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The Celtics turned Bryant and the rest of the Lakers in to a team of jump shooters in Game 1, using a physicality that seemed to frustrate one of the league's top offenses. Boston held a team that has been averaging 41.3 points in the paint over the course of the playoffs coming into Thursday night, to a meager 19 in Game 1. The Celtics tough play seemed to frustrate L.A.'s offense.
"Thatís how they play, scrapping, grabbing, pushing, getting away with little stuff that can change the whole game, and unfortunately, we couldnít find a way to match that in the first game," said Lakers forward Vladimir Radmanovic. "Obviously we need to get in the paint more than we did in Game 1. Easy buckets are something that can change the game, especially in those crucial moments."
Every moment seems crucial when Bryant has the ball, but the MVP's shot was just off, perhaps because he was being forced to shoot further out than normal. Bryant got inside for a grand total of three shots, missing from close in with one minute remaining in the first half and with four minutes remaining in the game. Bryant's only make was a short jumper with 3:06 left in the 3rd quarter. So far there's been no layups in the Finals for Kobe, who attributed Boston's defense to the cause.
"Just making me a perimeter player in terms of being able to shoot the ball," said Bryant. "Two games we played in the regular season, I shot the ball atrociously. In Game, 1 I shot the ball bad, too. Hopefully it just means I'm due."
Bryant and the Lakers' frustration is music to the ears of Celtics players who take great pride in their physical defense. The lane is off limits to opposing players as Boston pushes them further and further out for their shots.
"Thatís been our philosophy all year," said Ray Allen, who was charged with guarding Bryant for some of the night. "We have so many great offensive players in this league, and theyíre always going to try and set them up for an opportunity to score. If heís shooting a five-footer, we make him shoot a seven-or-eight-footer. We try to make their players uncomfortable throughout the series."
Kobe and the Lakers are, to say the least, a potent offensive team, but this isn't the first time in the playoffs that the C's have been able to shut down high-scoring offenses. After limiting the young Hawks, Boston dealt with LeBron James' offense before finally finishing off with the Pistons' deep team. Each leg has helped as the Celtics found the right physical formula to stymie the Lakers in Game 1.
"I think the first three series have prepared us for these moments here, because we had Joe Johnson, LeBron and in Detroit we had a couple guys, Rip Hamilton and Tayshaun," said Allen. "You have to worry about the other guys, but you canít lose sight of who has the ball, canít lose sight of your man, and in this series we have to continue to make your man make a tough shot and donít allow them to get into the lane for easy layups."
"We learned that from the first round in Atlanta all the way to this point."
The Celtics have been limiting teams' inside options from the beginning of the playoffs, which doesn't bode well for the Lakers unless they can make some adjustments. L.A.'s ability to get down low and score is what's propelled them to the brink of the title, averaging 43 points in the paint in wins and 30.5 in losses.
"Weíve played three series and got into the Finals but if we donít win it, it doesnít mean anything," said Radmanovic. "Everything we did in the past was based in points in the paint, that opens the whole game for us. Obviously this team is a little different than other teams weíve played. They try to deny that as much as they can and force you to play form the outside."
"We just have to try to find a way to break that down and take their defenders out of the picture."
So far it's been a pretty defensive picture for the Celtics.