After all of those games, here we are. The Celtics play the Lakers for the 12th time for the NBA Championship, and the second time in the last three years – in what might be one of the more covertly improbably recent NBA Finals pairings. Improbable? Consider: The Celtics finished the season ranked 10th, while the Lakers were 7th. The Lakers survived a scare from a very underrated Oklahoma City team in the first round while the Celtics stunned the two best teams in the league this season. Both teams deserve to be here – but both teams needed postseason revivals (the two teams were a combined 61-47 in the year 2010) to do so.
It is tempting to look at their 2008 meeting for guidance. If one recalls (and boy do I), the Celtics won in 6 over Los Angeles in a series where they conceivably could have won all six games. The Celtics physicality and defensive mindset utterly emasculated the Lakers, and thus dozens of ESPN experts were proven wrong. The 131-92 drubbing in Game 6 is a favorite memory:
And the Celtics epic Game 4 comeback is for the ages:
That said, it is two years later. The Celtics then were Pierce-Garnett-Allen with Rondo being a wild card. Now Rondo is clearly their best player and Garnett is a wild card. The Lakers were soft in that year without Andrew Bynum healthy. With him (and who knows at this point if he will be healthy) they are a very good defensive team and capable of dominating with sheer numbers of size. The Lakers have home court this time. Ultimately, I look at these as the keys:
- Rondoooooooo – speedy point guards have given Derek Fisher fits the last few years. They do not come any speedier than Rondo. The Lakers might put Kobe on him and roam off of him, but Rondo has learned how to work with that. If he is healthy, he will be a handful – and with the Celtics fragility, he HAS to be. It seems that defending Rondo AND Ray Allen will give the Lakers issues, if the Celts bring it.
- The Lakers muscle – Gasol, Odom ans Bynum give a size trio the Celtics cannot match. Perkins and Davis bring physicality and Garnett brings great defensive instinct, and Wallace brings some manboobs, but the Celtics could get crushed on the boards here. They need to neutralize to give themselves a chance.
- Pierce vs Artest – Artest blanketed Pierce in the two regular season meetings. Pierce was outstanding in 2008, and is coming off of a revival of sorts against Orlando. Pierce needs to be a true 1A performer here.
- Kobe – he has been otherworldly the last two series. However, the Celtics are not an indifferent defensive team – especially not in the postseason where they are winning the defensive efficiency stats. Can the Celtics manage him like they did in 2008.
- The 2-3-2 format. With the change in format, it basically forces Boston to win twice in LA. Otherwise the chore could depend on winning 3 in a row – which is hard for either to team to do under any condition.
Really, this shapes to be a potentially classic Final – two teams trying to squeeze out a title in a year with a ton of adversity. Maybe some of my reverse jinx comes out here, but Lakers in 6.