On Tuesday night in Game 3, the Lakers came up huge early and again late, enough to grind out a critical 91-84 win. With it, they took a 2-1 advantage over the Celtics in the Finals heading into Thursday night's Game 4. Having already taken back home-court advantage, the Lakers would just as soon channel their inner vampire hunter and drive a stake through Boston's hearts by taking two straight on their floor and a 3-1 lead.
So what do you want -- what do you need -- to prepare for Game 4? Everybody loves stats. Everybody loves information. Which explains why ESPN Stats & Information is so popular. Here are five bits that S&I has compiled ahead of Game 4, with some Land O' Lakers commentary for each.
Stat 1: Pau Gasol was on the floor for 66 Lakers possessions in Game 3. For the 32 on which he had a touch -- not a shot, but a touch -- the Lakers shot 55.5 percent. For the 34 he didn't, they were 42.3 percent.
The meaning: It's instructive that these numbers came out of a game in which Gasol finished 5-of-11 from the floor, an inefficient shooting night by his standards and hardly prodigious production. It demonstrates both the value of moving the ball (Gasol can't touch it if nobody gives it to him) and specifically of moving it to Gasol, whose great court vision and decision-making put major pressure on a defense. Against the Celtics, who feast on isolation sets where they can load up on one player and one side of the floor, it's even more important.
When Gasol is used effectively in the flow of the offense, it allows Kobe Bryant to free himself away from the ball. Anything the Lakers can do to give Bryant opportunities to catch on the move benefits their offense.
Stat 2: Gasol is having a historically good NBA Finals for a big man, averaging 20.3 points, 10.7 rebounds and 3.7 blocks per game through the first three games of the series. Since blocks were first tracked in 1973-74, only four other times (Tim Duncan in '03, Shaquille O'Neal in '01 and '02, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in '80) has a player averaged at least 20 points, 10 rebounds and 3 blocks through the first three games of a Finals series. Of those four players, three went on to win Finals MVP, and all four previous times, that player's team went on to win the NBA title.
The meaning: There was consternation among some in yesterday's Chatapallooza at the idea that Gasol could outdo Bryant for Finals MVP should the Lakers have the good fortune to win the series. Premature as it may be, the debate obscures the larger and far more important point: Bryant is getting help in the sequel that he didn't have previously. In '08, Kobe had his struggles, and the rest of the team wasn't able to relieve the pressure. This time around, whether looking at Gasol or Andrew Bynum or the defensive contributions of Ron Artest, Bryant isn't on an island. Which means the Lakers have a great chance to win another title, something that is more important to Lakers fans than who wins Finals MVP. Or should be.
Stat 3: Thus far in the NBA Finals, the team that has won the rebounding battle has won each of the first three games of this series.
The meaning: That's fairly clear, and it's an area in which the Lakers ought to continue doing well. Bynum has been a factor, adding a body to the mix that Boston hasn't been able to account for on the boards. Bynum and Gasol have more length than anyone the Celtics can throw at the glass. Even in Kevin Garnett's bounce-back Game 3, he was still outrebounded 10-6 by Gasol. For the Lakers, it's particularly important to mind Rajon Rondo on the glass. In Game 2, his 12 rebounds led both teams, and as a result, he was able to better ignite Boston's transition game, which blew up for 24 points. In Game 3, Rondo was limited to three rebounds, and although they were hot early, the Celtics had only eight points on the break in the final 44 minutes of the game.
Rebounding obviously impacts second-chance points as well, an area the Lakers have dominated (plus-19 for the series).
Stat 4: Derek Fisher's opponents went a combined 1-for-11 against him Tuesday night (Ray Allen 0-for-8, Rondo 0-for-1, Garnett 0-for-1, Paul Pierce 1-for-1).
The meaning: Fisher was both lucky and good in Game 3 on the defensive end. Certainly, Allen's tossing a doughnut against Fish (and everyone else for that matter) requires a little good fortune. He's too good a shooter to say anything else. But give Fisher credit: He's done well in part because he's physically strong and capable of working way through screens. And yes, he knows every trick in the book, which helps. The most important thing, however, is that he fits well into a solid team defensive scheme, making good choices to help maintain integrity on that side of the floor. The Lakers have held Boston to a very manageable 43.3 percent shooting through three games, and when L.A. has kept the Celtics in the half court and hasn't done them favors turning the ball over (averaging 10 in the two wins, 15 in Game 2), it has been effective.
For many, the storyline still centers on an explosive Lakers offense against the stingy Celtics D, but the defining matchup is probably the reverse. Can Boston get enough points on the board to win three of the next four games?
Stat 5: Since the 2-3-2 format was instituted for the 1985 Finals, teams that have won Game 3 of series tied 1-1 have gone 10-0. In NBA Finals history, teams that have won Game 3 of series tied 1-1 have gone 28-4. Teams going up 3-1 in a Finals have never lost (30-0).
The meaning: Math matters, so the significance of Tuesday's win can't be overstated. When a team needs only four victories, any series lead is massive. The Celtics have to take three of the next four games to win the series, including two on L.A.'s home floor, a tall order against an elite team. But with two left in the Garden, it's certainly possible. But should the Lakers win again Thursday night, then history, logic and virtually every other basketball indicator will say the series is over.
If you're interested, the Lakers are 13-3 in Finals and 43-5 in best-of-sevens overall when taking a 2-1 advantage, and should Boston tie things up Thursday night, take comfort in knowing that the Lakers have won 14 straight playoff games when the series is tied.