The NBA, and the whole country, outside of Detroit and San Antonio, got its wish: Lakers and Celtics.
It’s been a long wait, 21 years, to be exact, but the dream matchup has arrived, with plenty of story lines to go along with it.
Kobe looks to become more like Mike by winning a fourth championship, this one without Shaq. Phil looks to pass Red by winning his tenth championship as a head coach. And Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, and Ray Allen look to make the most of their first trip to the NBA Finals.
With the best record in the league this season, the Boston Celtics will have home court advantage. They also hold bragging rights, as they beat the Lakers in both of their regular season matchups.
Boston took care of L.A., 107-94, at home in November. A month later, the Celtics won at the Staples Center, 110-91. Bryant had 22 points in that game, but went 6-25 from the field.
Still, I can promise that Lakers’ fans won’t be worried. Now it’s the playoffs, so the regular season can be thrown out the window. Since Phil Jackson has been in L.A., the Lakers have never cared how they’ve fared in the regular season as long as they've made the playoffs. This year they actually won the West, but even if they had not won the conference it wouldn’t have made a difference.
Sure, the Lakers are young, but they’re built for the playoffs. They have the best player in the league in Bryant, one of the most clutch shooters in Fisher, two of the best sidekicks in Gasol and Odom, and they play great defense.
Oh, and when they lost those two games to the Celtics, Los Angeles hadn’t picked up Pau Gasol yet. So I have a feeling that the complexion of this series will be a little different than it was during the regular season.
Let’s go through both teams by position:
For the Celtics, Rajon Rondo had a solid season. He didn’t do anything spectacular, but managed the team well and played good defense. But, he’s young and has been very inconsistent in the playoffs. Sam Cassell was acquired for his experience, but he has been more of a reliability than a help in the backcourt.
For the Lakers, Derek Fisher is clutch. Plain and simple. He knows how to win and Kobe trusts him. Jordan Farmar is also pretty solid off the bench. He can provide a young spark and is usually pretty smart in handling the ball.
For the Celtics, Ray Allen has been a disappointment in the playoffs. But Boston fans will be encouraged by his impressive performances in Games Five and Six against the Pistons. In order for the Celtics to have a chance, Allen has to hit his shots from outside and be aggressive on offense.
For the Lakers, as I said earlier, Kobe Bryant is the best player in the NBA. The playoffs are his time and he proved that in the Spurs series, putting up 39 points in Game Five to close it out. He simply cannot be stopped, and will take a game over in the fourth quarter when his team needs him to. He’s also an excellent defender.
For the Celtics, Paul Pierce is “The Truth.” This is still his Celtics team, and there is no doubt that he has the most drive to win. He’s going to have to have a big series for the Celtics to have a chance. Coming off the bench, James Posey is a solid contributor. He’ll knock down his open looks and he is a hard-nosed defender.
For the Lakers, Vladimir Radmanovic is a solid role player who will hit shots. He won’t do anything special, but will always hustle and do the dirty work. Sasha Vujacic will also get plenty of playing time off the bench, and is a similar player. They are the typical Phil Jackson role players, who can put a dagger in a team if they get hot.
For the Celtics, Kevin Garnett was the Defensive MVP this year; he’s not exactly a slouch on offense either. KG wants to win a championship and, at his age, will not be taking this trip to the Finals lightly. He has to take advantage of his size and outside game to give the Lakers trouble. Off the bench, P.J. Brown is a veteran player, who must give the Celtics valuable minutes in order for KG to get rest.
For the Lakers, Lamar Odom is a star sidekick to Kobe. He’s not a star who can carry a team, but he can really hurt opponents with his size and athleticism. The matchup between him and KG will be intriguing, because they are both tall players who can put the ball on the floor and shoot from outside. Luke Walton comes in at this position for certain intervals and his outside shot can be a problem for other teams. But his defense and lack of athleticism pose no threat.
For the Celtics, Kendrick Perkins has emerged in the playoffs. He was a solid post presence during the season, doing much of the dirty work while the “Big 3” starred. Perkins is a hard worker and will always contribute on the defensive end, even if he doesn’t do much on offense.
For the Lakers, the acquisition of Pau Gasol was huge. It completely changed the face of this team, not to mention causing a snowball effect of big trades in the West. As long as Gasol doesn’t take a game off, he will wreak havoc on the Celtics in the post. Off the bench, veteran Ronny Turiaf contributes by hustling, despite his age, and working hard on the defensive end.
Edge (and tiebreaker): Lakers
And now, the moment you’ve all been waiting for...
Lakers in six. Although I would not be surprised if they win in five.
Overall, the Lakers are a better team. With the addition of Pau Gasol, this team is nearly unstoppable. So, as Bill Simmons wrote in a recent article on ESPN, this year’s title is the Lakers’ to lose.