The Boston Celtics and Los Angeles Lakers will renew their heated rivalry for the 12th time in NBA finals history starting June 3rd at the Staples Center. The Celtics and Lakers have won a combined 32 of the 63 championships in league history. Boston is 9-2 in those finals matchups with Los Angeles, with the most recent championship (number 17) coming in 2008.
Boston has been by far the most surprising team in the 2010 NBA playoffs. Most experts had the Cavaliers reaching the finals against the Lakers. I have to give TNT’s Kenny Smith major kudos for being one of the few basketball analysts for saying all season long that the Celtics would come alive come playoff time. The Celtics are kind of like the chucky doll from the Child’s Play movies because you thought they were dead and buried in the regular season (27-27 after Christmas after starting the season 23-5), however they just keep finding a way to come back and never letting up.
Boston coach Doc Rivers has done a phenomenal job of managing his veteran’s minutes in the regular season and pushing all the right buttons in the postseason. Lakers coach Phil Jackson whose lead the Lakers to their 3rd consecutive NBA finals appearance will be looking for his 11th championship ring as a head coach and helping Kobe get his fifth championship overall. Both coaches are similar in the fact that both of them are great managers of big personality players.
The Celtics are a mentally tough team that believes in ball movement, finding the open teammate, and playing tough half-court defense. They scary part about their team is that have four all-stars in Rajon Rondo, Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen who don’t care about being the alpha dog on a game-to-game basis. The Celtics run a variety of offenses which include, but not limited to screen/rolls involving Rondo, lots of pick-and-pops with Garnett, Allen coming off screens for open threes and Pierce using his excellent mid range game in isolation and off screen/rolls with Garnett.
The Lakers are a team that uses the triangle offense, which emphasizes ball and player movement and allows the players to use their intelligence and instincts to attack the defense accordingly. With that said, it’s still all about Kobe Bryant in terns of scoring production and leadership, while trying to keep the other guys involved offensively most notably Pau Gasol.
Without further ado, let’s preview the Celtics-Lakers finals matchup.
Game 1 @ Los Angeles: Thursday, June 3rd-9:00pm ET (ABC)
Game 2 @ Los Angeles: Sunday, June 6th-8:00pm ET (ABC)
Game 3 @ Boston: Tuesday, June 8th-9:00pm (ABC)
Game 4 @ Boston: Thursday, June 10th-9:00pm (ABC)
Game 5 @ Boston: Sunday, June 13th-8:00pm (ABC)*
Game 6 @ Los Angeles, Tuesday, June 15th-9:00pm (ABC)*
Game 7 @ Los Angeles, Thursday, June 17th-9:00pm (ABC)*
How they got here: The fourth seeded Boston Celtics defeated the fifth seed Miami Heat 4-2 in the first round, the number one seeded Cleveland Cavaliers 4-2 in the Conference Semi-Finals and the number two seeded Orlando Magic 4-2 in the Eastern Conference Finals. Boston’s overall playoff record is 12-5 (7-2 at home, 5-3 on the road). The number one seed Los Angeles Lakers defeated the eighth seed Oklahoma City Thunder 4-2 in the first round, the fifth seed Utah Jazz 4-0 in the Conference Semi-Finals and the third seeded Phoenix Suns 4-2 in the Western Conference Finals. Los Angeles’ overall playoff record is 12-4 (8-0 at home, 4-4 on the road).
Regular Season Series: Boston and Los Angeles split their two regular season meetings. Los Angeles won 90-89 on January 31st at the TD Garden on a game winning shot by Kobe Bryant. Boston returned the favor by winning 87-86 in Staples Center on February 18th. It should be noted that Kobe Bryant did not play in the February 18th matchup due to an ankle injury.
Point Guard| Rajon Rondo versus Derek Fisher
Shooting Guard| Ray Allen (Jesus Shuttlesworth) versus Kobe Bryant (The Black Mamba)
Small Forward| Paul Pierce (The Truth) versus Ron Artest
Power Forward| Kevin Garnett (The Big Ticket) versus Pau Gasol
Center| Kendrick Perkins versus Andrew Bynum
Boston‘s key reserves:
Rasheed Wallace, F/C
Glen Davis, F (Big Baby, The Ticket Stub, Uno Uno)
Tony Allen, G
Nate Robinson, G
Los Angeles‘ key reserves:
Lamar Odom, F
Shannon Brown, G
Jordan Farmar, G
Sasha Vujacic, G (The Machine)
Key matchup: The Celtics’ big men versus the Lakers’ big men. The series will be won or lost on either side by the play of their respective frontcourt players. Even though Kevin Garnett is past his prime, he’s still a viable option in the low post for a Celtics’ team that expects to win the championship. Kendrick Perkins is an excellent low post defender and rebounder who will give the injured Andrew Bynum a lot of fits if he’s not somewhat nimble. It should be noted that Perkins is one technical foul from a possible suspension, so that’s something worth keeping an eye on as the series progresses. Rasheed Wallace is another good low post defender, screener and rebounder who will guard Gasol at times. Wallace can stretch the Laker defense with his ability to hit the 3 point shot and will occasionally hit a bucket or two in the low post. Glen Davis (6-9) is a little bit undersized at the power forward position compared to Gasol (7-1) and Odom (6-10), but nevertheless another big body for the Celtics that can come into the game, set solid screens, defend, rebound and knock down the open mid-range jumper with consistency. Gasol and Odom are the two frontcourt players that will get the majority of the minutes for the Lakers. Two years ago both players were often intimated to attack the rim with aggression due to the Celtics physical nature. Odom should be aided greatly by Bynum’s presence in the low post because now he comes off the bench and should fare better against the Celtics’ second unit. Gasol, a finesse player by nature, has made it a point of emphasis to bulk up in the weight room and as a result he’s become a much better defender and rebounder since the 2008 finals.
