LOS ANGELES - Kendrick Perkins believes the Celtics can improve defensively when they face the Lakers in Game 4 of the NBA Finals tonight. But Perkins also thinks the team should not be expected to hold the Lakers to less offensive production than it did in Tuesday's 87-81 loss.
"They got in the paint too much," Perkins said yesterday. "That's not just on the guards. But they got too many points in the paint. And we hadn't been giving up very many points in the paint, but they had a lot."
The Lakers set up their offense for Pau Gasol and Lamar Odom to clog the middle and Kobe Bryant to drive into the lane, opening room for Sasha Vujacic outside. The strategy worked well down the stretch. The Celtics' Paul Pierce committed his fifth foul early in the final quarter, the Lakers qualifying for the bonus at the foul line for the final eight minutes, and Vujacic (20 points) converting open shots.
"Mental toughness," Perkins said when asked how the Celtics could adjust. "We kept Kobe out of the paint in Boston. We have to get it in our mind to slide our feet, contest their twos. You have to live with some shots, though, you can't overreact."
Perkins had as many fouls as field goals, committing his fourth with 8:11 remaining in the third quarter, which limited his effectiveness. Perkins did not score in the final 20:50 and played only two minutes after his fourth foul.
Perkins's performance, plus the outputs of Kevin Garnett (13 points) and Pierce (6), symbolized the Celtics' underachieving night.
"Nobody's panicking," Perkins said. "We lost the game and guys were mad, but it's not like we're panicking. We had a good chance of winning. We played our worst game and we still had a chance to win.
"You hold the Lakers to 87 points at home, and you should win the game."
Perkins seemed frustrated but eager to return to action before yesterday's practice at Staples Center.
"I don't think we were aggressive, they were more aggressive," Perkins said. "They got to the free throw line a little more. Basically, that's it.
"We were settling for jumpers and not getting many free throws. I think we need to attack the basket."
Perkins plans to be among the first to do just that, and also defend the low post.
"We have to keep a body on them, be physical," he said. "We have a saying -- you might not get the defensive rebound but the guy you're guarding can't get it, either."
Perkins thought many of the key maneuvers were accomplished on the perimeter.
A Vujacic 3-pointer, converted following a questionable Celtic double-teaming of Bryant, stretched the Lakers' lead to 81-76 with 1:53 to play. Twenty seconds later, Derek Fisher converted the clinching free throws.
"[Garnett] went to halfcourt to trap and Kobe actually backed up and went to [Odom], then to [Vujacic] for a three," Perkins said. "When you trap a guy, you are going to give up something.
"In those type of situations, you want Kobe to pass the ball and make other guys make a play. But you can't give anybody a good look. Guys get paid for a reason."
Offensively, Perkins said the crucial factor for the Celtics is Rajon Rondo, who missed much of the second half of Game 3 with an ankle injury.
"We have 18-20 seconds to start our offense when he's in, and 8-10 seconds when he's out," said Perkins. "When he is out of the game, we don't have no kind of offensive rhythm. And he pressures the ball coming upcourt and that gets everyone ready. He gets the ball to [Garnett and Pierce] and they get a lot of easy shots because of his dribble penetration."
Frank Dell'Apa can be reached at email@example.com.