After nearly two months of teams eliminating one another in the playoffs, the 64th NBA Finals get underway today. And stop me if you've heard this before, it's the Los Angeles Lakers vs. the Boston Celtics, who have made a combined 52 Finals appearances and won 32 championships (17 for Boston, 15 for L.A.). This is a pretty good consolation prize for the NBA, which was really wanting a Kobe vs. LeBron Finals after not getting one last season. I hope this turns out to be a really good series, preferably a Celtics series win in seven games, because the 2010 playoffs have left a lot to be desired. Kobe Bryant is looking to avenge the Lakers humiliating 2008 defeat at the hands of the Celtics, while Paul Pierce can become one of the greatest Celtics ever if he can get a second championship. It should be fun.
Obviously, I'm picking the Celtics to win. Not only do I like the team and its rich history, but I think they have the better overall team. This postseason they've been playing like they did during their 2008 championship, with a reliance on defense, team play, and a no-nonsense attitude. They made short work of the Miami Heat in the first round as expected. They were undaunted by the 62 win Cleveland Cavaliers and two-time MVP LeBron James in the semis, against whom their playoff hopes were supposed to end. Then they withstood injuries and a a comeback from the Orlando Magic in the Eastern Conference Finals.
Point Guard: Rajon Rondo vs. Derek Fisher
Since the 2008 Finals, Rondo has become one of the NBA's premier point guards. Derek Fisher may have the advantage in terms of shooting and experience but he'll have a tough time staying in front of Rondo, who has consistently been Boston's best player on the floor with his passing and driving. In fact, Kobe Bryant will be guarding Rondo more. People talk about him not being able to drive as much against the Lakers because of Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum, but he just got done facing Dwight Howard.
Shooting Guard: Kobe Bryant vs. Ray Allen
Kobe Bryant has been on a tear this postseason and I don't think that Allen will be able to do much to slow him down. In fact, I find it worrisome that there is not a player like James Posey, whose job it was to come off the bench and hound Kobe in the 2008 Finals, on the team. Allen can put up an inspired fight on defense, but it's going to be a team effort to defend Kobe. On offense, though, Allen is just as deadly as he has always been on the offensive end with his three point shooting.
Small Forward: Paul Pierce vs. Ron Artest
Remember who guarded Paul Pierce in the 2008 Finals? Vladimir Radmanovic. That didn't work out too well. Nowadays, Ron Artest is the Lakers' small forward and he's also their best perimeter defender. In fact, he was brought in during the offseason for just such a matchup as this. If he can turn Pierce into a jump shooting chucker, then it will be difficult for the Celtics to win. However, he is just as likely to melt down during the Finals, which has been the expectation all season long. Pierce just needs to stay aggressive.
Power Forward: Kevin Garnett vs. Pau Gasol
Of all the matchups, I think this one is the most even on the offensive end. Gasol has been very effective in the postseason with an average of 20 points. Garnett may be a step slower, but he's still definitely more aggressive than Gasol and can still be a reliable scoring option for the Celtics as he was in the series against Cleveland. Garnett is also better defensively and hasn't lost any of his trademark intensity, but Gasol will be the beneficiary of the calls in L.A. when he's
Center: Kendrick Perkins vs. Andrew Bynum
It should come as no surprise that Bynum is once again battling a knee injury. He missed the 2008 Finals because of one, he wasn't effective in the 2009 playoffs, and he hasn't done anything during the 2010 playoffs. If it were anyone else, like Greg Oden, he would have already been written off, yet people are still trying to convince us that he's supposed to be really good. Perkins, on the other hand, is one of the better interior defenders in the NBA. Since the 2008 Finals, he's even improved on his scoring. However, he is sitting on 6 technical fouls for the postseason and is very likely to pick up a 7th and earn a one game suspension. He needs to try to not act as if he's never had a foul called on him.
For the Lakers, Lamar Odom is the lone impact player. He has length, he can play both forward positions, he can handle the ball, he can rebound, and he can shoot from the arc. After him, who else is there? Jordan Farmar is shaky at the backup point guard spot and Shannon Brown has his moments. Also, after Gasol and Bynum, there is little depth at the power forward and center positions. For Boston, Tony Allen provides quality minutes off the bench with his energy and defense and Glen Davis has played a big role as well. There's also Rasheed Wallace whose defense will be needed against Gasol and whose range can take advantage of Bynum, but he's been inconsistent at best during the playoffs. Nate Robinson could be valuable off the bench, but Doc Rivers will have to play him more for that to happen.
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