I remember vividly being in a bar in New Jersey, just over a year ago.
The Red Sox were playing the Yankees, I was in an argument with one of the many Yankee fans at the bar over which team had a better pitching staff, and the NBA draft order was being selected over on a TV in the far corner of the bar.
I tried not to get my hopes up, but the Celtics had gone through such a bad season. Paul Pierce was hurt, the team suffered through a ridiculous eighteen game losing streak, and the NBA’s stupid policy of not giving the number one pick in the draft to the regular season’s worst team had me extremely worried.
I had visions of the number one pick. I had visions of the next Tim Duncan.
This time, it was our year. This time, the ping-pong balls would fall the right way.
If the NBA was willing to freeze an envelope to ensure the Knicks would get a chance to draft Patrick Ewing, surely they’d do something to ensure one of their marquee franchises got the first or second pick in a top-heavy draft. Especially after the season they had.
The Yankee fan stops mid-sentence when he sees the Celtic’s logo pulled as the fifth pick in the draft was announced. He actually said, “Dude, that sucks. I’m sorry man. Nobody deserves what you guys have gone through the last ten years or so. Hey, maybe the Red Sox will beat the Yankees this year?”
Point is, Celtic fans hit absolute rock-bottom. The normal reaction from a Yankees fan would have been mocking laughter, but this was too much even for them. Even New Yorkers felt bad for Boston Celtic fans.
(Quick note, what happened in that bar is the biggest reason why I’ve laid off the Knicks this season. The Celtics may have hit rock bottom last year, but the Knicks have been living there since the day they brought in Isaiah Thomas. Hard as it is to say, they deserve a Celtic-like revival next season. I might even secretly be rooting for this.)
This same time last season, Kobe Bryant was giving interviews to anyone who would listen, telling them how much he wanted out of LA.
He was unhappy with management, unhappy with his coach, unhappy with his owner, and especially unhappy with the quality of his teammates.
We all remember that multiple personality day where he demanded a trade in the morning, claimed he wanted to retire a Laker in the afternoon, then re-demanded a trade a couple hours later.
I’m not sure the Lakers hit rock bottom, but Kobe’s relationship with the only NBA team he's ever played on certainly did. Here you had the best player in the NBA, basically begging out of the marquee franchise in the NBA. It was as surreal as it was ridiculous.
Some had him traded to Chicago before the start of the season (a trade that would have destroyed the Lakers, and the lack-there-of ended up destroying the Bulls). His coach even spoke openly about the possibility during the preseason.
It’s amazing what can happen in a year.
The Celtics turned the fifth pick in the draft and a couple of role players into Ray Allen. The Ray Allen trade convinced Kevin Garnett that the Celtics were serious about putting together a great team. They were able to turn Al Jefferson and half their 2006 roster into Kevin Garnett.
Paul Pierce, who has recently admitted that he thought about demanding a trade a few times over the last couple of years, all of a sudden found himself the captain of the best team in the Eastern Conference.
Kobe wasn’t traded. He plugged along, leading a pretty good team to a pretty good record. The development of Andrew Bynum was huge, as the young Laker was able to compliment Kobe well and add some much needed inside presence.
The Lakers may have lost Bynum midway through the season to injury, but they replaced him by pulling off one of the most lopsided trades in the history of professional sports. The addition of Pau Gasol transformed the Lakers from playoff contender to a potential conference champion.
Kobe Bryant’s MVP season put the Lakers over the top.
I repeat, because it bears repeating, it’s amazing what can happen in a year.
2008 NBA Championship: Boston Celtics vs. Los Angeles Lakers
You’re going to hear a lot about the history between these two teams over the next two weeks. As a matter of fact, you’ve probably already heard a ton about the history of these two teams.
I’m a big fan of the history, but it’s a disservice to the current players to spend too much time comparing them to the past.
The Lakers and Celtics of the eighties were not just loaded with talent—they were loaded with Hall of Fame talent. The 2007-08 Celtics and Lakers aren’t those teams. There may never be teams like that again in the NBA.
But they’re pretty good in their own right.
There are favorable match-ups for both teams. Obviously, the Celtics will have to find a way to contain Kobe Bryant.
Ray Allen cannot cover Kobe Bryant.
But on the other side, the Lakers will have to come up with an answer for Kevin Garnett.
I’ve looked at their roster. I’m not sure there’s a player on it who can contain Kevin Garnett, which means Perkins’ man is going to have to cheat off of him to help on Garnett.
Ask the Pistons how that plan worked out.
The Lakers have three decided advantages in this series: Kobe Bryant, their bench, and coaching.
I heard someone on ESPN radio say that watching Doc Rivers and Flip Saunders coach against each other in the Eastern Conference finals was like watching men play checkers. I disagree.
It was more like watching retarded chimps trying to play chess.
Coaching is the Laker's biggest x-factor in this series.
If The Zen Master can figure out how to take advantage of The Second Unit Man, then the Celtics might be in trouble.
The Celtics also have three decided advantages over the Lakers: They can play defense, the Lakers can’t guard Kevin Garnett, and Paul Pierce loves playing in LA.
I, personally, was more worried about the Spurs, Cavs, and Pistons than I am about the Lakers.
The Celtics aren’t going to be beaten by a team that plans to outscore them. It’s just not going to happen. Their defense is just too good.
The Lakers are a lot of things, but a great defensive team they are not. If the Celtics can keep them under 100 points, then I like the Celtics’ chances.
That’s the Celtics' x-factor, their defense. Not necessarily against Kobe Bryant, but against the rest of the Lakers.
Keep the rest of the Lakers in check, and Kobe's 40 points won't matter.
Defense is what has driven this Celtic team all season long. It’s what won them the best record in the regular season and home court throughout the playoffs.
It’s what won them the Eastern Conference.
It’s what will win them their seventeenth NBA championship.
Prediction: Celtics over the Lakers in seven games.
Sean Crowe is a Senior Writer at Bleacher Report. You can email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. His archive can be found here. You can find everything he writes, including articles for other publications, here.