Celtics vs. Lakers. East Coast vs. West Coast. Team Defense vs. Showtime. Celtics have 17 championships, Lakers have 15. The two most successful franchises in the NBA will face off in the Finals for the 12th time. Boston has gotten the best of the Lakers in 9 out of 11 times they faced each other in the Finals, and I’m hoping Boston can make it 10.
After the Celtics beat Orlando at home in game 6, I officially became a Laker fan. I wanted a Celtic – Laker finals. Rooting for the Lakers in game 6 against the Suns felt a little wrong. They had a huge lead going into the fourth, but the Suns made a run. With the Suns on the verge of pulling off a great come from behind win, Kobe decided to take over the game and there was nothing the Suns could do about it. He was not going to be denied. Kobe made improbable shot after improbable shot and willed the Lakers to victory.
I have to admit, it was frightening to watch. I thought to myself, how the heck are the Celtics going to stop this guy in the 4th quarter? Well, the answer is …they can’t stop Kobe.
The Celtics will need to go back in time and use the same game plan Bill Russell used against Wilt Chamberlain. Wilt might have scored 40 points on the Celtics, but the Lakers still lost because the Celtics stopped the other 4 guys on the court. Team defense is once again the key to the series for Boston and they look up to the challenge. This is the best defense they’ve played as a whole unit since the last time the Celtics and Lakers played each other in the Finals 2 years ago. KG looks healthy and if he can defend like he’s capable of, the rest of the team will rally around him defensively.
NBA basketball is a game of matchups. The individual battles are what will win the series for either team. Let’s take a look at the key matchups by position.
Rajon Rondo and Ray Allen vs. Derek Fisher and Kobe Bryant. Advantage: Celtics.
Even though the Laker backcourt has the best player in the league, I still give the Celtics the edge. Fisher can not guard Rondo. And it’s been clear all season long and into the playoffs, if Rondo is successful, the team is successful. If Phil Jackson decides to switch and put Kobe on Rondo, then Fisher guards Ray Allen, again a mismatch for LA. Ray Allen will light it up on Fisher.
Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett vs. Ron Artest and Pau Gasol. Advantage: Lakers
Pierce will get his offense, but with Artest guarding him he will not dominate the same way he did against Orlando. Artest is too physical. One of the big reasons why Artest was brought here was to defend against a player like Pierce. Artest will force Pierce to shoot from outside. Pierce may have to guard Kobe at times as well and this will affect his legs on the offensive end. Gasol is one of the best Bigs in the game. He can do it all on the offensive end. KG will be asked to do a lot defensively, but his main assignment will be to stop Gasol. There has been a lot of talk about Gasol and how soft he is, but he’s more physical now than in 2008 and was a big reason why LA won last year. As for KG’s offense, he must hit a majority of his jumpers from outside if the Celtics are going to win the series.
Kendrick Perkins vs. Andrew Bynum. Advantage: Push
Bynum is still battling knee problems and this will limit his effectiveness. Perkins should have a good series but is one technical away from being suspended. History says he won’t be able to keep his cool for multiple games and will get a technical. If he gets suspended, it will certainly hurt the Celtics.
Which Lamar Odom will show up? If the focused Odom shows up every night, Advantage: Lakers
If Odom loses focus and Rasheed’s back is healthy enough, Advantage: Celtics.
The play of both Odom and Wallace can have a big impact on a game. Odom can do just about anything on the court. He can shoot from outside, can drive the lane, can get tip ins off of offensive rebounds, but he’s inconsistent. Wallace will have a big impact defensively and if his three pointer is going down, he can be a difference maker. As for the other members of the bench, both teams are pretty even with the exception of Big Baby. Davis can frustrate an opponent. He’s an energy guy that can rebound, draw a charge and hit open jumpers.
Bottom line, I think the Lakers have a slight advantage over the Celtics for this series. Lakers have home court, something they didn’t have in 2008. For the finals, the format will be 2-3-2. If this series goes more than 5 games, big advantage goes to the home team. If this series goes to a game 7, Lakers will be at home. The Lakers also have the best player on the planet, sorry Lebron but Kobe is better. Kobe looks better than ever in the playoffs this year and looks poised to earn his 5th championship.
But before we all crown Kobe and the Lakers champions, consider this, the starting 5 for the Celtics have yet to lose a playoff series together. That’s absolutely incredible. And consider the Celtics road to the Finals. The Celtics defeated Wade and the Heat, Lebron and the Cavs, and Howard and the Magic. Can they stop one more superstar during these playoffs? Celtics defeated the Cavs and Magic, two teams with the best record during the regular season. Celtics haven’t had home court since the Heat series and still won. This team has been here before and they are battle tested.
The end of the road is near and I’m hoping it will end with the Celtics earning their 18th championship. Banner 18. Just sounds good. And beating the Lakers would be icing on the cake.
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Written by johnw