Under normal circumstances, it would take an act of God to get me to side with a Boston team. And I guess, in this situation, that act of God is my hate for the fine-aged Kobe Bryant, who I despise more than the Red Sox, Patriots and Bruins combined. So here it is, I am ready to be a Boston fan once again. (The last time I was a Boston fan was during the 2008 Finals, where the Celtics took down Kobe and the Lakers in six games.)
From the beginning of the year, both the Celtics and the Lakers were the NBA’s elite teams and both were in cruise control the second half of the season to be healthy for the postseason, which seems like an entire season in itself.
While the Lakers seemed to have the strongest regular season in the NBA, it was the Celtics who came through in the playoffs to look the strongest, even if they had a couple of hiccups against the Magic in the Eastern Conference Championship series.
Obviously, if the Lakers are going to win this series in a dominating way, it hinges on Bryant. The Lakers really are a one-man squad with Bryant and a Zen master for a head coach. The rest of the players are just enablers to Bryant’s game. Does anyone remember when Bryant took a rest for a few games at the end of the season to rest his injured hand? The Lakers weren’t the same team without Bryant. It is possible that Bryant can have a terrible game and the rest of his team is able to keep itself within reach of a win but nobody can close a game and win like Bryant can.
To Bryant’s credit, he has lost his need to complain to the refs all the time. He has matured into a leader that doesn’t cry at every whistle. While he may have lost some of his moves in driving to the basket, Bryant still has that magic shot when the team needs it the most. Bryant is the closer on the team and if you are going to stop the Lakers, you need to stop Kobe when there is less than two minutes on the clock.
For the Celtics, everything has fallen into place this year. With the return of Kevin Garnett, the up-tempo play of Rajon Rondo and the stalwart play of Paul Pierce the aging Celtics team is simply a good basketball team in all facets of the game.
It will be interesting to see how well L.A.’s Ron Artest will defend against Pierce as well as see how open these games will be called by the NBA referees, who are always questionable. If the refs call it tight, Pierce will be at the line the entire series and Artest will be in constant foul trouble, even though Artest is one of the best at defending scorers like Pierce.
Really, as I talk myself into watching this series, the matchup between the Lakers and the Celtics is going to be a defensive chess match rather than some lights-out scoring fest. At the power forward position, the matchup between Garnett and Pau Gasol, AKA “slimer,” will be an interesting one as well. While Garnett used to own Gasol down in the paint, Garnett may have lost a step since his injury, giving Gasol the edge because he is more mobile in his pivoting. I believe Garnett is going to muster what’s needed to take care of Gasol in the end.
Almost across the board, I am hearing predictions that the Lakers are going to take the Celtics in seven games, mainly because L.A. has the home court advantage. Boston needs to jump out in game one with a win and the series will be theirs to win. Their 2008 NBA Finals matchup was touted as a return of a rivalry and I am not sure that it really did make for a rivalry that’s even remotely similar to the Bird-Magic days.
With Boston winning the 2008 series and earning the team’s 17th Championship and the Lakers winning their 15th last year against Orlando, the race is on to see what team will have the most championships in the NBA.
And that notion may carry the most weight going into this series. They both want to be the most crowned team in the NBA. Both teams aren’t getting any younger. This may be the Celtics last chance at a championship with these core players.
Kobe is good but the Celtics are better than the Lakers. It will happen. Kobe is going down. The Celtics will earn championship number 18 in six games against L.A….and this time, with the edginess of this series, the rivalry will be renewed for real this time.