The Boston Celtics and Los Angeles Lakers will enter Game Five of the 2010 NBA Finals tied 2-2. The winner of the game will take a commanding 3-2 series lead and force their opponent to play elimination games for the remainder of the Finals.
With an extra day of rest, the quality of play should be vastly superior to Game Four. If the Lakers win, they will go back home needing only one victory to claim their second straight championship. If the Celtics win, they will go west with all the momentum and look to close out the series in six games.
I know I've discussed this a lot over the course of the Finals, but Kobe Bryant really needs to drive the ball. Kobe is one of the best in the game at hitting contested jumpers, but that's still not a good shot.
If the Celtics were encouraging him to shoot by playing off him, I could understand him settling for the jump shot, but Boston hasn't given him any space and the only way Kobe will get room is by hurting the Celtics in the paint.
The biggest reason I love basketball is because it is a paradox.
Basketball is the one team sport where an individual player can have the biggest impact. Every fan knows the stories of how Michael Jordan, Larry Bird, and Magic Johnson would decide that they weren't going to lose.
Basketball is a sport that allows one player to take over a game and come dangerously close to single handedly winning the contest. (Remember Dwayne Wade against Dallas in the 2006 Finals? Or any of Jordan's Finals victories?)
At the same time, basketball is the quintessential team sport.
A single weak link can dash a team's championship dreams. Teams that win play in sync. Great players are great because they not only take over games, but make their teammates better. Every player on the court is important and will affect the game, whether positively or negatively.
In hockey the goalie has nothing to do with offense. In football the offense and defense are two separate units. Baseball is essentially one hitter battling a pitcher. But basketball requires everyone to work together and play at both ends of the court.
This paradox is the reason why I believe Kobe needs to get to the basket more often.
The Lakers need him to take over games and be a more efficient scorer. They also need him to free up their other players. If Kobe is driving and getting easy baskets, Boston's big men will start to leave Gasol, Bynum, and Odom earlier than they should to provide help defense. This has the potential to open the paint and allow the big men to get easier baskets. It will also take the Celtics out of defensive position and create more offensive rebounds and tip ins.
I know Ray Allen is one of the NBA's best conditioned players, but Kobe, as one of the greatest pure scores in league history, should be able to take him off the dribble. If Kobe Bryant continues to settle for contested jump shots, the Celtics should be able to take a 3-2 lead to Los Angeles.
Aside from Kobe, here's what will affect the outcome of Game Five:
Keys to a Celtics Victory
1. Right now, Boston has the momentum. Granted, this was the case heading into Game Three and Derek Fisher and the Lakers took it back. This time Boston needs to keep it.
The bench showed they want to win as badly as the starters do. Sunday night the starters need to pick up where the reserves left off. Boston has veterans and they have to realize winning the championship will be infinity easier if they win Game 5.
2. Rajon Rondo needs to have a great all around game. Rondo has proved himself to be a premiere point guard. Nate Robinson can't be expected to have a repeat performance; therefore, Rondo will have to affect every aspect of the game. His passing is the key to the big three playing well. His rebounding can go a long way to securing a second straight win in the battle of the boards. The Celtics are at their best when Rondo does a bit of everything.
3. Each of the big three need to do their job. Ray Allen needs to hit outside shots. Paul Pierce needs to create offense, especially during Celtics scoring droughts. Most importantly, Kevin Garnett needs to excel on defense and rebound the ball more effectively.
KG has been unable to secure the ball with two hands on misses. I'm as puzzled as everyone is with Garnett's inability to snatch boards. He has to control the ball, not swat it.
Keys to a Lakers Victory
1. Andrew Bynum needs to give the Lakers good minutes. He scored two points in 12 minutes Thursday night. I understand he has been playing through pain, but he needs to step up and use his size to slow down the Celtics.
Pau Gasol has improved since the last time the two teams met in the Finals, but he can't dominate the paint alone. If Bynum plays 20 plus minutes and can score 10 or more points and grab at least eight rebounds, I think the Lakers have an excellent chance to win.
2. Los Angeles has to move the ball on offense. Yes, the Celtics have an extraordinary defense, but the Lakers need to pass the ball along the perimeter. The Lakers shot clock violations have come as a direct result of over dribbling.
On of the biggest culprits is Lamar Odom. First off, let me say Odom played well last night and is the surest thing off the bench. Regardless of his good attributes, his excessive dribbling has hurt the team at times. He looks great when he finds a hole and gets to the hoop.
However, when there is no lane he holds on to the ball for a good five seconds more than necessary. Add to this the fact that the Lakers let him bring up the ball far too often. Lamar Odom is a power forward, there is no reason why he should take the ball up court.
Odom's play is only the most glaring example of over dribbling. Most of the Lakers have at times been too passive in looking to set up other teammates. If they are going to dismantle Boston's defense, they need move the ball and set each other up for easy baskets. Catching a pass and dribbling for five to ten seconds is a recipe for disaster.