By Brad Thompson--
CHICAGO (WSCR) No one could have predicted that the defending conference champions would be in such deep holes so early in the playoffs. The Lakers and Celtics are both down two games to none and find themselves in must-win situations. Neither team is dead yet, but a loss in Game 3 would all but assure elimination. Is this the changing of the guard in the NBA?
While neither team is the top seed in their respective conferences, there was a feeling around the league that the Celtics and particularly the two-time defending champion Lakers would play for the title again this year. This may still happen, but the likelihood is slim if they don't win Game 3.
Los Angeles and Boston are staring at 0-2 series deficits and the Lakers are hitting the road for the next two games. During the regular season both teams had lackluster stretches, but because of their rings and experience, it always seemed like they could flip the switch when they needed to and especially come playoff time.
The Celtics are in better shape than the Lakers because their next two games are at home, but Miami is playing its best ball of the season right now. In the first two games of the Boston-Miami series, it seems like the Celtics were pressing. The Heat have frustrated them on both ends of the floor. In addition, the Heat are quicker to loose balls and are matching the Celtics' physicality.
Rarely, if ever, in years past have the Big 3 of the Celtics been as frustrated as they've looked and played in this series. Miami's trio of Wade-James-Bosh outscored Boston's Big 3 80-36 in Game 2. Paul Pierce had 13 points in 32 minutes and Ray Allen scored a measly 7 points on 2 of 7 shooting. Kevin Garnett finished with 16 points, but it took him 20 field goal attempts to do it and he didn't attempt a free throw in Game 2.
Boston's performance isn't without effort; they are playing hard – almost too hard. The Heat have taken them out of their rhythm especially offensively and have the Celtics playing a little bit faster than they'd like. Boston's stars seem to be forcing the issue and feeling the pressure of trying to outduel Miami's Big 3.
Not only is Boston in an unfamiliar postseason position down 0-2, but their aging stars are banged up. Allen went to the locker room in Game 2 with a bruised chest, Rondo was dealing with a sore, tight lower back and Pierce injured his Achilles last game. No one feels 100 percent healthy in the playoffs, but these injuries only slow down a Celtics team that's having trouble keeping up with the quicker, more athletic Heat.
The Lakers, who seemed bored or disinterested at times throughout the regular season, have always been able to turn it on when they needed to. Their offensive woes, especially in Game 2, have them up against the wall in the series and heading to Dallas.
To complicate things, Andrew Bynum voiced his concerns to the media after Game 2 and Ron Artest is likely to be suspended for Game 3 after clotheslining J.J. Barea near the end of Game 2. Bynum said the Lakers have trust issues. Even if this is the case, it's something that should be taken care of within the team and not in the media.
They aren't out of the series, but this will be the ultimate 'flipping the switch' test for Kobe, Phil and the Lakers. Los Angeles is certainly capable of winning two games in Dallas to even the series, but a loss in Game 3 puts them in an almost insurmountable 0-3 hole.
If Los Angeles or Boston can't win Game 3, it will shift the power structure in the NBA. For several years it has been the Lakers and Celtics wrestling for the championship. Now the door appears open for teams like Miami, Chicago, Oklahoma City and Dallas to assert themselves as the new dominant players in the championship race.
It's foolish to assume that Boston or Los Angeles are already finished, both teams have the superstars, coaches and team experience to comeback, but it's been quite a while since either team had their backs up against the wall so early in the playoffs. Game 3 is do or die.
Do you agree with Brad? Post your comments below.
Brad M. Thompson, a former college football player and coach, made his return to the Midwest in 2009 after fighting wildfires out West. He earned his master's degree from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University and covers the Big Ten Conference and Chicago sports. Follow him on Twitter at @Brad_M_Thompson. Find more of Brad's blogs here.
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