No, we won’t see Bird and Magic. No, we won’t see Red Aurbach and we won’t get the old school Lakers. But what we will get is a classic finals matchup. Kobe and Pierce. Gasol and Garnett. Jackson and Rivers. Steve Nash and Dwight Howard aren’t the best the NBA has to offer, its Lakers versus Celtics.
There is a saying used well too much across sports, especially in the NBA: you can’t just flip a switch and turn on your game. Well, the Celtics proved that cliché wrong. The Celtics started out strong (28-13), but finished the year barely at a crawl (22-19). Rasheed Wallace looked like a $19 million waste of space and the Big 3 looked overmatched. Many picked them to lose to Miami in the first round. No one, and I mean no one (except for myself and Skip Bayless) took them to take down LeBron James. And everyone loved Orlando over Boston in the Conference Finals. And now here they are, back in the NBA Finals for the 21st time.
The Lakers, on the other hand, had a much easier path to the Finals. Clearly the best in the West, they cruised through the first three rounds. Oklahoma City was a nice appetizer, but there youth was no match for the been-there-done-that Lakers team. Utah couldn’t do much, especially considering they were missing Andrei Kirilenko and Mehmet Okur. The Suns’ zone defense did a number on LA, but Phil Jackson eventually figured it out and Kobe led them on.
The teams are different, although their cores have remained the same since they last met in June two years ago. Rajon Rondo has matured into superstar, and Kendrick Perkins has become a great defender. Rasheed Wallace and Nate Robinson provide energy off the bench. For the Lakers, Andrew Bynum has become a force down low and Ron Artest replaced Trevor Ariza. So are both teams better? Sure, but how much of a difference will they make?
Two years ago, the Celtics rode the back of the Big 3 to make the Finals. This year, Rajon Rondo brought them to the promise land. Rondo has been able to take over games, and he will pose a humongous problem to the Lakers. The biggest weakness for the Lakers all year has been at point guard. While Derek Fisher is clutch late in games and in big games, he is one of the worst defenders at his position. Russell Westbrook torched him for 20.5 points per game while Deron Williams and Steve Nash racked up 22 and 17.6 points per game respectively. Rondo is a better scorer then the three of them.
While Rondo has been the best scorer in the East, no one has been as dominant as Kobe Bean Bryant. This man cannot be stopped. Its only if he can withstand all of the injuries he’s had over the last three years, and if he is rested enough after playing nearly three straight years of tough basketball. Paul Pierce will do his best to contain the Bean, but you can’t stop him.
The battle down low will be key to this series. Not too long ago, Andrew Bynum had he knee drained, and the Lakers need him to be playing well to win. Pau Gasol has been historically soft, especially versus the Celtics. KG is fully healthy and should be able to mostly take Gasol out of the game. Kendrick Perkins won’t do much offensively, but should be able to contain Bynum, assuming he doesn’t receive a seventh technical foul and gets suspended.
There are three X-Factors to this series: Rasheed Wallace, Lamar Odom, and Nate Robinson. Whichever player is best off the bench will play a huge role in determining who will win this series. If Rasheed plays like he is 28 and not 35, the Lakers will have no chance. Odom is a two faced player, like a player on a sugar high and low. He can have 19 point/19 rebound performances like in Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals, or he can put up a 3-12 shooting night like in Game 7. Odom is clearly one of the most talented players in the league, but he doesn’t always have the motivation. Nate will likely only come in when Rondo is on the bench, but he is a one of the most electric players in the league and can provide offense by the bunches.
In the end, the Celtics are a more mature team with more winners. They have four Hall of Famers (Pierce, Garnett, Allen, and Wallace) with another potential HOFer on the way (Rondo). The Lakers haven’t faced a defense as stringent as that of Boston in a long time. Players like Ron Artest, Andrew Bynum, and Lamar Odom are too risky to be depended on in the key moments. Now that Kobe has his ring without Shaq, he’s gone into Selfish Kobe mode, more focused on the scorecard then the rings.
Boston has made 20 finals and won 17. Boston has faced the Lakers 11 times in the finals, winning 9. Boston has won 32 road games this season most in the leauge, and they will take one of the first two games in the Staples Center before closing it out on the road. We will see one tough series with lots of hostilities. Boston will take home the hardware in 7.