Before you read on, I want to give everyone a warning; if you are a Celtics
fan, like I am, be prepared to gag. This is the toughest article I've ever had to write, an article comparing my favorite team, the one Celtics' championship team I've ever witnessed, to their despised, loathed rival from the west.
Yeah. I'm going to compare the 2007-2008 Boston Celtics to the current Lakers
. I hate myself for it, and I'll probably spend the next few nights laying restless hoping God, or at least Red Auerbach, will forgive me for my blasphemous thoughts.
The comparisons are just too evident, even for a Celtics homer like me, to overlook. First, let's talk about the rosters. Last year's Celtics were star-studded, with three future hall-of-famers. The "Big Three", though, all had one criticism, which is that they had never won anything.
Well, the Lakers' big guns all have the same criticisms. Yeah, Kobe won three championships, but he's looking for his maiden title as the best player on his team. For a player his caliber, his career will always have an asterisk until he wins the title as his team's best player.
Next, we'll talk about Pau Gasol. Before last year's run to the NBA Finals, Pau envied even Tracy McGrady's postseason success. Pau had been to the playoffs three times, and been swept in the first round each time. Gasol's little brother Marc, still playing in Europe at the time, had as many career NBA playoff wins as big brother Pau before last season.
Their third best player? Probably Lamar Odom. Let's just say Odom isn't exactly known for being a winner. Soft? Yes. Underachieving? Certainly. Waste of talent? Most would say. But a winner? I don't think Odom's ever been accused of that.
This year's Lakers have something to prove, and came out of the blocks showing the chip on their collective shoulder. Bursting to a 23-5 record, the Lakers were set to play the Celtics in a Christmas Day showdown. In a manhandling very reminiscent of the way I saw my Celtics play last season, the Lakers completely shackled the Celtics, forcing them into an ugly, rhythm-less game.
That game, a huge game by all accounts, even so early in the season, set the tone for the rest of the Lakers' regular season. When they played the power-house teams, the Lakers came to play. They beat the Celtics both times they played them. The Cavaliers
? Beat them twice too, smacked them actually (including their first home loss, right when the Cavaliers were starting to think about the NBA's first undefeated home record).
I've always been a firm believer that the teams that win big games are most likely a better team. On an off day, any team in the NBA can lose to another one. But in the big games, when the lights are on and the whole country's watching on TV as two NBA powerhouses do battle, both teams usually bring their best effort. And when both teams bring their best effort, it's usually the better team that wins. Last year, it was the Celtics who won all the big games.
They were 2-0 vs. the Lakers, 2-1 against the then-Eastern Conference defending champion Pistons
and 2-0 vs. the ever-contending San Antonio Spurs
(who were also the defending champs). They were the first team to sweep the Rodeo Road Trip (at San Antonio, at Houston
, and at Dallas
) in twenty years. Whenever there was a big game, the Celtics left no doubt who was the better team.
Then the playoffs came around, and the Celtics let Atlanta
take them to seven games in the first round. The Cavs came next, and they pushed the Celtics to the brink of elimination, too, before succumbing in Game 7. Everyone was clamoring about the Celtics allowing lesser teams take them to seven games, but what everyone failed to notice was that every time the Celtics needed a win, they delivered. In Game 7 against the Hawks, the Celtics ratcheted up the intensity and the game was over within minutes. In the Cavs' Game 7, the Celtics held off an amazing performance by Lebron James, gritting out a tough win.
Somewhere along the way, those Celtics learned how to consistently win, and how to finish out playoff series'. As they advanced through the postseason, Boston got stronger and stronger, beating a seasoned Detroit team in six games in the ECF and smacking the Lakers in Game 6 to take home the franchise's 17th banner.
I see the Lakers making those same strides. During the Jazz
series, everyone wondered what was wrong with the Lakers when they lost a game, and when they kept blowing big leads. In the Rockets' series, everyone wondered how a Tracy McGrady-less, Yao Ming-less Houston team could bring the Lakers to a Game 7.
But what I saw was that the Lakers picked it up a notch in that Game 7. They raised their play to a level no other team in the NBA can attain. They played flawless offensive basketball, with terrific ball movement, great shooting and slashing penetration. They played inspired defense, hedging out on the dangerous Aaron Brooks pick-and-roll and forcing the Rockets into bad shot after bad shot.
The Lakers, now, seem to have learned how to bring that effort on a daily basis rather than merely when they need it the most. They ended the Nuggets
' season just six games after a lot of people picked a Denver upset, and took their great play into Game 1 of the Finals, defeating the Magic
in an overwhelming blowout. When the Lakers play up to their capabilities, there is no other team in the NBA that can measure up.
Now, it looks like L.A. might be on their way to their fifteenth NBA championship. Just like last year's Celtics, their playoff path has been rocky, but they've overcome it and seem to be peaking at the right time. Though I picked Orlando to win in 7 (I couldn't pick L.A., I just couldn't), I fully expect the city of Los Angeles to be holding a parade in a little over a week. I just wish Kevin Garnett could have had something to say about it.