Josh just had to supplement his pick with a fancy schmancy table, so he's getting the authorial credit on this round of roundtable previews. As you will see, the Finals brought out the best in our authors, or at least the most expansive. Click on through the jump for not one, but six exhaustive accounts (okay 3, with another 3 that are regular size) of what we think will happen.
Lakers in 6
Let's pretend I'm a nationally televised announcer working for ABC, and I'm about to give you my "Keys to the Series," accompanied by a nifty graphic that shows up on your screen while I speak. Here they are:
Kobe Bryant vs. Boston's Defense
One of the biggest keys for Boston in 2008 was their defense against Kobe Bryant. They funneled him into help, ran multiple guys at him, collapsed hard on him when he drove, and forced him to either take tough shots, or pass. This strategy worked well, because Kobe's teammates weren't able to sufficiently punish the Celtics for that strategy. This leads us to two questions: First, are the Celtics as capable of executing this strategy as they were two years ago? Perhaps the best indicator is LeBron James, since he also struggled against the same defense in 2008. The following table shows how LeBron and Kobe did versus the Celtics in 2008, and then how LeBron did against them this year. Below each year, I've indicated how those numbers relate to his season averages.
|LeBron James vs. 2008 Celtics||.355||5.3||27.0||6.4||7.6|
|↑ compared to 2007-08 season
||- .129||+ 1.9||- 3.0||- 1.5||+ 0.4|
|LeBron James vs. 2010 Celtics||.447||4.5||27||9.3||7.2|
|↑ compared to 2009-10 season
||- .056||+ 1.1||- 2.7||+ 2.0||- 1.4|
|Kobe Bryant vs. 2008 Celtics
|↑ compared to 2007-08 season
||- .054||+ .67||- 2.3||- 1.6||- 0.4|
As you can see from the table, even a LeBron James who didn't seem interested or engaged, who many have accused of not trying, and who didn't attack nearly as much as he should have, didn't struggle nearly as much against the Celtics this year as he did in 2008 — and in fact, he was much better on the boards. Now look at Kobe: His dropoff versus the Celtics in 2008 was noticeable, but nowhere near as extreme as LeBron's. My conclusion? He may not continue to shoot over .500 from the field, but don't expect him to play poorly.
The second question is, should we expect Kobe's teammates to struggle as much as they did two years ago? Again, I doubt it, and by now you know by heart all the reasons why (Artest + Bynum > Radmanovic + Walton + Vujacic, Pau Gasol isn't a new arrival, championship experience, etc.).
Paul Pierce vs. Ron Artest
In 2008, Pierce killed the Lakers. However, the Lakers were essentially without Trevor Ariza, and Vlad Radmanovic and Luke Walton split most of the small forward minutes. This year, Ron Artest will be defending Pierce, and the difference should be night and day. Some have pointed to the fact that Pierce has played well against Artest in the past, but that's not the point here. The point is that even if Artest doesn't lock Pierce down the way he can other players, he will still be an indescribable upgrade over Radmanovic and Walton. Also, note that there is one key aspect of the Artest/Pierce matchup that is markedly different than years past: In past years, he was a #1 player and a scorer who also defended well; this year, defense is really his only job. The rest is gravy. The difference might be akin to Kobe in the playoffs (good defender) versus Kobe in the Olympics (mind-blowing defender).
Rondo vs. Kobe
I recently checked out the SI.com predictions, and they're all expecting Rondo to torch Fisher. Of course, for that to happen Fisher would have to defend Rondo, which I think is unlikely. We'll probably see Kobe on Rondo most of the time - not only because he'll probably be better at defending him, but also because making him chase Ray Allen around screens doesn't really save him any energy (and Fish is better at that). What will we get from Kobe on Rondo? Not really sure. I could see Kobe going Team USA on Rondo, but the question is whether he'd be willing to expend the energy and risk struggling on offense because of it. Personally, I think it'd be worth it - he'd get massive recognition for shutting down Rondo, and it would be the key to the series. Even if his scoring dropped, I still think he'd get his series MVP. So I'm hoping Kobe goes Olympic on Rondo's ass; still, even if he doesn't go that hard, I still think Kobe's skills, along with Phil Jackson's game plan, will be enough to contain Rondo.
Home Court Advantage
It's extremely important that the Lakers take the first two games. If they do, I'll almost guarantee victory. That said, even if they split the first two games, they'll take one of the three straight games played in Boston, because it's nearly impossible to win three straight in the Finals, and this year won't be an exception. That means the Celtics need to take two games in Los Angeles to win this series. It's not impossible - but do you see it happening?
