BOSTON -- The NBA Finals are officially a prizefight. After absorbing a left hook to the body in Game 2, the Lakers answered back with a haymaker of their own, stunning the Celtics 91-84 in Game 3 on Tuesday to regain home-court advantage and take a 2-1 series lead.
1. Derek Fisher was dominant. Fisher's offense was efficient -- 16 points on 6-12 shooting, including a game-clinching running layup he banked in while getting swallowed by three Boston defenders -- but it was his defense that changed the game. Despite getting hammered by screens all night, Fisher didn't give Ray Allen an inch of breathing room. Wherever Allen went, Fisher was nipping at his heels. After a record-setting shooting performance in Game 2, Allen nearly set another mark, coming up one miss shy of setting a Finals record for most attempts without a make (he finished 0-for-13).
"The job Fish did on Allen," said coach Phil Jackson, "was terrific."
Said Doc Rivers: "Derek Fisher was the difference in the game."
2. L.A. had every reason to fold ... but didn't. The rabid crowd was whipped into a frenzy before the game and was ready to blow the roof off when the Celtics closed the gap late in the fourth quarter. But despite so-so efforts from their stars (more on that below), the Lakers refused to quit, grinding out several possession-saving plays that kept them ahead.
"Those little things get it done," said Kobe Bryant. "They weren't going to let me beat them down the stretch. It was important for everybody to make plays and our guys made plays. Lamar [Odom] made a big play, Pau [Gasol] made big shots, Derek obviously made big shots. That's what we have to do."
3. Boston's Big Three was mostly Big Duds. After two mediocre efforts in L.A., Kevin Garnett (25 points) had a breakout night. But it was overshadowed by stunningly poor performances by Allen and Paul Pierce. Fisher played a big role in Allen's struggles, but Pierce (15 points on 5-of-12 shooting) has no one to blame but himself. With Ron Artest picking up two quick fouls in the first quarter, Pierce was given a golden opportunity to assert himself. But he just couldn't find his range (and got into foul trouble himself). Pierce and Allen were a combined 0-for-10 in the first quarter; after that, neither was able to recover.
4. Both benches got it done. With Bryant (27 points on 29 attempts) forcing up contested shots and Gasol (13 points) taking a beating from Boston's D, the Lakers' bench stepped up. Odom had a solid 12-point (on 5-for-5 shooting), five-rebound effort, but L.A. picked up quality minutes from Shannon Brown, Jordan Farmar and Luke Walton. The Celtics' subs got off to a rough start, allowing the Lakers to build a 17-point first-half lead. But with Pierce in foul trouble and Kendrick Perkins ineffective, Glen Davis (12 points) started making shots while Rasheed Wallace and Tony Allen terrorized the Lakers on defense. No question, both teams would be thrilled with duplicate efforts from their benches the rest of the series.
5. Allen's ugly numbers. Even the times Allen was able to shake free of Fisher, his shots routinely came up short. And with their best perimeter player struggling, the Celtics' offense sputtered most of the night.
"You know, it's basketball," said Rivers. "[Allen] will be back in the gym tomorrow getting ready for the next game. I thought he was pressing early on. I thought all of his shots looked flat tonight. I didn't think he had any legs. I don't know if the knee and thigh had anything to do with it, but I just thought he was short on most of his jump shots. It happens to the best of us."
6. Pocket those whistles, refs. For the third game in a row, the officials played a central role in the outcome, with Bennett Salvatore, Danny Crawford and Bill Kennedy suffering through a tough night. Neither team was allowed to create much contact, a disturbing theme that has progressively developed throughout this series. And even when they weren't fouling, the whistle seemed to keep blowing: Pierce and Garnett and Bryant and Fisher were tagged with a few phantom fouls. Somehow, the league needs to send a message to its refs that not every collision requires a whistle -- a non-call never hurt anyone.