BOSTON, JUNE 10 -- What strange goings-on during these NBA finals -- the exalted Boston Celtics blowing a 16-point lead at home on their parquet floor and being beaten by three-point field goals from a player known more for his defense, and the Los Angeles Lakers, a premier offensive team, playing hard-nosed defense.

"I could have choked myself after the first two games," said Michael Cooper, the Lakers' supersub whose 12-of-18 shooting from beyond the three-point circle has hurt the Celtics. "After the first two games I was saying that I thought that our best defense would be a good offense. I knew that was wrong, though, when we came here and found out that we couldn't run the ball."

If the Lakers had been forced to rely solely upon their offense, then this best-of-seven series most likely would be tied at 2-2. Instead, the Lakers took a 107-106 decision in Game 4 in large part because of their defensive handiwork.

It was the same type of effort that saw Los Angeles through the first three games of the Western Conference final against Seattle, when the Lakers won despite struggling for points.

"That series was the first time we were able to take shooters out of their game, make them shoot from certain areas on the court that they were uncomfortable from," said Coach Pat Riley. "That continued something we had talked about at the start of the playoffs. In the regular season we used to have four or five different defenses but we never played any one of them great. When the playoffs started we stopped doing gimmicky things and went with our straight man-to-man."

It's been successful. Entering the championship series, the Lakers were yielding just 108 points a game and holding their opponents to 45 percent shooting from the field. Still, Boston's Kevin McHale hasn't been all that impressed.

"Their defense is similar to everyone else's we've faced. They double-team us in the post; that's standard -- especially in the playoffs," he said. "I think 108 to 109 points is a lot for us to get. When I step on the court to play them I'm not exactly thinking, 'Now there's a great defensive team.' "

Maybe McHale needs to change his thinking. The 106 points Boston scored in Game 4 were almost nine fewer than their average against Los Angeles in the previous three contests and eight fewer than their overall playoff average.

But the number of points Boston is scoring isn't as important as the kind of shots it is getting. To a large degree, the ball movement -- the swinging of the basketball around the perimeter for an open jump shot -- has disappeared. In Games 1 and 2, that was because the Celtics were greedy and relied more on individual moves. In Game 4, however, particularly from the latter stages of the third quarter, the ball moved, but there was rarely a player open.

Twice in the third period, Larry Bird and Darren Daye hit jumpers that barely beat the 24-second clock; at the 6:59 mark of the fourth, the team was cited for that violation while trying to nurse a four-point lead.

Of course, the Celtics did hit 55 percent of their shots in the fourth quarter on Tuesday and have hit 53 percent in the four games against the Lakers. That is one reason Riley, while acknowledging that he feels he has an "exceptional" defensive team, agrees with McHale to some extent.

"It's really not whether you play defense, it's whether they miss the shot," he said. "We're not gonna stop anyone from shooting the ball. We're not gonna stop anyone from scoring 100 points against us -- no one does in this league. What we try to do, though, is apply pressure, force the other team into taking shots under that pressure. That can make the difference."

When the Lakers went into a trap during the third quarter, the tangible effect was minimal, according to Boston Coach K.C. Jones. "It really didn't do anything," he said. "They got an illegal defense called against them, Larry got a beautiful shot at the basket -- I thought it might hurt us, but it really didn't."

But Riley argues that such thinking misses the purpose of the pressure defense.

"We may not have gotten steals, but it got us uptempo, it got us to start thinking quicker," he said. "It gave us a lift and it got us back into the game."

It is doubtful that Los Angeles, in any other season in recent memory, could have overcome all the adversity arranged against it in Game 4 -- the sizeable deficit, the hostile crowd at Boston Garden, the need for toughness at both ends of the floor. Riley alluded to that himself when he said that his team "lost two games exactly like this one" in the 1984 final round against the Celtics.

Last season, the Lakers weren't even in position to lose this type of game in the championship series, having been bounced by the Houston Rockets in the conference finals. Now, they have returned and are one game from taking it all.

"Our attitude is far superior than a year ago," Riley said. "Actually, last year focused us mentally for this season. Our attitude a year ago wasn't strong enough; we just submitted {to Houston}. Now, I think we're very tough."