The Bottom Line
I'm not buying that the Celtics are better this year than they were in 2008. I think Rondo is much better, and in every other way possible they're worse. Contain Rondo and the Celtics will struggle. Phil Jackson has a proven history of being able to solve the problems that other teams never find a solution to, and I fully expect him to find a solution to Rondo. Pau Gasol isn't a new arrival, we're not starting Radmanovic, and Paul Pierce won't dominate us like he did last time. I expect one fairly easy win in each direction and four tough, close games, with the Lakers winning in 6.
Lakers in 6
For weeks now, a purple wave has been growing in size and gathering speed, and it's now about to crest and crash onto the city of Boston. All the necessary jet streams and tidal forces are coming together. The rejuvenation of Kobe Bryant, the grit and intimidation supplied by Ron Artest, the length and skilled play of the Laker frontline, the clutch outside shooting from the supporting cast, the home-court advantage... this Laker team is ready to don the mantle of back-to-back NBA champions. As great as the Boston Celtics have played in the postseason, they don't have enough scoring punch to keep up with the Laker attack, which will find its shots and take care of the ball far better than did either the Cavs or Magic. A perfect 8-0 at Staples Center in the playoffs so far, the Lakers will finish the postseason unblemished at home, taking Games One, Two and Six. In the Boston sandwich games, they'll drop Game Three (as they're wont to do) but find a way to steal either Game Four or Five behind a ferocious defensive effort and a classic Kobe gamewinner, thus setting up the clincher back in LA. Watching the Lakers win a title by beating the Celtics with Bill Simmons in the stands with be an orgasm of schadenfreude.
Lakers in 4
Let me take a moment here to remind everyone here that I have picked the correct winner of the Lakers playoff series 100% of the time starting from round one of last season's playoffs.
I actually have no idea what's going to happen, but I have a hunch that one of these teams already has the other one figured out. I just don't know which one it is. Since I'm a Lakers fan, I'll go with the Lakers. It could just as easily be Boston in 4 or 5. In fact, I think the media hype is setting this up to be one hell of a letdown for non-Boston and non-L.A. fans expecting a competitive series. It reminds me of the build-up to the 2000-01 Western Conference Finals between the Lakers and Spurs, which was expected by all to be a battle, but ended in a sweep.
You just can't ignore the regular season, and if I don't ignore those 82 games that means the Celtics' time should be up soon, and they should revert back to their regular season ways. I just hope it happens in the next two weeks. The Lakers' regular season was not great, but nothing compared to the lows of the Celtics'.
I respect the Celtics. I respect the Celtics. I respect the Celtics.
Laugh and ridicule me all you want, someone's gotta take the contrarian/homer route, throw caution to the wind, and risk it all. As always, I have a 12.5% confidence in my pick.
Lakers in 7
Well, here we are, once again. For the third time in three years, and 31st time in Franchise history, the Lakers are playing for rings in the NBA Finals. But this time, it's more. It's the team's chance for revenge, Pau's chance for redemption, Kobe's chance to cement his legacy, Bynum's chance to participate in something he missed last time, Sasha's chance to get his mojo back. These NBA Finals are a plethora of things. The Lakers have plenty of motivation, asides from championships, to win this series. The Celtics, on the other hand, are all collectively obsessed with winning. They want to win this more than anything in the world.
If you solely look at the paper teams, it seems the Lakers have a clear advantage over the Lakers, but we all know that the paper matchups don't tell even half the story (otherwise we'd be seeing a Utah-Cleveland final). The intangibles in this series will determine the victor. Determination, grit, clutch, execution, intensity, and of course toughness. Those are what will determine this series, not the raw talent or numbers. In 08, moreso than any other defining factor, the Celtics wanted it more. And, I think, in terms of simply a championship, the Celtics collectively as a team still want a championship more than the Lakers. Their minds are there, even if their bodies may not be. The Lakers, however, have many other motivators to win. Primarily, they have the animalistic, primal instinct or revenge. The Celtics didn't just beat them in '08, they humiliated, embarrassed and emasculated them. They threw legacies into question, attached bad reputations to Lakers players, even essentially rendered a player worthless for the better part of two years. The Lakers remember this. They want to return the favour.
