My philosophy is that in a 7 game series, the better team wins 10 out of 10 times. Referees can certainly make things difficult, but my belief is that the better team will always triumph.
Well, the refs in Phoenix certainly did all in their power to prove me wrong.
Forget the Suns-favoring 20.5 average free throw differential in the two games the Suns did manage to win, forget the innumerable, blatant fouls the Suns committed essentially for free, the refs capped off their all-out effort to prolong the series when they called Sasha Vujacic for a flagrant foul early in the fourth quarter.
That call not only gifted the Suns with two free throws, but also awarded them possession – all after a possession in which they had already scored. That call propelled the Suns to a 16-4 run and a free pass to get right back into the game.
A lot of attention was placed on the various implications of that call, but no attention was placed on the call’s legitimacy.
Goran Dragic went after Sasha Vujacic taunting and bumping him before Vujacic retaliated by throwing his arms upwards, hitting Dragic’s jaw. In short, Dragic initiated the confrontation – and the contact – but after a Grade A quality flop the refs had all the justification they needed to award the Suns with game-changing momentum instead of calling a more appropriate double-technical.
Sure the Lakers have plenty of other pretender “rivals”.
For instance, the Cavaliers have never met the Lakers in the Finals nor have even they won a single Finals game, yet the media had done all in their power to generate a rivalry between the two teams based on Kobe Bryant and LeBron James alone, despite the obvious gap in the stars’ supporting casts.
The Suns beat the Lakers in 2006 and 2007, sure, but who cares? Both of those were first round series against a Laker team that featured a starting point guard who hasn’t been seen in the NBA for years and a center who today, doesn’t even start over the aged out Ben Wallace.
The Spurs had their run as L.A.’s stand-in rival, matching the Lakers 4 championships in the last 10 years with 4 of their own in the last 11, but they were matched against the Lakers in 5 post-season matches from 2000-2008 – and lost four of them.
Neither team has the history or the current personnel to match up against the dynastic Lakers.
On the other hand, the Celtics are the only team in basketball with more championship titles than the Lakers – and have competed against the Lakers so fiercely and evenly that the teams’ last 3 games were decided by a combined 3 points.
However for the time being, all we can do is anticipate. After all, there’s no guarantee that this Finals series will live up to its lore – 2008 certainly didn’t.
Still, Lakers and Celtics fans alike should relish the countless chapters in this rich rivalry that will be rehashed in the coming days and the L.A. faithful have no reason to believe that these Lakers aren’t more fitted to the task than they were in the teams’ last Finals encounter.
2008 saw the beginning of Lakers’ rise.
2009 saw the Lakers’ redemption.
Could 2010 see the Lakers’ revenge?