2010 NBA Finals: Potential Difference Makers
When it comes to winning a championship in professional team sports, you need more than just your superstars to help get the job done.
This is especially true in the NBA, where the playoffs seem more like a second regular season than a post-season.
During the seemingly never-ending playoffs, the Kobe Bryants and Paul Pierces of the world can only do so much to help their teams before they will need help from their supporting cast.
Whether it’s a guy coming off the bench to give the starters a rest, or a starter whose main purpose is to focus on a specific aspect of the game, these players can turn the tide of an entire series in their teams favor.
This is especially true when the two squads are as evenly matched as it would appear that the Lakers and Celtics are.
A lot of times, the brilliance of these players doesn’t show up in the box scores, but if you asked anyone who watched the game, they will tell you how important the role player was to their team’s success.
Look no further than Trevor Ariza’s performance in the 2009 NBA finals. He was an example of a role player who stepped up when it mattered most and helped his team win a title.
Of course the superstars need to play well, and if Kobe Bryant or Paul Pierce doesn’t show up for the Finals, it would be hard to imagine either of their teams winning the title.
At the same time, these players can’t do it alone and they will certainly need the help of their supporting casts if they want to hoist the Larry O’Brien Trophy in a couple of days.
As the Lakers and Celtics are about to meet for the 12th time in the NBA Finals, let’s take a look at the guys whose play could potentially be the difference in the series, despite their not being the focal points of their team.
The 30 year old Artest was brought to LA this past off-season for one reason and one reason only: to help the Lakers repeat.
In the regular season he certainly had his difficulties adjusting to being a secondary scorer on a loaded Lakers roster, averaging a career low 11 points per game.
But Artest wasn’t brought to Los Angeles to score, he was brought there to give the Lakers a physical perimeter defender, which he has done all season long.
Against the Celtics in the NBA Finals, Artest will be matched up against Paul Pierce, and how he defends throughout the series could very well determine whether or not the Lakers can repeat.
The 6’7’’ Queens native is known as one of the best perimeter defenders in the league, using his strength and superior positioning to terrorize whomever he guards.
We can be sure that life would be much easier for Pierce if Artest wasn’t guarding him, and while Pierce should get his points during the series, he will have to work harder for them than normal.
Even though the Lakers have plenty of scorers on their roster, Ron’s shooting may also be one of the difference makers in the series.
With the Celtics defensive game plan being to double Kobe and make the other Lakers beat them, Artest should see his share of open shots during the series.
This may be very good news for Lakers fans, as Artest is coming off his best offensive game in the 2010 playoffs, which saw him score 25 points on 10-16 shooting in the Lakers series clinching victory over the Suns.
If he can make life difficult for Paul Pierce and hit the occasional three-pointer, Ron Artest could give the Lakers the lift they need to win their 16th NBA title.
It’s hard to think of a player who has won as much as Fisher has, while at the same time receiving so much criticism.
Whatever people think about Fisher’s game, one thing is for sure: the guy knows what it takes to win in the playoffs and he’s not afraid to shoot when the game is on the line.
Throughout his 13 year career, Fisher has been a consummate professional, always ready to step up when his number is called.
At 35 years of age, there’s no doubt that he’s lost a step or two, but he’s still been productive for the Lakers during the 2010 playoffs.
Many Fisher critics have been quick to point out that opposing point guards have torched the Lakers so far in the playoffs, but consider the players that Fisher has matched up against: Russell Westbrook, Deron Williams, and Steve Nash.
Those three would make pretty much anyone look bad, and if that wasn’t enough, Fisher has another match up looming with one of the better point guards in the game.
He will be assigned the task of trying to slow down Rajon Rondo, who might be playing the best basketball out of anyone in the playoffs so far.
It goes without saying that Rondo’s quickness and athleticism will be a challenge for Fisher, but Derek’s a tough veteran who always seems to get the job done.
Besides his defense, Fisher will also have a chance to impact the series on the offensive side of the ball.
Just like Artest, Fisher will see open jumpers thanks to the Celtics doubling Kobe. And if there’s one thing NBA fans know by now, it’s that you never count out Derek Fisher, especially during the playoffs.
Just two years ago in the NBA Finals, Lamar Odom was starting for a Lakers team that couldn’t quite get it done against the Celtics.
During the 2010 Finals, Odom will be coming off the bench, as he looks to continue the success that he had against the Phoenix Suns in the Western Conference Finals.
During that series, Odom notched four double-doubles, including a 19 point 19 rebound performance in Game One, seeming to set the tone for the entire series.
