Author Archive for Jeff Skibiski

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Lakers Expect Improvement From KG, Pierce

After Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce both struggled mightily in Game 3, Coach Jackson and Kobe both said that they believe they’ll perform better in tomorrow night’s game. While the Lakers’ defense on the duo certainly had something to do with it, the Lakers understand that the pair also missed their fair share of open shots as well.

“I don’t think we take away anything from it,” said Bryant. “In this kind of series, I don’t think there’s any particular game that will carry over to the next. Every game is its own isolated thing.”

According to Jackson, Pierce and Garnett were not their usual selves in last night’s game, reiterating that point to his team as they prepare to try and duplicate the defensive effort in Game 4.

“Well, I think they have to understand that this is a game that was just a down game for them (Pierce and Garnett),” Jackson said. “They’ll adjust to this court. They’ll get themselves in better shape for the next game. They’ll have a better offensive opportunity.”

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The Finals Game 3: Post-Game

After losing the first two games of The Finals on the road, the Lakers–Kobe Bryant and Sasha Vujacic in particular–finally put their stamp on the series, coming through with a much-needed Game 3 win 87-81 over the Celtics.

The Lakers MVP dominated Boston’s defense down the stretch of the fourth quarter on his way to a game-high 36 points to go with seven rebounds. However, it was the unexpected 20 point contribution from reserve Sasha Vujacic that propelled L.A. to their first win of The Finals.

After the game, Celtics Coach Doc Rivers praised Bryant’s clutch all-around effort, but gave even more credit to one of the most unlikely Lakers heroes.

“Kobe was fantastic tonight, but I thought Vujacic was the key to the game,” said Rivers of Sasha’s 7-10 shooting performance, including a game-clinching three pointer with 1:15 remaining.

“He believes in himself very sincerely that he’s going to make the next one, and you have to be that way if you’re going to have the guts to go out there and do it,” said Jackson. “Sasha is always going to make the next shot. That one might have been off, but the next one is going in.”

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The Finals Game 3: Pre-Game

In wake of new allegations from former referee Tim Donaghy that state that NBA playoff series were affected by NBA referees per the direction of league officials–including the 2002 Lakers vs. Kings series that went seven games–Coach Phil Jackson said that he has long felt that the NBA and referees should operate as separate organizations. According to Jackson, NBA coaches are simply seeking balance from referees when making calls.

Jackson also addressed Kobe’s vocal leadership style in the team’s Game 1 and 2 losses in Boston. After Boston pitcher Kurt Schilling–seated courtside for Sunday’s game–publicly condemned Bryant in his blog for yelling at his teammates–the Lakers coach said that he is perfectly content with Kobe’s tactics, even going so far as to say that sometimes, players like Vladimir Radmanovic need an extra boost to kick them into gear on the floor. In Jackson’s opinion, Schilling and others shouldn’t be allowed to sit so close to NBA benches, but the coach knows that the NBA will never take away those seats from the general public.

After struggling through the first two games against the Celtics, Jackson also said that he offered his support to Lamar Odom along with some video to try and help jumpstart his game. For the Lakers to be effective, Jackson said that they need Lamar to reassume his status as a triple-double threat.

The Finals Game 2: What Went Right/Wrong

What Went Right:
• The Lakers embarked on a furious fourth quarter rally, cutting what was once a 24 point deficit to just two points in the final two minutes. However, after fouling Paul Pierce on the ensuing possession, the purple and gold were unable to seal the deal.

• After being badly outrebounded by 13 in Game 1, the Lakers did a much better job on the boards in Game 2, muscling down 36 rebounds compared to 37 for the Celtics. Pau got his usual 10 boards, but it was Radmanovic who surprised on Sunday with 10 of his own.

• Kobe was still hindered by Boston’s superb defense, but he had a much better effort in Game 2 after a dismal 9-26 shooting night in Game 1, chipping in 30 points (11-23 shooting) in Game 2 to fuel L.A.’s near monumental comeback.

• Although he didn’t impact the game much after Boston’s defense closed in on him in the second quarter, Gasol’s stat line for Game 2 still shows that he had a solid night, scoring 17 points and grabbing 10 rebounds.

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The Finals Game 2: Lakers at Celtics Post-Game

Down by as many as 24 points, the Lakers stormed back against the Celtics in the final minutes of the game, nearly completing an epic comeback for the ages before losing 108-102. After the game, Phil Jackson called into question the massive 38 to 10 free throw disparity between the two teams.

“I’m more struck at the fact that Leon Powe gets more foul shots than our whole team does in 14 minutes of play,” said Jackson. “That’s ridiculous. You can’t play from a deficit like that that we had in that half, 19 to 2 in the first half in situations like that. I’ve never seen a game like that in all these years I’ve coached in The Finals. Unbelievable.”

While, according to Jackson, Powe may have been the beneficiary of a few favorable calls, the forward was still the story of Game 2, scoring 21 points on 6-7 shooting from the field to ignite the Celtic’s bench.

