Ahh what a joy it is to have your two most hated teams meet in the Finals.
As I told my buddy Cam, a die-hard Lakers fan and Celtics loather, I'm fully on the Celtics bandwagon now. I'll ignore the fact that Kevin Garnett still talks like an MVP when he can barely drag his leg up and down the faux parquet; I'll ignore Rajon Rondo repeatedly crowning himself the best point guard in the league; and LASTLY I'll ignore anytime Paul Pierce fakes an injury.
With all of that said, the Celtics are the last line of defense against Kobe winning his fifth title and the "Is Kobe the greatest thing since the cure for cancer?" articles being written all summer long.
So with all that in mind, let's break down the five most important match-ups in this series.
1. Lakers guards Vs Rondo. This is the match-up that makes or breaks this series in my opinion. If Rondo is healthy (A big if at the time of writing) there is NO ONE on the Lakers roster, including Kobe, who can stay with him for 40 minutes. Plus if Kobe is forced into guarding Rondo, it will tire him out on the offensive end, which can only help the Celtics. All postseason, the Celtics have gone as Rondo goes. If he has a big series the Celtics absolutely can beat the Lakers.
2. Ron Artest Vs Paul Pierce. Pierce has not gotten enough credit for how well he played in the Orlando series. Artest is also coming off a great series against The Suns including the game winning put-back in Game 5. Artest was brought in to guard guys like Pierce. He excels at shutting down bigger, more powerful 3s in the Pierce and Carmelo Anthony mold. I think he will do an excellent job against PP, and the Celtics will have to be able to get offense from their other vets to compensate.
3. Kobe Vs Ray Allen. Everyone forgets that these two don't like each other going back to Ray's days in Seattle where he predicted Kobe's petulant behavior. It also seems like they bring out the best in each other. Kobe had a bad series in 2008. He's going to remember that, and his confidence has to be sky high coming off that Phoenix series where he looked 25 again. Kobe will have a couple of games in this series where he takes a lot of shots and looks to be a hero. How he shoots during those games and when they happen in the series will make a huge impact in determining the winner of this series. For The Celtics to win, Allen must average at least 20 PPG and shoot over 40 percent from three-point range for the entire series. He can't swing in and out game by game as he tends to do.
4. Doc Vs Phil. This would appear to be a mismatch, except Doc has recently been coaching better, and Phil has not had as much of an impact the last couple of years (minus his jabs at other players before series). There will be some adjustments to be made in this series. Phil has seemed reluctant to adjust on the fly during this latest tenure with the Lakers, while Doc will never be confused for the best match-up coach out there. There is no great advantage in coaching in this series.
5. The Benches. The Lakers have the best bench player in Lamar Odom, while the Celtics have the better unit, highlighted by a suddenly rejuvenated Rasheed Wallace and Nate Robinson. The Celtics have plenty of big bodies to throw at the Lakers and will be able to take advantage of six fouls each from Wallace, Big Baby, Sheldon Williams, and their starters. I think the physicality of this series will hurt the Lakers bench, most notably Odom and Vujacic.
Overall I think the Lakers have more talent, but the Celtics are tougher and more physical. I think the six days of rest prior to Game 1 majorly benefits the Cs, and they have to look at Game 1 as their best chance to steal a game in LA (where the Lakers are undefeated this postseason). If that happens, I like the Celtics chances. Otherwise I think LA will prevail in seven.