Throughout his career, Odom has been a very versatile player and has generally been a nightmare match-up for most opposing teams because of his unusual skill set.
One of the biggest advantages the Lakers have enjoyed throughout the 2010 playoffs has been inside, where Gasol, Bynum, and Odom have pretty much had their way with the undersized front lines that they have faced.
One of the many interesting match-ups in the 2010 Finals is how the Lakers big men will adjust to playing against a much bigger and more physical Boston Celtics team.
With the health of Andrew Bynum in doubt, Odom’s play will be very important and could potentially be a deciding factor.
If the Lakers are going to have success they will need all of Odom’s 6’10’’ frame to help win the critical battle in the paint.
It’s fair to say that for most of the 2009-10 Season, Rasheed Wallace played (and looked) like he had been sleeping in his car.
One of his biggest problems during the regular season was his three-point shooting; only connecting on 28 percent of shots from behind the arc.
But just when the Celtics biggest off-season acquisition looked like a bust, he has had a few solid playoff games and been one of the best guys coming off the Celtics bench.
In a Game Two win over the Cleveland Cavaliers, Wallace scored 17 points in just 18 minutes on 7-8 shooting.
Wallace seems to have shrugged off his bad regular season three-point shooting and is currently shooting 41 percent from three during the playoffs.
In the Celtics Eastern Conference Finals showdown with the Magic, Wallace’s post defense against Dwight Howard was very effective and seemed to frustrate one of the best players in the NBA.
During the finals, Wallace will be called upon to continue his strong post defense against Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum. The Celtics are hoping that Wallace’s length can be an effective weapon to counteract the Lakers inside scoring.
The 2010 NBA Finals will not be Rasheed’s first rodeo, and, although it happened six years ago, he was a major part of the 2004 Championship with the Detroit Pistons.
Wallace is yet another proven veteran on the Celtics roster who has shown that he knows what it takes to win a title.
He will get his chances to make a difference during the Finals, and if he is able to be an effective post defender and can continue his playoff three-point shooting, the Celtics could very well be bringing home another title to the city of Boston.
Another player who has been giving the Celtics productive minutes off their bench this postseason is Tony Allen.
While the 6’5’’ shooting guard has been putting up modest stats during the playoffs, he has been a major contributor for the Celtics on the defensive side of the ball.
This was especially true during Boston’s second round series against the one-seeded Cleveland Cavaliers.
Throughout the series, Allen harassed LeBron James and helped the Celtics hold the King to more than a few sub-par shooting performances.
In the finals, Allen should see some very important minutes off the Celtics bench, where he will be in charge of trying to slow down the man who is probably the best scorer we have in the NBA today, Kobe Bryant.
Allen has the size, strength, and physicality to give Kobe more problems than the state of Colorado, and he will benefit from the fact that every time he comes into the game he will be doing so with fresh legs.
Therefore, during this series, Allen will have the luxury of being able to go all out on the defensive side of the floor for 15-25 minutes per game, without worrying about saving his energy for later in the game.
He will also have the advantage of not worrying about foul trouble, which should allow him to be as physical as necessary in trying and get under Kobe’s skin.
To think that Allen would be able to stop Kobe is foolish, but if he can slow the Black Mamba down just a little and make him work harder to do the things that he usually does, Allen will have done his job.
Kendrick Perkins is, by far, the least heralded starter for the Boston Celtics, but he is probably one of the most important players in this series.
Much has been made about the way the Celtics were able to essentially dominate the post during the 2008 NBA Finals, and Perkins was one of the main reasons for this domination.
The biggest guy on the Celtics roster happens to be one of their most physical players and is also the teams best post defender.
He will be in charge of making sure that the Lakers' bigs will have to work hard for every bucket they get, and he should be able to use all of his physical tools and toughness to make life very difficult in the paint for the Lakers.
Another storyline that bears keeping an eye on is Perkins' much publicized technical foul situation.
Having already been whistled for six technicals during the first three rounds of the playoffs, Perkins is in danger of incurring an automatic suspension if he were to be whistled for his seventh.
If this does happen, it could be a huge break for the Lakers, as a Celtics team without Perkins patrolling the middle is not nearly as intimidating on the defensive side of the ball, which could lead to an easy victory for the Lakers.
Celtics Nation is hoping that Perkins can keep his cool and the 6’10’’ big man should do whatever he needs to do to stay in the game, even if it means repeating “woosah” and remembering his pressure points.