Back when the NBA playoffs started in April, who had the Lakers and Celtics meeting in the NBA Finals for the 12th time? Stop lying, I don’t believe you. The Lakers? Probably. The Celtics? As Chad Ocho “I’m not good at football anymore” Cinco would say…”child please.” The Celtics were considered by some (not me) to be a first round out vs Miami. They sent Dwyane Wade and the Tito Jackson’s home in 5. They pulled the stunner over Cleveland, potentially ending NBA basketball in Cleveland as we know it. Yes, I still think LeBron is leaving for the Bulls. Then they took out the defending conference champs and the best big man in the game in 6. That’s a pretty damn good playoff run for a team that was considered to be more washed up then Ken Griffey and Ric Flair. The Lakers found their playoff groove in the Oklahoma series after stumbling early, and have been rolling since. They were expected to get here and are. It’s a dream scenario that NBA has– that and the nonstop July 1 free agency talk. The two most storied franchises in the history of the league battling it out for league supremacy. One last dance between the teams with 32 NBA championships and 50 Hall of Famers. The history of this rivalry alone will provide memorable clips from the past that is worth this matchup alone. For one last dance, a younger generation can have 2 Finals between these teams to remember. Fans and media love nostalgic moments. I grew up watching the Celtics and Lakers going at it like two heavyweights brawling for the world title. Magic Johnson and Larry Bird brought the NBA back from the abyss. They did for the NBA what Eddie Murphy did for Saturday Night Live and my view of comedy. Cherish these moments, I’m telling you. These Finals will give us even more memories than we already have, and I’m already excited for it.
It’s sad to think that this, very well, could be the last time these teams meet in the Finals for the foreseeable future. The Lakers face the uncertainty of Phil Jackson’s future, Derek Fisher on the brink of being a starting caliber point guard, Andrew Bynum’s creaky knees, having Ron Artest under contact for 4 more years, and the eventual decline of the greatest player in the game. The Celtics? They have even more questions going forward. Will Doc Rivers return to the team’s bench next year? Will Ray Allen walk as a 34 year old free agent? Will Paul Pierce opt out and join the greatest free agent class in league history? Have we seen the last great games by Kevin Garnett? Will Rajon Rondo get over his phobia of not wanting the ball in the clutch moments of 4th quarters? Will Danny Ainge still be a douche bag? That, I know for sure is happening. Will Kendrick Perkins ever not be the biggest fake hard ass in the game?
All of these questions remain to be answered. It’s why I believe we are about to witness the last grudge match between these two teams for the next decade plus. If LeBron and Chris Bosh sign with the Bulls, the East is a wrap for the next 6-8 years, and that’s not an argument. The Lakers will remain in the thick of the Western Conference title picture, but how will they look as Kobe ages and Phil leaves? It won’t be the same, I can promise you that. There’s also the 2011 lockout that we are headed towards. It’s almost a certainty, and we have no idea what the new labor laws will be. It will affect how teams are constructed, how long teams can stay together, how deep of a team you can have, and what bad current contracts will be grandfathered in. Again, more questions as the league moves forward.
There is also the fact that the teams that have tanked the past two years will again start trying, once this free agent period is over. Too many teams have tanked the past 2 ,not even trying to compete (I’m looking at you Miami and New York….As DX would say…..Suck It), which has lead to far too many bottom feeder teams. As the competitive balance swings back to some form of parity, it will be harder for teams to make repeat trips back to the Finals. It’s why I hope NBA and basketball fans cherish this Celtics- Lakers series, and appreciate all of the ones that came before this one. Let’s break down the keys to the series…..
Remembering the ’08 Finals: The sting of blowing a 25 point lead in Game 4, and getting their asses handed to them like a woman on Basketball Wives in game 6 provides the Lakers with plenty of motivation. That 39 point drubbing wasn’t that close. The series wasn’t that competitive either. The Lakers have the better team this time around. Even with Andrew Bynum looking like the WrestleMania 6 version of Andre The Giant, he could still provide some early offense for L.A. The Celtics punked the Lakers in that series, but with the presence of Ron Artest, that should change. Artest has been on a ’96 Rodman- like behavior swing which has been as surprising as Sex and The City 2′s horrendous opening weekend. He could still pop off at any moment (like when Garnett gives him an elbow after the whistle), but so far he’s made the Laker’s decision to sign him instead of Trevor Ariza look brilliant. This isn’t the same Celtics team as in ’08. They are playing extremely well, but not having James Posey and PJ Brown this time around will hurt. As iffy as the Lakers bench can be, the Celtics have their own issues. You have no idea what Rasheed Wallace will give you. Nate Robinson proved he didn’t die after the slam dunk contest, Tony Allen is 3 missed layups away from setting the all-time NBA record, and Big Baby Davis could be gun shy after getting Tyson’d by Dwight Howard.Paul Pierce was the ’08 Finals MVP, but he’ll have a hard time vs Artest. Pierce has shown his age some in these playoffs. He gets tired in the 4th quarter of games more frequently than ’08. With Artest blanketing him most of the time, it will be impossible for him to come close to those ’08 numbers.
