This is shaping up to be another great NBA Finals, and I don’t think I can honestly say who will win. But I know who needs to win more than anyone else.
Remember what happened the last time the Celtics were the underdog in the Finals? They beat Bryant’s Lakers in six games just two years ago.
And what’s changed? The Lakers have switched Vladimir Radmanovich for Ron Artest (which is obviously an improvement), and Bynum will be able to play this time, too, albeit on one leg since he surely faces knee surgery this offseason to repair a bad injury.
For Boston, the “Big Three” looks like they are still playing at their 2008 levels. The difference of course is Rajon Rondo, who is arguably one of the three best point guards in the NBA right now. Kendrick Perkins is one of the more underrated post defenders as well, and has made great strides in the last two years, too.
Boston isn’t as desperate for a title either. Will it really make a difference to the legacies of Pierce, Garnett or Allen if they win or lose? Sure, it looks good that they beat LA twice, but if the Celts come up short they’re given a free pass.
Boston beat LA at the tail end of their main men’s primes. If they lose now, people will just say they were old, they were the underdog and Bryant’s Lakers were better. So Boston has a bevy of reasons in the holster of why they lost (if they do indeed lose).
Perhaps the biggest thing working against Bryant is the pressure of his legacy. For a guy who has been compared to Jordan since he entered the league, this title would mark his fifth in the NBA, just one shy of Jordan’s number.
But Kobe actually cares about his legacy. He wants to show the world that he was the catalyst in his first three titles, not Shaq. Whether he admits it or not, the Jordan and Shaq aspects drive Kobe as much as his hyper-competitive nature.
So if Kobe is going to get closer to Jordan while distancing himself from Shaq, his Lakers have to win this series.
Otherwise Bryant’s legacy will be that of only winning titles with Shaq or against a woefully less-talented Magic squad. And also that he went 0-2 versus the Pierce/Garnett/Allen/Rondo Celtics team in the Finals.
Good luck, Kobe. The ball’s in your court. Let’s see if you can take it and run with it.