So here we are. After a long 82 game season followed by an exciting postseason, the Celtics are where they said they’d be, The NBA Finals. They have knocked out superstars galore in Dwayne Wade, LeBron James, and Dwight Howard. Now it is time for them to knock out arguably the best player in the game today, Kobe Bryant. And if not for a Kevin Garnett knee injury last season, the basketball world would certainly have this same script for a third year in a row. Without further adieu, I give to you, my NBA Finals preview. (Rhyming not intended.)
With the NBA, one has to look at matchups. That is how I will go about this post. The in-series adjustments that will be made will come down to coaching and can very easily determine who wins this series.
Rajon Rondo vs. Derek Fisher
Rondo has been far and away the most valuable player for the Celtics this postseason. He has constantly out hustled his opposition and run the Celtics offense fluently.
Derek Fisher is the old veteran who is solid as a rock and has a knack for hitting big shots. Thus far in the post season he has been able to slow down Russell Westbrook, Deron Williams, and Steve Nash. I think that Phil Jackson will start him out covering Rondo but if Rondo starts abusing him like I think he will, Kobe will come over and guard Rondo much like in 2008.
The problem here is, in 2008, Kobe stayed off of Rondo and was able to help on Pierce and Allen. He won’t be able to do that this year as Rondo has refined his game since 2008 and has the ability to hit an open jump shot. If Rondo can get into the teeth of the Laker defense consistently, this will be a short series.
Ray Allen vs Kobe Bryant
Kobe Bryant is the best player in the game. He has solidified that notion this postseason. There is almost no way of stopping him. He wants to win and has the ability to inflict his will on a game at any point. In Game 6 of the Suns’ series, the Suns came to within striking distance and that was as close as they got. Kobe poured in 37 points and most of those points came with Grant Hill in his grill.
In 2008, Doc Rivers switched off between Pierce and Ray Allen as to was covering Kobe. Look for much of the same this year but with a little help from Tony Allen off the bench. TA was great against D-Wade and LeBron earlier in the playoffs and I have faith that he can’t at least slow Kobe down.
Ray Allen is the best pure shooter in the game today even at the ripe old age of 34. It is aggravating to me that the Celtics offense won’t go through Ray. He will scorch the net from downtown 2 possessions in a row and wont see the ball again until the next quarter. If Kobe is forced into guarding Rondo, I think that Ray can run circles around Derek Fisher.
Paul Pierce vs Ron Artest
This is without a doubt the biggest matchup of the series. Whoever can get the better of who here will dictate who will be wearing another ring. In 21 games against each other head to head, Artest holds the advantage being 11-10. Artest is one of the best defenders in the game and he knows he has to stop Pierce at all costs.
Pierce is coming off a series where he roasted the Magic because no one could match up with him. Pierce averages 20.5 ppg against Artest in their long history. Yet during the regular season, Artest held Pierce to 15 and 11 respectively in the two games they played each other.
Any offense that Artest offers the Lakers should be seen as an added bonus. His responsibility will be keep Pierce at Bay for the entire series. If he can accomplish that, the Lakers will win the series. It is my opinion he won’t be able to do that.
Kevin Garnett vs Pau Gasol
Garnett punished Gasol back in 2008 to the extent that the LA faithful were calling for Gasol’s head. He played with no heart and backed down all series long. Last season he manned up and played Dwight Howard as physical as anyone in the league. Against Phoenix in the Western Conference Finals, Gasol disappeared again, a true Dr. Jekyl and Mr. Hyde. The question here is which Pau will show up.
While KG is not the player he once was, he does still have that vintage intensity and he has refined his offensive game somewhat. He can bury the outside jumper at will and this helps open the court for Rondo and company. KG was what was missing from the Celtics team a year ago. His presence alone makes this team very tough to play. He is physical and will get into Gasol’s head two minutes into Game 1.
Kendrick Perkins vs Andrew Bynum
Bynum is consistently injured and Perkins is consistently in foul trouble. Bynum is usually good for helping out around the rim and Perkins is usually good for clearing everyone out so Rondo or Pierce can grab a rebound. This is as even as it gets.
Celtics Bench vs Lakers Bench
The Celtics bench consists of Rasheed Wallace, Glen Davis, Tony Allen, and Nate Robinson. The Lakers have Lamar Odom, Jordan Farmar, Sasha Vujacic, and Shannon Brown. Rasheed and Odom pretty much cancel each other out because they are so much alike in the fact that they can show up and have a huge impact on the game or they can fade into irrelevance. Overall I feel that the Celtics have the better bench because of Glen Davis and Tony Allen. Both provide a spark, Tony with his defense and occasional dunks and Davis with his mid range jumper and ability to rebound. The only thing worthy of note off of the Lakers bench is the soccer like flopping ability of Vujacic. He has the ability to get under the opponents skin and also the ability to get a crowd riled up.
Doc Rivers vs. Phil Jackson
Those of you that know me, know that I think Phil Jackson is the most overrated coach in the history of sports. I find it very easy to coach the greatest players in the game and let them do all your work. Never once is he challenged to make an actual decision that could impact a game. It is easy to coach the Michael Jordan’s and Kobe Bryant’s of the world. Is it easy to coach young talent such as Al Jefferson, Rajon Rondo, Kendrick Perkins, and Tony Allen and develop them while constantly losing? No.
I think that as much as Phil is overrated Doc is underrated and is one of the best "x’s and o’s" coaches in the league today. As I mentioned before this series may come down to who can make the necessary adjustments as the series goes along. Who can get the maximum production out of their rotations and who can find mismatches to exploit. I am well aware that Phil has his abundance of championship rings, one for every digit on both hands I believe. How many has he won without the best player in the game at that time on his roster? Zero.
Advantage (and call me a homer): Celtics
This series will ultimately come down to three things. Pierce vs. Artest, if the Lakers can contain Rondo, and which coach will make the correct adjustments throughout the series.
Final prediction: Celtics in 6