Thursday June 10th, 2010

BOSTON -- It was like watching Tiger Woods shoot a round of 93 at Augusta National.

That's how startling it was Tuesday to see Ray Allen miss all 13 of his shots in Game 3 of the Finals. The simplest of all predictions is that Allen will alter that trend Thursday in Game 4. One of the great shooters in the history of his sport will return to making shots.

"I am concerned with the quick turnarounds and his legs," acknowledged Celtics coach Doc Rivers of the short rest between games for Allen, 34. "Because what I saw was everything was front-rim and his shot was flat. I thought that's what allowed some of those shots to get blocked, and usually that's a leg issue. So we'll see."

Two of Allen's shots were blocked by off-the-ball defenders Ron Artest and Pau Gasol as the Lakers focused their team defense against him following Allen's Finals-record eight threes in Boston's Game 2 victory. Early in the game, Allen was kneed in the thigh by Artest, which might have weakened his legs.

"I give them all the credit in the world," he said of the Lakers' defenders. "They got back out to my shots very quickly. They had an outstretched arm in front of my ball all night."

A theme of this series has been the improvement in the Lakers' defense, and how much they've learned -- since losing to Boston's suffocating defense in the 2008 Finals -- to target and convert one or two Celtics strengths into weaknesses. Team defense neutralized Allen in Game 3, while Paul Pierce has yet to influence any of the games as a scorer thanks to the mauling, one-on-one attention paid by Artest.

Pierce had similar troubles against the overbearing size and strength of LeBron James in the conference semifinals. But Pierce hasn't blamed his 36.1 percent shooting (16.3 points per game) in these Finals on Artest.

"I don't really see anything he's doing that any other teams haven't done throughout the course of the playoffs," said Pierce.

It is difficult to isolate the importance of either Pierce or Allen as the Celtics approach Game 4. Consider that Boston held a short six-point lead at halftime of Game 2 after Allen had hit a devastating seven threes; he finished with 32 points overall and yet that game was tight into the final two minutes of the fourth quarter. In Game 3, Allen was hopelessly ineffective, but his team had a chance to prevail in the final minutes.

But the combined ineffectiveness of Allen and Pierce -- who together produced 17 points on 5-of-25 shooting in Game 3 -- was too grave for Boston to overcome.

If the Celtics are going to avoid tumbling into a practically hopeless 3-1 hole, they have to control the backboard. The Lakers outrebounded them 43-35 in Game 3, and 6-foot-11 Kevin Garnett (4.7 rebounds per game) has been exposed in this crucial area. The Celtics' rebounding leader in the Finals has been 6-1 point guard Rajon Rondo, with 7.0 per game, and that is not a good recipe for Boston.

"The team that's won the glass so far in this series has won the game," said Rivers, "and we have to do a better job."

The Lakers have reclaimed home-court advantage even though Kobe Bryant has been shooting 39.4 percent for his 26.7 points per game.

"They're getting up underneath him on his shot, so he's got a hard time getting a clear lift," said Jackson. "It keeps him from turning his body, so he can't get the right turn a lot of times, and they've done a good job. He's got to get better productivity, and he knows that."

The Celtics must win the next two games at home to set up a 3-2 series advantage as they return to Los Angeles for Games 6 and 7. But right now, as the older team looks to regroup on just one night's rest, the defending champion Lakers enter Game 4 from a position of strength.

SI Apps
We've Got Apps Too
Get expert analysis, unrivaled access, and the award-winning storytelling only SI can provide - from Peter King, Tom Verducci, Lee Jenkins, Seth Davis, and more - delivered straight to you, along with up-to-the-minute news and live scores.