After five-games, the Western Conference Finals was decided with the Los Angeles Lakers overthrowing the defending champion San Antonio Spurs. For the fifth time in the 21st century, the Lakers are making the NBA Finals; the difference this go around is that it's the first time that Kobe Bryant has done it without the services of "The Diesel" Shaquille O'Neal. In the years after O'Neal's departure, the Lakers have gone through struggling seasons and times where Bryant didn't even want to be a Laker anymore. Now an MVP, and beside him a new big-man in Pau Gasol, Bryant and his "Lake Show" have found the greener side they've been yearning for, and only await Thursday, June 5th to play the Boston Celtics.
For the Boston Celtics, this year's NBA Finals trip will be their first in 20-years. 20-years since they met (ironically) the Los Angeles Lakers, and lost in six-games to a team led by the likes of Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul Jabar and James Worthy. The C's boasted the NBA's best record at 66-16, having completed one of the best turnarounds in the history of the League. Boston fought through back-to-back seven-game series against the Atlanta Hawks and Cleveland Cavaliers before finally breaking through on the road, and taking down the Detroit Pistons in six-games. This Celtics team is a far cry as far as team style and appearance from the teams in the 60's and 70's, with three big-name players that all have played at least 50 playoff games but never have made an appearance (until now) in the NBA Finals: Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen and the man who's been a Celtic for years now, Paul Pierce.
Boston and Los Angeles are two of the League's best who've been through widely different paths in getting to the Finals, but now share the same goal and the same floor for the next seven-game series. Who will win? I have no idea, but I'd like to at least take a crack at sifting through some of the mess to find a good prediction to settle on.
This post season, the story or bewildering trend has been the lack of winning by the road team. The Celtics were 0-6 on the road coming into the Eastern Conference Finals, and finally broke through by taking out the Pistons in Game 3, and doing it again to close out the series tonight at the Palace of Auburn Hills. As a well-informed fan (or at least I think so) that tells me that the Celtics have righted their ship, and are entirely ready to face off with the Lakers who've had nothing but clear skies this post season. The Lakers have only dropped three-games, all of which were on the road. Bryant has been the leading scorer for all but one game this post season - Gasol scored 36 in Game 1 against the Nuggets - and has been so balanced in his duties not only as a scorer but as a facilitator as well. The Lakers swept the Nuggets, took down the Jazz in six and closed out the Spurs in five, placing themselves in the Finals looking as good as they've ever been in 2007-2008.
For the Celtics, any worries of a struggling Ray Allen hindering them as they move forward have dissipated, as Allen put up 29-points in Game 5 and then in Game 6 he dropped 17. Allen has found his stroke, and the Celtics are continually getting support out of the studly Kendrick Perkins and the ever growing point guard Rajon Rondo. The Lakers, even when faced with deficits were able to fend off the Spurs attack and close out their series, and not even with the help of Bryant - or at least not the beginning of it. In Game 5 in Los Angeles, the Lakers were down by a bundle late in the game, and by the might of Jordan Farmar and other bench stars the Lakers started their comeback before Bryant finished it all off with 17-points in the 4th. The Lakers have Bryant, Odom and Gasol; the Celtics just cant find themselves forgetting about Farmar (8 PPG vs Spurs), Fisher (6 PPG vs Spurs), Vujacic (7 PPG vs Spurs), Walton (5 PPG vs Spurs) or Turiaf (1 BPG vs Spurs).
All of this amounts to in my mind to having to pick between Bon and Brian, Ronnie and Ozzy, or Dave and Sammy. Not much is jumping out at me enough before something else from the other side of the argument intervenes. I'm torn, man...
(sucks it up)
Mac's Outlook on the NBA Finals
X - Factor: The Defense
Kobe Bryant nine times out of 10 will be the leading scorer for the Lakers, but that doesn't mean the C's need to solely focus on the MVP. Occasionally doubling up and trapping Bryant is a necessity when playing him, but as we've seen since the trade for Gasol, the Lakers are a completely different team than before this season and offensively are far too balanced for any zeroing in on Kobe. The Celtics prided themselves on defense this year, now they've got to shift the tempo in their favor and pray they contain the dynamic and highly versatile and even deep offensive attack of the Lakers.
Los Angeles Lakers
X - Factor: Everyone Not Named Kobe Bryant
OK, so it seems like a cop-out, but in reality it's what is going to propel this team to their fourth NBA title in the 2000's. Bryant has averaged 32-points per game in the playoffs, including six-assists and five-rebounds. One way or another, he's gonna' get his points. And one way or another, the Celtics have to tie down someone else. They've got to keep another player silent from the field, whether it be Odom, Gasol, Vujocic, or all. And those players know that. They know that Kobe will be there ever night leading their parade, and they've got to be the bulls in that parade that take every chance given to them by Bryant. They've got to hit the open looks he gives them, and create their own shot when he's being bolstered by a stifling Celtic defense. The entire supporting cast for Bryant has been superb this post season, and exactly why they are now in the NBA Finals. If they expect to take down the best (record wise) team in the NBA, they've got to continue that.
Lakers in Seven.
The Mac Daddy likes the bench of the Lakers a hell of a lot more than he does the Celtics'. I've doubted this Laker team long enough. In my mind, if the Spurs couldn't handle them (and that's an understatement) then no one can. Not even the Big 3. 20-years later, the Lakers repeat history, just by one more game.
But I'll be pulling for the C's.