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Posted: Monday June 9, 2008 1:50PM; Updated: Tuesday June 10, 2008 5:39PM
David DuPree David DuPree >
INSIDE THE NBA

The keys to a Lakers turnaround

Story Highlights
  • The Lakers' bench contributed little in the first two games of the NBA Finals
  • The Celtics have done the job defensively against Kobe Bryant
  • Rajon Rondo has looked like a veteran rather than a second-year point guard
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Kobe Bryant (right) shot only 40.8 percent from the field against Ray Allen and the Celtics in Games 1 and 2.
Kobe Bryant (right) shot only 40.8 percent from the field against Ray Allen and the Celtics in Games 1 and 2.
Elsa/Getty Images
Lakers vs. Celtics
 
Game 6
Game 5
Game 4
Game 3
Game 2
Game 1

Statistics don't always tell the entire story, but so far in the NBA Finals, we can point to a few that certainly go a long way in explaining why the Celtics are up 2-0 against the Lakers.

Here is where the Lakers are getting done in and where they have to do better as the series shifts to Los Angeles for Game 3 on Tuesday:

Bench play. The Lakers were supposed to have a decided advantage with their young, versatile and explosive bench, yet it has been the Celtics who have won that battle in both games. Boston's reserves outscored their Los Angeles counterparts 17-15 in Game 1 and 35-23 in Game 2.

Point guard Sam Cassell was the spark in the first game with his post-ups, scoring eight points at a critical time of the game. Forward Leon Powe was the difference in Game 2, scoring 21 points in 15 minutes. No one the Lakers turned to could match Powe's energy.

Lakers forward Luke Walton has been a non-factor; he hasn't made a single big play yet while scoring only two points in 27 minutes through two games. If the Celtics can get game-changing performances from Cassell and Powe, the Lakers have to be able to counter that with someone like Walton stepping up big, as well.

Different outcomes for the leading scorers. Paul Pierce has scored 50 points on only 26 shots in the first two games while Kobe Bryant has needed 49 shots to get 54 points. Pierce's efficiency has resulted from his patience -- he hasn't been forcing shots -- and three-point shooting (7-for-8), with many of those long-range attempts coming on open looks.

Bryant, on the other hand, has had difficulty finding openings in Boston's variation of the box-and-one defense. It seems like the Celtics have the "box" on Kobe and the "one" on everyone else instead of the other way around. Reduced mainly to being a jump shooter, Bryant is hitting only 40.8 percent from the field overall (compared to 61.5 percent for Pierce). The Celtics have to be made to pay if they are going to play that type of defense on Bryant, but the Lakers' ball movement isn't crisp and they are often left with little time on the shot clock to try to generate something.

Rajon Rondo's effectiveness. The Lakers have to take advantage of him, but they've yet to do so. The second-year point guard has 23 assists while committing only four turnovers. Rondo is doing as he pleases because he is getting into the paint at will. When he gets inside off dribble penetration, he is breaking down the Lakers' defense and setting up too many easy baskets. The Lakers have to make him a scorer instead of a passer. Let him shoot as many medium-range jump shots as he wants.

The difference in aggression. Something is really wrong when Powe attempts 13 free throws in 15 minutes like he did Sunday, while the entire Lakers team shoots 10. Lakers coach Phil Jackson addressed the discrepancy after the game.

"I've never seen a game like that in all these years I've coached in the Finals. Unbelievable," Jackson said.

Nevertheless, the Lakers are committing a lot of dumb fouls -- reaching and slapping at the ball instead of getting in good defensive position. They always seem to be scrambling. They have to settle down.

The Celtics are getting to the line -- their advantage is 73-38 so far -- because they have been more aggressive. Boston has adjusted to the way the games have been officiated, while L.A. wants to argue calls more than it wants to just buckle down and play solid team defense.

Ball movement. The Lakers must get into their offense quicker and force the tempo. They've even been outscored on fast-break points 20-12, and in Sunday's game, the Celtics had 31 assists on their 36 field goals. The Lakers had 20 assists on 41 field goals, which is an indication of more one-on-one play. The Lakers have to make it an open-court game and create a lot more easy baskets.

David DuPree covered the NBA for nine seasons for the Washington Post and 23 seasons for USA Today. His column appears weekly at SI.com.

 
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