Thursday, June 3, 2010

Breaking Down the NBA Finals

A quick story before getting to the NBA Finals breakdown……sitting outside having a beer at Barnacle Billy’s in Perkin’s Cove, Maine this past weekend, and the Maine version of Frank Sinatra in Vegas rolls in. He was in his mid-70’s, and looked like a pumpkin on stilts (as round as could be) with white hair and big sunglasses on. As he makes his way out to his table on the deck, every worker and regular at the place knows him, shakes his hand and they trade good natured barbs. The waitress asks about “the usual” and returns with a martini on the rocks in a plastic cup with a side glass of ice and the olives on top of the ice. The guy then proceeds to basically put on a one-man comedy show for anyone within earshot. My favorite story: “You know you get smarter when you drink, right? Well I get better at math when I drink, and last night at the bar I saw that Demi Moore and her younger boyfriend on television. So I quickly did the math and determined that if I want me a cougar like that, she’ll have to be 94 years old! A 94 year old might need oxygen to keep up with me. So maybe I should trade her in for two 47 year olds. But then I’d be the one who would need the oxygen!”

Anyway, this year’s Lakers-Celtics NBA Finals matchup has the potential to be one of the great finals matchups in a really long time. In addition to the whole traditional rivalry and supposed hatred between the fan bases (who cares? 90% of us don’t live in either city so we don’t care if Sully in Southie really hates the Lakers when he’s watching the game at O’Malley’s Pub). The reason is that these teams have a tremendous amount of star power, are playing extremely well, and have coaches that have been nearly flawless this post season. All of the starting 10 players, plus a couple of bench players (Lamar Odom, Rasheed Wallace, etc) are legit So with that said, let’s break it down by position:

PG: Rajon Rondo (Celtics) vs. Derek Fisher (Lakers)
Rondo has cranked it up again in the playoffs proving that the most obvious trait he picked up from playing with the Big 3 was how to cruise through the regular season without too much effort. Fisher stood a chance defensively against the Suns and Steve Nash, but Rondo presents problems the same way Russell Westbrook did in the opening round against the Thunder. And since the Lakers don’t want to wear out Kobe chasing Ray Allen around on the defensive end, Kobe will likely draw Rondo. Fisher has been incredibly reliable during the playoffs this year and has the faith of Kobe and Phil Jackson to take big shots if Kobe is jammed up. Rondo has the potential to be the MVP over the entire series, but Fisher has the potential to hit a game winner or two. It’s a young, unpredictable star like Miley Cyrus that has the potential to drive you crazy but also can fill an arena. EDGE: Celtics

SG: Kobe Bryant (Lakers) vs. Ray Allen (Celtics)
While there is no comparing Bryant and Allen on an absolute level, each brings an amazing legacy as one of the best at their chosen aspect of the game. For Kobe, it’s being the best closer in the game today, and with this title, he has the potential to enter the discussion among the top 3-5 guards of all-time. Allen is one of the best pure shooters in the game and has evolved into as clutch and deadly in the post season as Reggie Miller was in his prime. Kobe wants to avenge the 2008 loss and move himself another notch closer to Jordan’s 6 titles. He is by far the best player in the series and has proven that even though everyone is so enamored with LeBron James and his next employer, Kobe is the best player in the game. If the Lakers win, it will be because Bryant carries them again.

Allen will likely be the key to the Celtics offense in this series. With Bryant slowing Rondo, Artest stopping Pierce (along with Pierce expending too much energy guarding Bryant), and Gasol shutting down Garnett, the offensive burden will fall to Allen. He is very capable of carrying that torch, but he has had a few cold streaks in the playoffs, including the early rounds of the 2008 playoffs. At the end of the day, Bryant is like Brooklyn Decker – it doesn’t matter if she’s doing cartwheels or posing by the ocean, the talent is undeniable. EDGE: Lakers

SF: Paul Pierce (Celtics) vs. Ron Artest (Lakers)
Ron Artest has truly become the modern day Dennis Rodman, without the cross-dressing. He is quirky, a unique personality, and even his own fans recoil in horror any time he lines up a shot outside of the paint. You have no idea what he’s going to do other than play complete lock down defense and rebound. And that is all the Lakers need him to do.

