When the Lakers' defense is operating at its best, it looks a lot like what the Celtics' implement. Both teams like to strangle opponents in the half court by situating help defenders within a step of the lane. The Lakers and Celtics are poised to trap off any action, be it a pick-and-roll or dribble penetration. Clear one layer of the defense and there's another guy waiting in your path. If you reverse the ball, you better shoot it quickly because the cavalry is coming.
When you have defenders who are intuitive and energized, this scheme plays like good choreography. The Celtics had it working in Game 5. Tuesday night in Game 6, it was the Lakers' turn to display their defensive instincts. The Lakers pressured the Celtics all night, making life particularly miserable for Paul Pierce. The defense was all the more stifling because Kobe Bryant continued to play rover, sloughing off Rajon Rondo in the half court to plug holes and double-team the ball. Bryant's strategy was nothing new, but the Lakers' quickness to the ball, readiness on ball screens and relentlessness on those traps were unprecedented. Literally. The Lakers' defensive rating of 75.3 on Tuesday night was their best mark of the season -- and far and away the Celtics' worst offensive output since opening night.
It's commonplace to chalk up any strong Lakers' defensive performance to" length," but Tuesday night's effort was far more about quickness and savvy (the longest Laker, Andrew Bynum, logged only 12 minutes). It was inspiring stuff and a sharp reminder that the Celtics don't have the only deed on the parcel between the basket and the arc.