X-Factor: Artest, the mercurial forward boldly proclaimed back in July when he was signed by Los Angeles that if the Lakers were to lose the championship in 2010 that he would shoulder the majority of the blame. By all accounts, Artest has been a model citizen in Los Angeles. He’s given the Lakers a physical defender who enjoys the challenge of taking on the opposing team’s top scorer, while Bryant can focus primarily on scoring. Artest really struggled to find his groove offensively in the triangle offense throughout the regular season and the playoffs; however he’s been consistent on the defensive end all season long. Artest will be the X-factor in this series for several reasons. First of all his strength and strong/quick hands will be greatly needed to neutralize Paul Pierce who scored on the Lakers at will two years ago in rout to the finals most valuable player award. Pierce is very crafty and is adept at drawing fouls on defenders who crowd his space on the pump fake. Artest held Pierce to 13 points a game in the two regular season matchups. If Pierce has one weakness in his game is that he’s not very fast, so if a big defender is able to beat Pierce to his offensive spots, he can become ineffective. With the loss of James Posey to New Orleans a few seasons ago, Boston doesn’t have a defensive stopper with length who can make Kobe take difficult shots, therefore Paul Pierce will be a help defender and guess who that leaves open? You guessed it, Ron Artest. If Artest is hitting his shots with consistency this allow will Kobe to operate with single coverage.
The keys to victory for Boston:
Win one of the two first games in Los Angeles
Get Bynum in foul trouble
Be Physical with Gasol
Make Artest make quick decisions with the basketball
Keep Odom and Gasol off the offensive glass
Rondo must hit the foul line jumper to keep the Lakers’ defense honest
Make Kobe a jump shooter
Ray Allen must score at least 20 points in every game
Keep Kobe off the free throw line
The keys to victory for Los Angeles:
Gasol must embrace the physical challenge of the Celtics big men
Kobe must trust his teammates through good times and bad
Odom must look to attack the Celtics big men with his speed advantage
Ball movement: Make the veteran Celtics move from side to side
All five Lakers have to get back in transition to keep Rondo out of the paint and stop Pierce and Allen from hitting quick 3’s on the break
Fisher must fight through the screens so that Allen doesn’t have clean open looks behind the 3 point arc
Artest must make smart shot taking decisions
Bynum needs to be on the floor for at least 25 minutes a game so Gasol has a better chance of scoring in the low post against his man
Boston will win the championship if:
If they win the first two games in Los Angeles
Bynum can’t be effective on the floor
Bryant is forced to go one on five offensively
Rondo is able to play at his pace and controlling the tempo
The refs let the Celtics play overly physical defense on the Lakers’ big men
Garnett plays like he did two years ago in the 2008 finals in which he averaged 18 pts and 13 rebounds a game and held Gasol to 14.7 pts in the finals
Los Angeles will win the championship if:
Boston plays single coverage on Bryant
Artest shuts down Pierce and hits his jumper consistent: It’s important to note here that the Lakers are 6-0 in the playoffs when Artest has 14 or more points in a game
Rondo isn’t close to 75-80% healthy
Odom can rebound and score in the paint with consistency when he’s in the game
Prediction: I believe the will, focus, hunger and drive of Kobe Bryant will be too much for the veteran Celtics to overcome this time. Los Angeles is playing with a chip on their shoulder. Several veterans including Bryant, Gasol and Fisher are still disturbed to this day by 131-92 smack down that Boston put on them in game six of the 2008 NBA finals. Artest will lockdown Pierce and make him a non-factor in this series. Gasol and Odom will be aggressive enough to give the Lakers’ the much needed inside presence against the physical Boston frontline. I see the Lakers doing just enough to keep Rondo from a major impact on the series. I believe one could make a legitimate argument for either team winning this series. This is going to be the hardest championship for Phil and company to win, but in the end they will pull it out in six highly contested games.
Finals MVP: Kobe Bryant