Seven immediate overreactions in the wake of the Celtics' 91-84 Game 3 loss -- or one for each game I believe this series is going . . .
1. That was just . . . aggravating. If you've got a better word for what transpired at the Garden tonight, let me know. The Celtics came out of the gates looking like the night would be theirs, Kevin Garnett immediately quieted his growing chorus of doubters will the first six points, and it looked like the home team might pull away. Then, before you knew it, the offense had gone frigid and lost any semblance of flow, the Lakers sizzled, and the deficit was double figures. I suppose they deserve some credit for chipping what was once a 17-point LA lead down to six after three quarters and just one early in the fourth, but even that was frustrating. On the multiple occasions when they had the chance to tie or take the lead, inevitably, something would go wrong, be it a physical mistake, a mental error, a missed shot, an offensive foul, a bad bounce, a Ray Allen clank. It would be easy to write it off as one of those nights, but those nights are tough to afford in the Finals, particularly in the always pivotal Game 3.
2. Positives for the Celtics, if you're interested in such things: KG, who submitted pretty close to a vintage Big Ticket performance with 25 points on 11 of 16 shooting. He was aggressive from the get-go, and his matchup with Pau Gasol (13 points, one flop so egregious that even Manu Ginobili thought it was a little much) is back to being a relatively even one. Big Baby came up with some big hoops, finishing with 12 points, Sheed nobly battled Gasol despite a back issue that's clearly killing him, and Tony Allen was Good Tony tonight, scoring seven points, resisting the temptation to dribble and letting Rondo bring the game to him, and defending Kobe doggedly and with discipline until he had to leave to get eight stitches after Kobe probably accidentally kicked him in the face.
3. From Jordan '92 vs. the Blazers to DJ '78 vs. the Bullets in the matter of one game. I'd be amazed at the ridiculous peaks and valleys of Ray Allen over these past two games if I weren't so aggravated and, well, puzzled. He had good looks, the same looks he had during his historic first half in Game 2. He got the ball in his favorite spots. Yet he missed. And missed. And missed. And missed, 13 in a row all told, and it was only appropriate that he even missed a bunny on an offense foul call on Garnett in the final minutes. Maybe his legs were tired -- as Doc Rivers pointed out in the postgame, the majority of his misses were short and flat, a telltale sign. Maybe the charley horse on the Ron Artest cheap shot (I should probably be more specific) in the early minutes affected him. Maybe it just wasn't his night. Or maybe you just shouldn't bother trying to explain the inexplicable. Looking at the stat sheet, though, it stands out that he played 42:09, second only to Rondo (42:28). I understand the idea of letting him shoot his way out of it -- that's almost always a good policy with Allen. But perhaps tonight -- and yes, this is wholly with the benefit of hindsight -- maybe a little more rest along the way would have served him well.
4. Derek Fisher seems like a swell guy. He's a four-time champion, as Mike Breen likes to remind us every time the Lakers' point guard touches the basketball. He's probably as classy as Breen tells us after every time he's interviewed. He's smart, experienced in these moments, savvy, rarely unnerved. He's going to make a hell of a coach someday if that's what he desires. But . . . but . . . BUT. . . there is absolutely no way the Celtics should allow a short, 34-year-old who chronically plays to his strong hand to drop 16 points on them, let alone 10 in the decisive quarter. I know Fisher has done this before, and it's why he'll be remembered long after the final buzzer sounds on his career. But he should not be able to do it now, against this team, under these circumstances, with so much at stake.
5. I really thought Paul Pierce was going to get it going, that he'd be the one to hit the big shot to put the Celtics over the hump. He's done it so many times before to salvage dismal (by his standards) performances that it seemed reasonable to expect it again, particularly after he drilled the 3 to cut the Lakers lead to 78-76 with 4:10 left. But it never happened -- he scored just two more baskets, both within the final 40 seconds. I've seen enough from Pierce through the years to believe he's going to deliver some huge shots in victory before this series is through -- his hero complex is both among his greatest assets and greatest flaws. It might help if he could turn Ron Artest's aggression against him and start getting to the line more often -- he shot just three free throws tonight.
6. I hate to give Phil Jackson any credit because . . . because I hate to give Phil Jackson any credit and I shouldn't have to explain that around here. He's the only person I've ever seen who can patronize me through the television screen. (Don't condescend me, man . . . ) But his trademark smug, snarky, oh-so-casual griping about the officials after Game 2 paid off tonight -- the Lakers were called for 20 fouls to the Celtics' 27. And Jackson also deserves -- sigh of resignation -- more praise for dusting off Luke Walton, who defended Pierce better than you'd expect and finished a plus-13 in 13 minutes of playing time.
7. Watching Comcast SportsNet New England's postgame show as I write this. Gary Tanguay is talking about the "maturation" of Kobe Bryant. Uh, not what I saw. Kobe shot 10 for 29, bickered with Lamar Odom in a late huddle, and fired up some absolutely Antoinesque heaves down the stretch. There are many better games than this one to praise Kobe. The Celtics had better hope Game 4 isn't one of them, or Pierce's unfortunate gum-flapping proclamation that this series isn't going back to LA may prove truer than he ever imagined.
(OK, that was too ominous. It's going seven. And I'm going to keep telling myself that, thank you.)
About Touching All The Bases
Irreverence and insight from Chad Finn, a Globe/Boston.com sports writer and media columnist. A winner of several national and regional writing awards, he is the founder and sole contributor to the TATB blog, which launched in December 2004. Yes, he realizes how lucky he is.