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Game 3: There's the Doc Rivers We All Know!

Jun 11, 2008 – 9:00 AM
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Tom Ziller

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In the long-form tradition of The Rotation, Tom Ziller considers the action the morning after each game of the NBA Finals.

Big moments in sport often provide the stage for monumental upsets. Super Bowl III. The Miracle on Ice. Doc Rivers over Phil Jackson. ... No, really! Rivers, according to popular opinion, outcoached the nine-time champ in Games 1 and 2. Schemes, motivational codas, rotation decisions: Rivers played everything close to perfect, while the Zen Master was left answering questions about what went wrong.

But big upsets are often flukes. Over the course of a best-of-seven series, truth will typically win. We saw that happen very clearly in Game 3, as Rivers easily retook his seat as "Coach WTF?!"

Rivers and his team did plenty wrong from my view, but let's chomp up only the most egregious acts.

Kobe, the floor is yours. With two minutes left in the game and the Lakers up by two, Rivers sent a high trap out at Kobe. Bryant, who had 32 points on 18 FGAs to that point, was forced to pass it away. This was a brilliant defense maneuver from the Celtics. While this particular play resulted in a Sasha Vujacic three, the gambit to take the ball away from Kobe was the right decision.

Why? Because up to that point in the stretch run, Kobe was the only Laker doing anything. Three previous possessions had seen Vujacic, Pau Gasol and Derek Fisher miss jumpers. Trapping Kobe high kept Kobe from, you know, scoring. That seems like a good way to slow down the Lakers offense, which on Tuesday was almost solely built on Kobe, you know, scoring.

Two possessions later, the Celtics switched to single coverage (Ray Allen) on Kobe. Predictably, Kobe scored. Next time down? Same plot, same result. You know you have a way to get the ball out of Kobe's hands, you have seen it work. And you refuse to go back to it because Sasha Vujacic hit a three? That's bad principles, and a bad, bad decision.

"Maybe they'll just turn the ball over." You're down by six, there are 21 seconds left. The Lakers have made 21 of 34 free throws, 61%. Lakers with the ball. Easy call: you foul them. You foul them until the cows come home. It's the only way to wage a comeback, unless Lamar Odom decides to get into his rhinoceros costume and do something remarkably stupid. (D'oh!)

Boston did not foul. They let the Lakers advance the ball and generally showed little consideration for attempting to extend the drama. Was it a decree to not foul? Did the players just forget? Did (and here's the most likely answer) Doc not talk to his team about it, because the last Boston timeout got used up an eon prior?

If it was a strategic decision to surrender with 21 seconds left, then let me say that is some really terrible strategy. If it was a communication malfunction, then let me say, man that is a bad time to stop talking to your players.

Po'(we) decision. The biggest knock from Celtics fans (err, Bill Simmons at least) this postseason has been Doc's questionable rotation. Tuesday seemed inspirational in its absurdity. Leon Powe, the young rock who had just recorded 21 points in 15 minutes in Game 2, thoroughly aggravating L.A. and confounding a nation of observers, got all of six minutes Tuesday night. Six minutes.

No, he wasn't Ulysses S. Grant out there in his limited time. But, as he did in Game 2, he mucked things up. He drew two fouls (one non-shooting) in those minor minutes, and generally banged around causing havoc and/or consternation among his opposing contemporaries. It was absolutely, 100% crystal flippin' clear from Game 2 that Powe was the type of guy to frustrate the slight Lakers frontcourt. Correction: it was absolutely, 100% crystal flippin' clear to everyone but Doc.

Meanwhile, P.J. Brown saw 18 minutes of burn. I like P.J.; he's a good, solid big and a credit to the NBA and the Celtics. He has his uses. Against the Lakers? He's miscast. P.J.'s not the excitable force to disrupt L.A.'s rim-region intentions, and he lacks the quickness to ably fend off his quicker opponents. Against an Antonio McDyess or Zydrunas Ilgauskas, he's perfect. But Gasol and Odom and even Ronny Turiaf are a bit too much fun for Brown, so his primary attribute vanishes.

(His other attribute -- rebounding -- is redundant since the Lakers have decided they do not want to capture more than a couple defensive rebounds per quarter during this series.)

Powe played well enough on Sunday to warrant an extended look in Game 3. Doc didn't give it to him, though, and it might have cost Boston the game.

I don't want to pile on Rivers, but this game was worse than an indictment on his constitution as an NBA head coach. It was the evidentiary basis for articles of impeachment. Tom Thibodeau, Armond Hill, Glen Davis, anyone! Save this team before Doc strikes again.

Mapping the NBA gives Excel spreadsheets some balls.

How each team's Big Three would fare became a central topic of discussion in the week leading up to The Finals. Let's check in on their performances over the first three games. I used John Hollinger's GameScore, which is basically a simplified box-score PER. Anything which falls into the shaded area can be be considered good. Above the zone is excellent (the higher the better) and below the zone is ... well, not good.

By these parameters, Kobe and Ray Allen have been the most consistent of the Big Six, with neither falling into dead air through three (though Ray's Game 2 was close). Kobe's excellent Game 3 rates highest thus far, and while Odom has been a disaster on wheels in the boxscore, Pierce outcrapped him in Game 3. KG has been abnormally quiet, when you look at the end result (he's gone into the brick business, apparently).

Whether game-to-game momentum exists in The Finals, I don't know. All the Big Six but KG and Odom have had huge turnaround games (either good or bad) already, and nothing looks certain from these seats. Regardless, this is starting to feel like a helluva series, yes?
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