Paul Pierce was dubbed the greatest pure scorer in Celtics history by Bob Ryan of the Boston Globe and yet my brother and I had a discussion the other night whether he truly is a Hall of Famer. Is he underappreciated outside of Boston or overappreciated inside of Boston? Is he a compiler? He has had some great stretches in the playoffs where he has completely taken over a game, but he has never been a dominant scorer for an entire season (with the possible exception of 2001-02). His defense is solid, as evidenced by him slowing down LeBron just enough in 2008 and this year. But does he do any one thing great? His outside shot has improved over the years, but is far from reliable. His post game is adequate. He is an average rebounder. I like his game and believe that he WILL be a Hall of Famer, but the question is whether he should be a lock. While he is overdramaticIf he wins his second title this season, it does elevate him to another tier. EDGE: Celtics

PF: Pau Gasol (Lakers) vs. Kevin Garnett (Celtics)
Garnett is among the greatest power forwards to ever play the game (I rank him 3rd behind Tim Duncan and Elgin Baylor but ahead of Charles Barkley and Karl Malone), but he is running on fumes and one leg at this point of his career. He has adequately adjusted his game to be comfortable not being the focal point of the offense and remains the defensive and emotional leader of the team. He demands effort from his teammates and the Boston crowd with his primal screams or profanity-laced tirades. Yet he is overmatched against the younger Gasol who is just as comfortable defending Garnett’s mid range jumper or his post moves. Add in Gasol’s ability to pass and fill the lane on the break and he might be the second-best player in the series. If you were on the playground and choosing up teams, Bryant would be the first pick and Gasol would likely be next. (Followed by Rondo, Allen, Pierce, Garnett, Odom, Artest, Perkins, Wallace and Fisher). Gasol is the hot foreign import that revitalized the team with the well-rounded game – kind of like the addition of Mandy Drury on CNBC. EDGE: Lakers

C: Kendrick Perkins (Celtics) vs. Andrew Bynum (Lakers)
Perkins is a very solid low-post defender and capable rebounder. Bynum is athletic and would present a tough matchup for Perkins if he were healthy. Yet he’s not healthy. Neither player will be the difference maker and it’s possible that Bynum won’t be able to play through the full series. Perkins also may miss time because even his coach expects him to pick up another technical which will put him at 7 during the playoffs which warrants a one-game suspension. This is like deciding whether Lilly is more important to How I Met Your Mother than Phoebe was to Friends – both have their moments, but the shows could carry on effectively without either one. EDGE: Celtics

Bench Players
The Celtics bring in the cavalry to bang inside with Big Baby Davis and Rasheed Wallace and could potentially get a defensive option against Kobe in Tony Allen. The Lakers bring the most versatile yet most inconsistent player on either team in Lamar Odom. After Odom the Lakers bench is fairly weak – Jordan Farmar and Shannon Brown. Yet, when Odom is on a sugar high, he has the ability to be a match up nightmare for the Celtics and could be the difference in a game or two. He is like Carrie Underwood – he disappears for a while and you don’t think about him, but when he shows up, he reminds you that he has the complete package. EDGE: Lakers

Coaching
This edge is less of a surprise than the horrendous reviews that Sex In The City 2 has gotten. The greatest coach of all time versus a guy that was almost run out of town 3 years ago before Danny Ainge went the desperation route because his job was on the line as well. Doc Rivers has done a good job of keeping his veterans happy while the young Rondo takes the reins of the offense and he has a great defensive assistant coach (who will likely be a head coach next season). Yet he can’t compare to the Zen Master, who has already begun the mind games with his comments about Kevin Garnett. EDGE: Lakers

THE PICK
The Lakers will struggle to score consistently against the Celtics stingy defense and will need Lamar Odom to keep an extra bag of Skittles in his sock at all times. The Celtics offense will also struggle because the Lakers match up well with everyone except Ray Allen (Kobe on Rondo, Artest on Pierce & Gasol on Garnett). Can Allen continue his hot shooting and carry the Celtics to the title? I expect a tough series that is very evenly matched. And when the series is this evenly matched, what are the deciding factors? Who has the best player? Who has home court advantage? Is there a revenge factor? All of those answers are the Lakers. THE PICK: LAKERS IN SEVEN GAMES

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