as soon as Game 2 was over. The Celtics shot 38 free throws to LA's 10, so you knew what was coming.

"You can't play from a deficit like [the one] that we had in the first half," he fumed. "Nineteen to 2 in the first half, situations like that. I've never seen a game like that in all these years that I've coached in the Finals. Unbelievable."

Guess the Zenmaster was tossing one down in an Auckland pub or lying on the beach at Bora Bora two years ago when Dwyane Wade was going 21 for 25 from the line in Game 5, the same as the Dallas team totals (it was 49-25 overall in FTAs). It wasn't much better in Game 6, when Wade was 16 for 21 and the Mavs were 19 for 23. Two-game FTA total: Dallas 48, Wade 46. I don't recall Mark Cuban being too pleased.

So it happens. And when there is a whopping discrepancy of this nature, it generally means it's 80-90 percent legit, reflecting how the game was played, and 10-20 percent piling on. If Jackson were completely honest, he'd admit that perhaps the two most egregious calls of the evening (a bogus offensive foul on Rajon Rondo and perfectly clean steal by Leon Powe) went against the Celtics. And the Radmanovic missed travel already has been noted by a league official as an embarrassment.

"I thought we were the team driving in the paint, and that's why we shot the 38 free throws," observed Boston coach Doc Rivers. "If you attack off the dribble, if you play through the post, if you're the more aggressive team, you can get to the foul line. I thought we did that. But we can't go on the road and not do that."

We all know what's going to happen now. The Lakers will be extremely aggressive and they will be rewarded. The league has worked this way for 62 years and it's very unlikely there will be a sudden climate change inside the Staples Center tonight. If it's 38-10 the other way, Doc can't say boo. He'd just better hope they miss a few.

Anyway, the story of the first two games has not been the free throws, other than the extent to which they are a result of Boston's generally superior play.

The Celtics are up, 2-0, because they held the Lakers to 37 points and 33 percent shooting in the decisive second half of Game 1.

The Celtics are up, 2-0, because Paul Pierce has been a bigger star than Kobe Bryant.

The Celtics are up, 2-0, because the Celtics bench has outplayed its LA counterpart significantly, with 38-year-old P.J. Brown far exceeding Rivers's expectations, I reckon.

The Celtics are up, 2-0, because Rajon Rondo had 16 assists in Game 2, when the Celtics had a stunning 86 percent (31 of 36) assist rate on their baskets.

The Celtics are up, 2-0, because they restricted the high-octane Lakers to 9 fast-break points in Game 1 and 18 in Game 2, 10 in the 41-point fourth quarter, which really was chasing the escaped stallion after closing the barn door.

Most of all, the Celtics are up, 2-0, because they are reaping the benefits of winning 66 games in the regular season.

"Just one of those playoff things," said Jackson. "Home-court advantage. They held serve, and we go home and do what we have to do on our home court. That's what it's about."

And that's probably what they'll do tomorrow night. The real fun will start Thursday.

Bob Ryan is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at ryan@globe.com.

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