Going small may help the Lakers
LOS ANGELES -- The Lakers are down 2-1 to the Celtics in the NBA Finals.
But are the Lakers really back in the series? Or just holding off an inevitable execution?
The Lakers' victory Tuesday night in Game 3 was about as flimsy as the plot to a typical Hollywood action film. Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett scored a combined 19 points (on 8-for-35 shooting) and the Celtics still almost won. That's all you need to know about how fortunate the Lakers were to escape disaster.
Boston is manhandling L.A., making Kobe Bryant work for everything and transforming Pau Gasol and Lamar Odom into the world's tallest rolls of Charmin. Meanwhile, Pierce and Garnett are almost certainly going to bounce back in Thursday night's Game 4.
The Lakers, especially Gasol and Odom, have to be much more aggressive if they hope to build momentum and win this series. They have to hit first. They have to put a body on Celtics rebounders.
It also might be time for Lakers coach Phil Jackson to try a new wrinkle with his rotation. No, not Chris Mihm. It might make sense to go small for longer stretches, with Jordan Farmar (or Derek Fisher) and Sasha Vujacic playing more together.
The Lakers used the small lineup to great effect late in Game 2, with Vujacic and Fisher helping spark a 31-9 run and trim a 24-point Celtics lead to two with 38 seconds left. They did it again in Game 3, with Vujacic scoring 20 points and Farmar handing out a team-high five assists in only 20 minutes. The move also allowed Bryant to slide over to small forward, where he helped put the clamps on Pierce.
Farmar and Vujacic are quick, high-energy types who can push the ball up the floor, shoot from three-point range and create turnovers. After Game 1, longtime Lakers assistant Tex Winter noted that Farmar brought a different dimension to L.A.'s attack. He said he wanted to see Farmar play more, but that Jackson preferred the 6-foot-7 Vujacic's size and defense.
Well, maybe the answer is to play them both.
Clearly, a Vujacic-Farmar backcourt would create some problems for L.A. The Lakers wouldn't have Fisher's leadership on the floor (as much), and the loss of the 6-10 Vladimir Radmanovic might cost them on the backboards. But Boston has been controlling the glass all series anyway while Radmanovic has been rendered useless by foul trouble.
A quicker backcourt might at least help the Lakers move the ball more when Boston overplays the ball side, as it likes to do. So far the Celtics have effectively slowed the Lakers' attack, holding L.A. to 88, 102 and 87 points in the first three games, respectively.
"Just moving the basketball," Bryant said Wednesday when asked what the Lakers need to do to get their offense going. "We did some things [in Game 3] to build some of our rhythm a little bit and use some of their pressure against them. If we just move the ball, knock down shots, we'll be all right."
Jackson didn't want to give away any X's and O's on Wednesday, but he did admit he needed to find ways to get open looks against Boston's high-pressure defense.
"A lot of what we're doing is running what we call our pressure releases because [of their] pressure on the wings, the pressure up court," he said. "As a consequence, we're getting our offense at a different level and a different spacing. But our spacing hasn't been good."
No coach likes to change his rotation in the middle of a playoff series. For one, it usually doesn't make sense to go away from what got the team there in the first place. It also smells of desperation.
But the Lakers, despite being down just 2-1, might be at that point. The Celtics have been the better team thus far, and they're bound to come up with a much better effort in Game 4. If Jackson waits too long, it might be too late.