Tuesday, June 8, 2010

What Do You Call a NBA Finals Preview Five Days Late?

Just late, I guess.  Working every day will do that.  We have two games in the books now and it's 1-1.  Good thing for Boston because they were playing for their lives on Sunday night in LA.  What's the takeaway?  Everything said up front still holds.  This, which I talked about here, seems to be validated and most talked about thus far:
 Last and maybe most noteworthy, the NBA game is IMPOSSIBLE to referee.  The game is so fast.  The players are so big and quick.  There is contact every time down the floor.  I thought the game was poorly refereed, but I also thought it was evenly refereed.  It really is a thankless and incredibly difficult job, particularly when you have two physical teams bringing the intensity that Boston and Orlando brought on Monday night.
Substitute Los Angeles for Orlando and change the date and it's pretty much good to go.

Here is a little background that I had written earlier and then we'll pick it up live a few paragraphs down.  Can't let prose like this just go to the bin.
The pundits, who all year long implore the fans to understand the significance of every game, the importance of home court advantage and the need to go into the playoffs on a roll, now tell us the regular season doesn't matter.  I'm sure David Stern is thrilled.  Blame the Boston Celtics.

When Team Celtics went to bed on Christmas night 2009 they were no doubt filled with turkey and pride. They had just finished dismantling the Orlando Magic, the defending Eastern Conference champions, 86-77.  Sweeter still, it took place in Orlando.  This was the same Magic team that had knocked the Celtics out of last year's playoffs with a 101-82 beatdown on the Celtics' home court in a pivotal Game 7.  The Magic had also beaten the Celtics earlier in the season in Boston.  But now a national television audience would be paying attention, and the Celtics were ready.  Paul Pierce wouldn't play due to injury, but no matter.  Their ferocious defense, unquestionably the signature feature in the Kevin Garnett-Big Three era, held the Magic to 27 first half points and 33% FG shooting on the day.  It was never really a contest.  Next stop California with games against league doormats the Clippers and Warriors.  2010 looked bright.

Yep, you got it.  I foreshadowed it for you right up front.  If you watched any of the playoffs, the media has beaten you over the head with it for a month straight.  The gory details include Boston finishing the season 27-27 following their holiday feast.  They lost seven of their last ten.  2010 appeared anything but bright as Boston limped into the playoffs.

The Los Angeles Lakers weren't much better losing five of their last seven, while Kobe shot terribly and Bynum tried to get healthy.
Then we played three rounds.  As both Boston and LA rolled two things became obvious and we got one of my favorite quotes of all time.

1.) Rajon Rondo is now the Celtics best player and he will largely determine, form Boston's side, whether they win or lose.  He destroyed Mo Williams and Cleveland in the second round playing one of the best playoff series ever by a point guard.*  His cramps in Game 4 against Orlando were probably the only reason the Magic weren't swept.  The chemistry issues that have swirled around the Celtics the past two years finally seem to be subsiding as evidenced by one of the most comical quotes ever, by Kevin Garnett on national television after the Celts beat the Magic in Game 6:
 Rondo's gettin' better, we fittin' him in.  At some point he's going to take this team over.  That's a big adjustment for us.  But he's a great addition to our team.  I think the chemistry's startin' to be sound now.
Of course Rondo was the starting point guard in 2008 when Boston won the title and he's been on the team a year longer than Garnett.  Details.  But it goes to show how deep the divide was.  Boston even considered moving Rondo this past off-season.  Danny Ainge talked about all of this on my radio show. You can here the podcast here.

*Best point guards in the league right now?  The second five in no order is Westbrook, Kidd--yea I know, but he's shot much better the last two years, can defend bigger guys and still sees the floor as well as anyone, Curry, Collison--yes he's a backup, but has to get moved, he's too good and Parker.  Yep, Parker's now out of the top five.  Next, in reverse order, Nash, he's getting older and can't defend, but still a fantastic player.  Rose.  Paul--didn't play enough last year to tell if he still his the ability to score at will.  Rondo.  Williams.  Basically throw the top four in a hat.

2.)  Kobe's still the man.  During the season the mantle of best player passed from Kobe to LeBron.  Two straight MVPs, Big O type numbers, constant highlight reel athleticism, a willingness to bring it every night and the best record on a team bereft of stars sealed the deal for LBJ.  Then LeBron had his Kobe moment* against the Celts.  James seemed disinterested in Game 2 and the Cavs lost 104-86 at home.  After Game 1 Cleveland lost four of five to get bounced pre-Finals for the second year in a row.  No one could figure out what happened to LeBron as the Cavs got whooped.  At the same time Kobe was going off.  He was brilliant against Phoenix in the Conference Finals which included a Game 6 performance that was Jordanesque as the Lakers won the clincher on the road.  Kobe's a killer.  The Black Mamba.  Now three straight years in the Finals.  When you play a team sport, you know who the best players are.  Players in the NBA still talk about Kobe as the best in the game.  Good enough for me.

*It will forever be debated if Kobe quit in Game 7 against the Suns in 2006.  A game the Suns won 121-90, winning the series after being down in the series 3-1.  Kobe took only three shots in the second half.

Now the Finals.  All the storylines are in place.  It's a rematch of 2008 when the Lakers got pushed around and Boston won title number 17, blowing out LA 131-92 in Game 6 to clinch it.  But, the Lakers are the titleholders, rebounding in 2009 to win it all while Boston, sans KG, got KO'd before the Finals.  Phil Jackson is 47-0 when winning game 1 of a series (and they won this one) and Boston's starting five has never lost a playoff series together.

For LA, Gasol is the most underrated all-star in a long time.  Artest is a presence, but erratic.   Odom is an enigma, but can dominate.  Fisher has proven his mettle in big games.  For Boston, Pierce has been a rock-solid big moment performer throughout his career, KG brings tremendous heart and intensity, but little offense, Allen is one of the best shooters of all-time, Perkins can defend in the low post.

But it really is very simple.  Kobe and Rondo will decide the series.  If Rondo can constantly get in the paint, create and distribute and still keep the defense honest with the occasional jumper Boston will score enough points and their defense can carry them.  If Kobe can get his 30-35 while keeping others involved when he gets doubled, if he can guard Rondo on the defensive end for stretches (because no one else can) and let other focus on Allen and Pierce, and if he can bring his intensity to the whole team the Lakers length and depth should prevail.

I really hope the storyline of the referees and the early foul trouble that turned Games 1 & 2 recedes into the background and we get to see the amazing talent that these two teams bring to the game.  Before Game 1 I said Lakers in six.  I'll still take Kobe over Rondo.  But only barely.  A split in the first two means we probably go seven.  Now you know what to look for.  Sit back and enjoy.

1 comment:

Backtoufoulke said...

Can't (or won't) quibble with anything here other than the timing. But a few things I would mention with help of two games:

1) KG is not going to be a big factor. He'll fight but he looks limited. Big minus for the Celts.

2) Bynum has been huge but watch that heavy workload from game two. If that knee doesn't bounce back, the Lakers bench melts and the Celts gain a big check in their column.

3) Kobe can guard Rondo OR Allen. Not both. The fact that Fisher can't guard either is a big problem for the Lakers.

4) Perkins is the worst offensive player on the court but Artest isn't far behind. HIs handle is ghastly.

5) The Boston bench is better. Baby is playing well and you can laugh, but Kobe doesn't go off against Tony Allen. Unless you conisder turning the ball over as "going off."

I am sticking with Celts in Six.