Boston Seeks a Way To Steal One in L.A.

By Michael Lee
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, June 12, 2008

LOS ANGELES, June 11 -- From the moment Kendrick Perkins stepped on Paul Pierce's right foot and sent Pierce to the floor writhing in pain in the third quarter of Game 1 of the NBA Finals, the Boston Celtics have been dealing with a seemingly endless stream of injuries. The Celtics have since seen Perkins go down with a high-ankle sprain in the same game, Sam Cassell suffer a right wrist injury in Game 2 and Rajon Rondo crumple to the floor with a bone bruise in his left ankle in Game 3.

So far, the players have bounced back, and no one has missed any games. But as Boston prepares for Game 4 Thursday night against the Los Angeles Lakers, it will also have to see how Pierce and Kevin Garnett react to a pair of bruised egos.

Pierce and Garnett received most of the blame for the Celtics' 87-81 loss on Tuesday night, when the all-star forwards combined to miss 27 of their 35 shot attempts. Pierce was questioned about his sprained right knee and whether the distractions of being back where he grew up contributed to a dismal 2-for-14 shooting performance. Garnett had to explain why he was so effective down low but elected to continue to shoot perimeter jumpers when they weren't falling.

Lakers Coach Phil Jackson suggested that Garnett "ran out of gas" and that Pierce wasn't able to pull off any more fourth-quarter heroics because Kobe Bryant switched to him on defense. Both players responded to Jackson's assessments with humor.

"It's kind of cool, Phil Jackson paying attention to me that much," Garnett said.

Pierce said Bryant "guarded me pretty much the fourth quarter when I went off for [four] points. It was my best quarter of the three, so I don't know."

Neither player wanted to use fatigue from the Boston-to-Los Angeles trip as an excuse, but Celtics Coach Doc Rivers recommended that all of his players get some rest before Game 4. He said that Pierce called a timeout late in the game because he was tired. "I thought he was injured," Rivers said. "He just wanted a blow. We needed that darned timeout when I think about it. I just think rest is important. It wasn't [the distractions of] L.A., all right. It was rest."

Rondo rolled his ankle early in the third quarter. He returned to play in the fourth period, scoring one basket in about three minutes, but he credited his play to "living off adrenaline." Rondo didn't practice on Wednesday but said he will be ready to play in Game 4. "There is no way I'm going to miss" the game, said Rondo, who was wearing an air brace on his ankle. "I don't want to hurt the team, and not be able to give them my all."

Rivers is prepared to go with Rondo, but he said Eddie House, Cassell and even Tony Allen, who has yet to play in this series, could get some action. Even if Rondo isn't effective, the Celtics likely will need better performances from Garnett or Pierce, or both, to win Thursday.

Pierce had scored 50 points in the first two games, hitting huge back-to-back three-pointers in the third quarter of Game 1, and making two free throws with a blocked shot at the end of Game 2. Garnett had 24 points and 13 rebounds in Game 1, and he is averaging 13 rebounds and team-high 1.3 blocks in the series. But he has been off-target through the first three games, shooting 35.5 percent (22 of 62) from the floor.

"We've got to get Kevin going, clearly," Rivers said. "He's shooting below 40 percent in the series and that's something he doesn't do. Paul, I honestly never worry about a lot offensively. He's a great offensive player. He had a tough night, and he'll get going."

Pierce, who grew up nearby in Inglewood, said the knee wasn't a problem for him in Game 3, but added that being home might have played a role in his uneven night. "I was a little anxious," Pierce said. "I've been anxious every game, just the anticipation of being out there playing on the biggest stage in all of basketball. Probably a little more anxious than normal being that I'm at home in front of more family and friends. But [I] got to block that out and go out there and leave it on the court."

He said that he will "do the things I normally do if I was somewhere else on the road. I'll have plenty of time to visit with family and friends in the summer."

Garnett has a reputation for playing with aggression and intensity, which can be a gift and a curse. He said he was his own worst enemy on Tuesday, as he was so hyped up that he psyched himself out. "If anything, [I have to] slow down," Garnett said. "I've got to do a better job of getting guys easy shots by being aggressive. I always said I'm my biggest critic, and Doc and people tell me stuff, but it's up to me."

Garnett said he had a difficult time adjusting to the Lakers' double teams, as they alternated with the 6-foot-10 Lamar Odom and the 6-1 Derek Fisher. Garnett said he was aware that four of his six field goals in Game 3 came at or near the hoop. "I have to attack the basket," Garnett said. "So look for more of that."

He added that the Celtics are encouraged that despite poor performances by himself and Pierce -- and an overall bad shooting night for the team -- they still were down by just two points with less than two minutes remaining. "We pull pluses out of it," Garnett said. "It gives us a lot of confidence to know that we can shoot 30-something percent on the road and almost have a chance to win."

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