NBA finals, Lakers Celtics Game 7: Is losing Kendrick Perkins that big a deal?

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Thumbnail image for Perkins_hurt.jpgThey’re done for, right? Boston’s defense without Kendrick Perkins in the middle — that’s a donut. A donut the Lakers are eying like Homer Simpson. Right?

Not exactly.

If the Lakers could roll out a healthy Andrew Bynum then yes, no Perkins would likely mean a dunk fest. But Bynum is dragging around his own bum leg, and the Celtics have stopped fearing him on offense. Perkins had been helping off Bynum to Pau Gasol or any Laker driving the lane.

Bynum may now be matched up on a smaller defender to start the game, but he can’t really exploit that.

Gasol, on the other hand, is the one people see going off without Perkins pushing him around. But that’s not necessarily true. I watched all of Gasol’s shots after Perkins went out in Game 6 and — once you remove all the easy transition and offensive rebound buckets — he was 3 for 9 shooting.

He had a nice turnaround over Rasheed Wallace, and had a beautiful left-handed hook over Kevin Garnett at one point. But he also missed an in-the-key fade away over Big Baby as well as a quick a turnaround in the lane over him. He missed on one post up move on Garnett. The Celtics were able to push him off his spot.

What Perkins provided in the halfcourt others can provide — Sheed is long and can be a good post defender, Big Baby can provide that physical presence. Both can slow Gasol if Boston can keep the game in the half court.

Where Gasol can exploit any Celtics defender is if he beats them down the court in transition or they do not box him out on the boards. The Celtics without Perkins were very guilty of both of those last game. Both are also correctable mistakes, things that simply require focus.

The same rules apply to Lamar Odom — in the halfcourt he has struggled all series against Boston. But if he is allowed to get a rebound then run out and lead the break he is very dangerous. Boston needs to keep him caged.

More Sheed could be key in another way — his ability to shoot the three can pull Gasol out away from protecting the basket. He can open up the floor for the slashing drives of Rajon Rondo or Paul Pierce. Big men who can stretch the floor have been a problem for the Lakers all season.

Certainly Boston is going to be missing something without the fire of Perkins defending the paint. But for one game, against these Lakers, it does not have to be a championship-costing injury to the Celtics. If their other big men can execute.

Al Horford had to tell Aron Baynes to take the ball to the basket (VIDEO)

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Boston’s Aron Baynes has seen his minutes increase the past couple of games of the Eastern Conference Finals as Brad Stevens tries to match up better with Cleveland’s Tristan Thompson.

Baynes is a solid big man who can step out and hit a three, but he’s not exactly blessed with the offensive gene — he’s no natural scorer. Sometimes it’s not even clear he knows where the basket is.

Such as on this fourth quarter play from Monday night, where Al Horford has to point Baynes to the rim and tell him to go there.

It worked. This time.

Baynes, Horford and the Celtics made things interesting in the second half, but could not overcome their early deficits and lost Game 4 to the Cavaliers 111-102, tying the Eastern Conference Finals at 2-2.

Fast start, LeBron James enough for Cavaliers to hold on to win, even series

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For the first time in 11 days, we had an NBA playoff game that finished with a single-digit margin. Barely.

It didn’t look like it would be early — Boston missed lay-ups and dunks all through the first quarter, LeBron James was being LeBron James, and the Cavaliers had a 16 point first quarter lead. It was 15 at the half.

But these Celtics would not go quietly.

Boston started to find it’s offensive groove — hunting Kevin Love incessantly — but in the end couldn’t get enough stops because, well, LeBron James. He finished with 44 points on 17-of-28 shooting, his sixth 40-point game of these playoffs. He got wherever he wanted on the floor all night, carving up the top-ranked regular season defense of the Celtics like a surgeon. No other Cavalier had more than 14 points (Kyle Korver), but the supporting cast played enough defensive and made hustle plays to hang on.

@realtristan13 with the swat and @kingjames with the finish!

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Cleveland got the win, 111-102, and evened the series at 2-2. Game 5 is Wednesday night back in Boston.

What Celtics fans can feel good about is their team’s resilience and grit. Down big for the second-straight game on the road in the Eastern Conference Finals, the Celtics fought back from as much as 19 down earlier in the game to get it to single digits and make the fans in Quicken Loan Arena nervous in the fourth quarter. That is something the team can carry over to Game 5, as they can some defensive tweaks that shut down opportunities for Korver and the rest of the supporing cast.

What should bother Celtics fans was another night where they struggled to generate offense in the face of more intense defensive pressure.

That came from the opening tip, with the Celtics missing a few layups and a couple of Jaylen Brown dunk attempts — all of which allowed the Cavs to get early offenses and mismatches going the other way. Those missed shots fueled a 10-0 Cavaliers run that had Cleveland up 19-10 early. The Celtics shot 3-of-10 at the rim in the first quarter, shot 26 percent overall, and trailed 34-18 after one.

The second quarter saw the Celtics start to find their offense — they scored 35 points on 50 percent shooting — but they only gained one point on the Cavaliers lead because Boston couldn’t get stops. LeBron had 22 points on 8-of-11 shooting in the first half to pace a Cleveland team that shot 61.5 percent overall and hit 6-of-11 threes. That’s why the Cavs were up 68-53 at the half.

The Celtics energy was better than Game 2, but in the first half they looked like a young team, one that made a lot of mistakes.

In the second half, the Celtics started to figure things out — they started making the extra pass, they got stops for stretches, they looked more like a young team figuring things out. They finished the night with 25 from Jaylen Brown, 17 from Jayson Tatum, and Terry Rozier had 16 points and 11 assists.

They just couldn’t completely close the gap because they couldn’t get consistent stops — the Cavaliers shot 60 percent as a team for the game, and a ridiculous true shooting percentage of 59.6. Cleveland mercilessly hunted Rozier on switches — forcing him on to LeBron or Kevin Love then attacking — and the Cavs got enough from their role players. Tristan Thompson did what he needed to bringing energy in the paint and some defense, plus he had 13 points. Korver was diving on the floor for loose balls. Larry Nance Jr. had his second good game in a row. George Hill had 13 points.

And whenever the Cavaliers needed a play, they had LeBron to turn to. He set another NBA record on Monday night, most playoff field goals made for a career.

LeBron is what needs to worry Boston most of all. The Celtics will be better at home in Game 5 — they have not lost in TD Garden all postseason — but if this thing goes seven, it’s a dangerous thing when the other team has the best player on the planet.

LeBron James passes Kareem to become all-time leader in playoff made field goals

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LeBron James is already the NBA’s all-time leading playoff scorer, having passed Michael Jordan last postseason.

However, LeBron racked up his buckets in the era of the three-point shot (as did Jordan, to a lesser extent), so Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was the all-time leader in field goals made in the postseason. A lot of them beautiful skyhooks that still give Celtics fans nightmares.

Monday night, LeBron made history passing Abdul-Jabar for the top spot in NBA playoff made field goals.

Just add that to the already insane resume.

Kevin Love with insane touchdown outlet to LeBron James for bucket

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Not sure what part of this was better.

Was it Kevin Love‘s length-of-the-court outlet touchdown pass that was right on the money, where only the receiver could get it?

Or was it LeBron James, with a catch in a crowd that would make Julio Jones’ draw drop?

Either way, this first quarter bucket from the Cavaliers may well be the play of the game.