Random Tangent: Speaking of Basketball Wives, how could so many NBA players marry and or date those women? I mean Michael Olowokandi’s ex wouldn’t be doable if you had 13 beers in you. I know Olowokandi was a horrible player, but has there ever been a number 1 pick who scored a worse broad? I did enjoy Evelyn (Antoine Walker’s ex), however. If Antoine had half the stones and heart she has, he wouldn’t be dead broke, and he might still be playing for some dog shit team in need of an un-athletic wing player who only shoots 3′s, and dances like one of the Matador’s at Bulls games.
Kobe Will Find It Tougher To Operate In This Series: The NBA’s surgeon of scoring was simply out of his damn mind vs Utah and Phoenix. He dominated the Suns series as if the Suns were playing a zone defense. Oops. Wait, they were?! How did that work out for them? You can’t play zone for extended periods in the NBA against good teams. They will find the holes and exploit it. Even a Vinny Del Negro led team could put up points against it. Okay, maybe not. Let’s move on. The Celtics aren’t at their ’08 defensive level, but they still play as good of team defense as anyone. Bryant will have to work harder on defense covering Rondo. This will take away from his energies somewhat. Doc Rivers and Tom Thibodeau created a great plan against Kobe in ’08. Can they do it again? Not at the level Kobe is playing at right now. He has his legs under him, he seems fresher than the last 2 playoff runs, and he is determined to avenge those ’08 Finals. Beware of The Mamba…
Is Pau Gasol Still Softer Than Tissue Paper?: The 2nd best big man in the game has been outstanding in the ’10 playoffs- 20-11-3-2, and has dispelled the thoughts the Celtics had after the ’08 series. The Celtics said he was soft and proved to be right. The difference now is Gasol has not only found a weight room, but he’s found out what it’s like to be Kobe Bryant’s teammate. He has improved his mental and physical toughness. How he performs against Garnett, Perkins, and Wallace will help decide the series. I can’t lie, I’ve often thought Gasol is so good because he smells like calamari, and nobody wants to go near him. Look at him in this series, and see if you can see what I am.
The Lakers have the homecourt: Always so crucial in the NBA. More so than in any other sport. Plus the Finals implement the 2-3-2 format which is a killer for the road team. It’s nearly impossible to win all 3 home games unless you have the refs on your side like the Heat did in the ’06 Finals. That’s what you get for being a dick to the league, Mark Cuban. That still makes me smile. I smile at those Finals almost as much as I would if Sasha Vujacic was forced to go 10 rounds with Manny Pacquiao.This can’t be ignored….The Lakers are 28-3 in their last 31 home playoff games. Their bench players like Sasha Vujacic, Shannon Brown, and Jordan Farmar all play better at home. That’s a Captain obvious statement, but the homecourt is such a huge factor. Keep this in mind when the series goes back to L.A.
Rajon Rondo Needs To Step Up Down The Stretch: Any chance I get to use MJ’s “down the stretch” line, I have to do it. Rondo has been sensational in these playoffs. He is a top 3 point guard according to the Louie Scale. The scale goes Rose 1, Rondo 2, and Deron Williams 3. What I want to see from Rondo is to not shy away from stepping up and making big jumpers….wait for it……down the stretch of games. The rest of his game is lethal. If he can start to, consistently, knock down 4th quarter J’s, the Lakers will be in trouble. This Celtics team hasn’t lost a series in the past 3 years when they’ve been healthy, and they will need Rondo to play the beast he is to keep that streak alive. If he doesn’t “man up” and be the best player on his team, his playoff averages of 17-10-5 will be quickly forgotten.
I Feel Bad For Derek Fisher: First, I have to give the man his due. I thought he was done by Christmas. He looked old, slow, and unable to consistently make long range shots anymore. He, either, was saving his legs or found the Hot Tub Time Machine. Either way, he’s been fantastic in this playoff run. He’s a steady leader who doesn’t get enough credit for keeping Kobe sane during the early stages of the ’07-’08 season when Kobe still wanted out of town. He will move up in Lakers lore with another big shot or two in this series. I feel for him because he’s about to run an extra 2 miles a game chasing Ray Allen around. The Lakers have to play Kobe on Rondo to save his legs, so that means Fisher is on Allen. Get some rest D Fish. You’ll need it.
These Are The Kobe Finals: As I wrote the other day, Kobe has been waiting for this rematch for 2 years. It eats at him like coke residue has eaten away at Lindsay Lohan’s nose. All great Lakers need to beat the Celtics in the Finals.Wilt never did. Neither did Jerry West or Elgin Baylor. Magic did though. Kobe isn’t just chasing Jordan’s 6 titles, he’s driven to be the greatest Laker ever. If he wins this championship, he cements his legacy forever. He affirms my point of him being the 3rd best guard ever (Behind MJ and Magic. Ahead of Oscar, West, and Baylor), he is in the greatest Laker ever discussion with Magic, and he puts his past playoff failures to rest (’04 Finals, ’06-’07 losses to Suns, and the ’08 Finals vs Boston. Don’t think the maniacal Kobe doesn’t know all of this going in. He can say he doesn’t care about playing Boston, but I know better. You should too. This is the last time these storied franchises will meet in the Finals for a long time. Enjoy the last dance between them, but know there’s one man who will determine this series. You know who that is…..I said it earlier this week, revenge is Kobe’s….Lakers in 6.
Why am I going with the Lakers? Because this guy won’t let them lose…..