NBA Finals preview -- Two Cents style
This is the matchup everyone wanted. It's the matchup we all saw coming months ago. Everything until now has been merely the appetizer before the main course. Thursday night the best rivalry in NBA history is renewed as the Lakers and Celtics begin playing each other for the NBA title for the 11th time, but the first since the Bird-Magic days of 1987. Among the key ingredients that remain are the parquet floor in Boston and Jack Nicholson sitting courtside in L.A. But best of all, not only are these clearly the best teams in the NBA, but just like the days of Magic and Bird, the series is loaded with stars -- Kobe Bryant, Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, Phil Jackson. It's a series fitting for this historic rivalry. Here's a Two Cents breakdown of the series, its history and the pick for which team will win it all. (Hey, I correctly picked the Red Wings in six for the Stanley Cup, so I could go 2-for-2.)
The Celtics won both regular-season meetings, and the games weren't even close: 107-94 at Boston and 110-91 at Los Angeles. But two things to remember: Both games were played before the Lakers traded for Pau Gasol, and Celtics guard Tony Allen helped hold Bryant to 28 and 22 points in the matchups. There's a chance Allen won't play because of an Achilles' tendon injury, but he did practice Wednesday. How effective will he be? Well, it's hard to cover Kobe with two good legs.
Who wants it more?
Boston's Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen have two things in common: They are great players, and none of them has won an NBA title. This Celtics team was assembled to win the title. Meantime, Bryant has won three titles, but none without Shaquille O’Neal. He's out to prove he can win without Shaq. Who wants it more? My money is on KG. By the way, this is interesting: If Bryant wins the title, he will have more at his age (29) than Michael Jordan did at 30.
As if the renewal of the NBA's greatest rivalry isn't enough, another juicy bit of history comes into play. Jackson has won nine NBA titles as a coach. He's tied for most ever, and a Finals victory would give him sole possession of first place, ahead of … Celtics legend Red Auerbach.
Two more story lines
Yeesh, this series is full of story lines. Keep an eye on Bryant and Allen. The two don't care for each other. It stems from Allen popping off about Bryant when L.A. traded Shaq. Meantime, guess who said this: "As a kid, I hated the Celtics.'' That would be L.A. native Pierce, now a Boston star.
The best of the rivalry
You can't talk about this matchup without paying homage to the best moments in Lakers-Celtics history. Here are the top five:
1. Magic Johnson hits his "junior sky hook'' at Boston Garden to win Game 4 as the Lakers go on to beat the Celtics in six games in 1987.
2. After falling behind 2-0 in the series and not having won in Los Angeles all season, the Celtics overcome the NBA Finals-MVP performance of L.A.'s Jerry West to win Game 7 on the road 108-106 and the 1969 title.
3. The Memorial Day Massacre: The Celtics beat the Lakers 148-114 in Game 1 of the 1985 Finals. But the Lakers rally to win the series in six.
4. Boston great Bill Russell scores 30 points and pulls down — get this — 40(!) rebounds as the Celtics win Game 7 in 1962. This comes after L.A.'s Elgin Baylor scores a Finals-record 61 points in Game 4.
5. Inspired after being called "sissies'' by Larry Bird, the Celtics rally behind the MVP and win the 1984 Finals in seven games, a series that featured several hard fouls and bad blood.
O vs. D
The Lakers, behind MVP Bryant, had the fourth-best offense in the league this season, averaging 108.6 points per game. Led by Bryant's 31.9-point average, the Lakers are averaging nearly 106 points in the playoffs, best in the NBA. Meantime, the Celtics have the top defense in the playoffs, allowing a little more than 87 points per game. So what wins championships, offense or defense? We shall soon find out, but history in the NBA suggests defense. The big key is that Boston has to figure out how to stop Bryant. The Lakers have to figure out how to stop Garnett. And Pierce. And Ray Allen, who might have woken up from his playoff slumber. Boston has a little more offense than Los Angeles has defense.
Breaking it down
The Lakers have a little more going for them than Bryant. Gasol who should keep Garnett busy on defense, is averaging nearly 19 points and eight rebounds. And Lamar Odom averages 14 and 10, along with 3.5 assists. We know about Boston's big three, but Rajon Rondo is playing well at point guard with 10 points and five assists, as well as playing great defense. And the Celtics can turn to veteran Sam Cassell if Rondo isn't productive. Give the bench edge to Boston but the coaching edge to the Lakers. It's really a coin flip to pick a winner. Well, a coin flip or home-court advantage.
Seems as if everyone is picking the Lakers, but winning titles comes down to three things: team chemistry, team defense and playing at home. The Celtics have all three. Boston in seven.