“He played a great game,” said Kobe, who scored 30 points on 11-23 shooting to lead L.A. “I mean, he came in and did what he had to do. I mean, that’s been the mark of this team all year, and in the playoffs when PJ Brown steps in, gives big minutes, Powe comes in, gives big minutes, that’s been the mark of their team. We’ve got to do a better job focusing on personnel, and guys that come into the game trying to contribute, we have to keep them quiet.”

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The Finals Game 1: What Went Right/Wrong

What Went Right:
• Derek Fisher showed improvement from his disappointing series against the Spurs, tallying 15 points while making 4-9 shots from the field.

• As been the case for most of the post-season, Ray Allen struggled to find his shot, only making five of 13 field goals. However, he made some big shots down the stretch, absolving him of his poor shooting night.

• Despite shooting just 42% from the field, the good news for the Lakers is that Boston wasn’t able to do much better, matching the poor shooting number. The difference? The Celtics shot 35 free throws, nailing 28.

• The Lakers successfully weathered Boston’s early adrenaline onslaught, leading their rivals by five going into the locker room at halftime. Unfortunately, by the end of the third quarter, the Celtics flipped the script and pulled ahead by four.

• While the offense wasn’t always crisp in Game 1, the purple and gold can’t blame turnovers for their problems as they only gave it away eight times.

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The Finals Game 1: Lakers vs. Celtics Post-Game

The Lakers led the Celtics by five at halftime, but were unable to weather a red-hot Paul Pierce in the third quarter as they were outscored 52-37 in the second half on their way to a 98-88 Game 1 loss.

It was a tale of two halves tonight,” said Coach Jackson after the game. “We had some control in the first half, played the kind of game we wanted to play, and the second half we came out and immediately wiped out the lead we had established in about 20 seconds, a matter of two possessions. So it was quite a flurry that they came out and played that third quarter with, put us back on our heels.”

Although Kevin Garnett led Boston with 24 points, Paul Pierce shined with 22 points after being carried off the court by his teammates due to a knee injury sustained during an important juncture in the third quarter.

“A guy grabs his knee, you know, there’s no good thoughts,” said Celtics Coach Doc Rivers. “I was really proud, honestly, of our team during the stretch when he was in the locker room. I thought that was the biggest part of the game. We could have easily felt sorry for ourselves. We actually made a little run there. But then when he came out he was big for us.”

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NBA Finals Since We Saw Them Last: Celtics

While the Celtics hold the edge over the Lakers in overall Finals matchups by an 8-2 margin, the Lakers have far and away been the more dominant team over the past two plus decades, winning four titles and only missing the playoffs twice. Lakers.com gives you a special edition of our Since We Saw Them Last, chronicling the defining moments and changes endured by L.A.’s biggest rival since they last faced Boston in the 1987 NBA Finals.

The Lakers second NBA Finals victory over the Celtics in the 1987-1988 NBA Finals officially began the downfall of a once glorious Boston team. With Larry Bird bowing out to injury just six games into the 1988-89 season, the Celtics were forced to play through an uncharacteristic 42 win season.

Although the Celtics improved in the following two seasons, buoyed by the addition of rookie guard Dee Brown and the return of Brian Shaw, they were eliminated prematurely in the playoffs both seasons, first by New York and then by Detroit in 1991.

Despite serious injuries to Bird and Kevin McHale, the Celtics won their division the following year, but again were unable to come through in the playoffs, losing to the Cavaliers in the Eastern Conference Finals.

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Team Remains Even Keel Before Flight to Boston

Even though the Lakers were only an hour away from taking off for Boston to play in Game 1 of the NBA Finals, there were hardly any signs of nervousness after practice despite the team’s youthful roster.

“We’re a pretty calm bunch,” said Kobe. “We don’t get too high, we don’t get too low. We don’t get rattled at all playing on the road.”

Lamar Odom–one of many Lakers playing in his first NBA Finals series–said that the drama of the NBA’s biggest stage likely won’t hit him until he actually steps foot on the Celtics’ court.

“Actually, I’m pretty relaxed,” said the forward. “I don’t want to get too pumped up. I want to kind of stay calm. It’ll be a little different when we hit the floor and get on that layup line. For me, it’ll be my first time in the Finals so I’ll be pretty pumped up. But, right now, we’re relaxed, just soaking it all.”

Even attempts by reporters to escalate the already high drama level heading into the series were shut down by Coach Jackson and Lakers players.

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Lakers Talk Matchups Against Celtics

Although Game 1 is still three days away, the Lakers are already talking matchups against the Celtics.

While Lamar Odom will almost certainly match up against Kevin Garnett at some point in the Finals, the forward says that he’ll likely start out guarding Boston center Kendrick Perkins.

“I think Gasol’s going to start out on him (Garnett),” said Odom. “I think we’re going to double him as much as possible. We’re going to get that ball off the rim and run. I’m not scared to play against anybody, it’s just basketball. On this level, that’s a matchup I’m kind of looking forward to. It’s the championship game and you want to play against your toughest opponent. He’s always been a tough cover for me so I look forward to going out there and giving it my all.”

Regardless of whether or not he spends the majority of his time on the floor guarding Garnett, Odom respects the Celtic forward’s versatile offensive and defensive game.

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