Welcome back to the Finals, Boston Celtics, we're glad you made it. The outcome of our matchup in 2008 read 4-2, but we all know it was quite a shellacking you laid on us. Quietly, we've been hoping that you'd deal us another try, and here you are at our doorstep. We're happy to host you.
Just to let you know, a few things have changed. Here are five reasons why this series won't end the same way it did in 2008.
The Los Angeles Lakers
People forget about two key injuries in the 2008 series: Andrew Bynum and Trevor Ariza, both starters on the 2009 championship team. That's 2/5ths of the starting lineup missing!
Both players were major components to winning it all and Bynum still is. He won't dominate offensively, but he doesn't need to. In fact, his matchup with Perkins is a wash, and that's fine, because every minute that Perkins keys-in on Bynum is a minute that Pau Gasol won't be getting pushed around.
Mobile tree stumps like Kendrick Perkins make life miserable for finesse guys like Pau. He'll score while Bynum serves as a decoy for the Celtics brutish bruiser.
Ron Artest took the mid-level exception to play for a championship, and here it is. Ron's presence benefits the Lakers on several fronts: First, he takes full Paul Pierce duty. There you go, Kobe. You're free from that assignment.
Paul Pierce is a tremendous player with transcendent ability. He's also the ideal matchup for Artest, a scoring small forward who's strong but not lightning fast. Pierce's morning routine for the next two weeks will to apply deodorant, apply Ron Artest, put on jersey.
And do you remember who L.A. started at small forward in 2008?
Take a moment. Run the possible names through you head.
Yes, that's right. Vlad Rad was the starting small forward on a Finals team! And you wonder how Paul Pierce went off in that series! Better yet, (I mean worse yet) Luke Walton was the primary backup.
This season, thanks to health, the three spot is manned by Ron Artest and Lamar Odom. Can you say major upgrade?
The Celtics got a pass in 2009 because of the Kevin Garnett injury. Bostonians say everyone would be talking three-peat if KG hadn't gone down. By the same token, we could be talking about a Lakers three-peat if Bynum and Ariza weren't hurt in '08.
Doc Rivers is quick to point out that the Celtics' starting lineup, when intact, has never lost a playoff series. The same could be said for the Lakers' starting lineup.
The Lakers haven't lost a playoff series in which they've had home court for the last three years. The Lakers are now 28-3 at home in the playoffs in that span.
This time, the Lakers have home court advantage. Even with the injuries in '08, that may have been the biggest difference.
In 2008 the Lakers found themselves in the pleasant and convenient situation of being in the Finals. They started season with zero expectations before receiving a belated Christmas present that stood seven feet tall and happened to be the ideal compliment to Kobe Bryant.
This year, the Lakers are primed, ready, and know what to expect. Gasol knows he'll get pushed. He hit the weights in the summer of 2008. Not saying he'll go from Bruce Banner to The Incredible Hulk, but at least this time he won't be blindsided by the Celtics' rugby tactics.
Here's what Kurt Rambis recently said on ESPN 710: "Boston got away with [double teaming Kobe] as a ball club because our team wasn't as secure in that point in time. Pau wasn't as aggressive and confident and comfortable in the offense the way that he is now and playing at a much higher level. Andrew wasn't available. Lamar was not playing particularly well in that series."
Even Phil Jackson noted that it was all a bit "too much too soon" for the Lakers. This time, like Goldilocks's porridge, is just right.
James Posey was the lynchpin of the Celtics' strategy against Kobe Bryant in 2008. He became Bruce Bowen reincarnate, focusing his entire effort on defense while hitting key three pointers.
He parlayed that performance into a lucrative contract with the Hornets, leaving a serious void on the Celtics roster. Who covers Kobe now? Pierce? Ray Allen? And at what expense?
Tom Thibodeau gets a lot of credit for architecting Boston's defense. Kevin Garnett gets a lot of credit as its heart and soul. But that stifling defense wasn't possible without Posey, who Jeff Van Gundy called a "knife fighter" (in a good way). As John Carroll of Scouts, Inc. put it, "Posey may have been the second most productive player for the Celtics after MVP Paul Pierce."
That void couldn't come at a worst time as, even John Hollinger pointed out, Kobe is playing better than ever.
No matter how much Kobe Bryant denies it, that 39-point beat down still torments a certain sector of his brain, and we all know it. The Lakers weren't coy about hiding their glee at paying back the Suns for early playoff exits in '06 and '07, so you can bet that the Lakers are carrying a chip the size of the Hollywood sign on their shoulders.
Legacy is another factor that always drives Kobe. He knows that anything outside of collecting rings is pointless at this time of his career. A fifth one propels him to Magic territory, and a victory over the hated Celtics would elevate him even more in his already picturesque folklore around Southern California.
Not that a team should need motivation to win in the Finals, but if there's one opponent who can provide extra incentive, it's those shamrock toting players on the other side of the court.
Not over yet! As I said, my irrational hatred for them has evolved into a respectful hatred. I am not sleeping on the Boston Celtics whatsoever.
Here are five legitimate and obvious reasons why the Celtics will win:
1) Rondo will WREAK HAVOC. The Lakers penchant for being destroyed by quick point guards is well chronicled. Rondo is brimming with confidence and will leave tread marks on the back of Derek Fisher's jersey.
2) The Big Three have never lost a playoff series together. And this team goes way deeper than just Paul Pierce, Ray Allen, and Kevin Garnett.
3) The Celtics are road dogs. They had a better record on the road than at home, and already knocked out the two favorites to win the championship without home court advantage.
4) The Celtics have edge. The mental edge. The psychological edge. They have the Lakers' number and have no reason to fear them.
5) Do not sleep on Celtics. They have shown the ability to not only rise to the occasion, but to swallow up their favored opponents in a stunning display of offensive and defensive dominance.
My head wants to say the Celtics will win.
My heart says the Lakers.
Lakers in 7!