This series will be determined by who wants it more. Not matchups, not talent, not stats. This will be a blood-on-the-floor grudge match, and the team left standing will be the team most determined to win, positively because they hate the other team more than the other team hates them. Because of the aspect of hate, I think the Lakers take it. The Celtics hate the Lakers as an organisation, but no-one on this specific Celtics team has had the Lakers take anything significant from them, whilst every single Celtic rotation player asides from Nate Robinson has participated in destroying the Lakers when they were on the cusp of a championship, and the sweet vindication that comes with it.
I think the Lakers take it in 7, winning Game One in a menacing fashion before dropping Games Two and Three to an angered Boston squad. Going down in the series will cause many to panic, but the Lakers will come back and blow the Celtics out in Game Four on their home court, in which Perkins finally picks up his seventh technical, rendering him suspended for Game Five and allowing the Lakers to win in overtime due to a strong performance from the Los Angeles bigs and then a splendid clutch shoot-out between Kobe and Paul Pierce. I think the Celtics then take Game Six in LA after trailing by double digits in the fourth, winning on a Ray Allen dagger. Game Seven will be a pure slug-fest, I can see players being injured, players being ejected. Nerves will be on edge, and elbows will be flying. The game will be ugly and disjointed due to the refs trying to maintain control with tight whistles, but will still be addictive as hell. No team will lead by more than 3, until Kobe makes several successive impossible shots to pull a win out for the Lakers, 87-80. Adam Morrison will lose his virginity to a girl he meets at the Championship Parade.
Lakers in 6
Two years ago the Lakers were sent home licking their wounds watching the Celtics pop champagne bottle at their expense. That year's Celtics team was better, did everything better, and had homecourt and favorable calls to boot. Boston exploited their advantages and won the Title. Unlike 2008, the Lakers have the match-up advantage this time around. This will not be the same series. The biggest difference is Ron Artest. Paul Pierce won a Finals MVP with the majority of "defense" coming form Vlad " Space Cadet" Radmanovic, Luke Walton, or Trevor Ariza, who had just missed months of playing time with a foot injury. Ron Ron's D >>>>>>>>>> Lakers' 3 Headed SF Monster in 2008.
Of course the second most important match-ups will reside in the post. KG vs. Pau, and Bynum vs. Kendrick Perkins. Although Pau's toughness was questioned in that Boston series, his problems were with Perk. He can score on KG. Now that Bynum is here this time around, the match-ups favor the Lakers. No more Perk on Pau, nor KG on Lamar. Pau will have an easier time with KG, who isn't as good as he was 2 years ago. Bynum's size and strength should neutralize Perkins effectiveness. We saw the difference he made in the regular season vs. the Celtics. But Bynum has to stay out of foul trouble, and keep Perkins in foul trouble. When Perkins was suspended a game in 2008, the Lakers went to town on KG. So keeping Perkins on Bynum is vital. The other major factor in the post is expectations. This year, the Lakers aren't going to let Boston push them around. This us the team that exposed them and the one team that the Lakers know what to expect. Not only that, I expect LA to push first this time.
Of course we're going to hear about Rondo's emergence, and rightfully so, but I'm not so sure his improvement is enough to make up for edge the Celtics have lost on the Lakers. He's pretty much just much better at the same things he did well in 2008. He still can't shoot. Still can't hit free-throws. If the Lakers stay at home, stick to their man, and play the great defense we saw these Playoffs (minus the Suns), I think Rondo's effectiveness can be limited. If the Lakers can limit open guys, it will limit Rondo finding them. Especially if the Lakers can stop Boston's transition, where Rondo is most deadly. He's should be guarded by Kobe again, and right now, Kobe will die on the court going for #5. As Josh Tucker mentioned, I would like to see Kobe go "Olympic on his ass."
Speaking of Kobe, who just might be playing his finest basketball ever (that's saying a lot), this series should be easier for him than 2008. It's sayong a lot about this series that the best basketball player on the planet doesn't get mentioned until the 4th paragraph. Not only is he playing ultra efficiently,attacking the basket and making shots, but if the front court steps up how I think they will, Boston can't afford to focus on overloading on Kobe. Also, if Kobe continues his stellar play in this Finals, he will ease up the pressure for the front court. Once Boston's strategy softens up, expect Kobe to pick Boston apart.
On to the Celtics bench. Boston no longer has Eddie House to stretch the floor. No James Posey to come in a play great defense. No PJ Brown for veteran savvy and timely shots. Now? They have jump shooting Rasheed. Big Baby, whom will have a problem with Lakers' length. Same thing for Shelden Williams. Marquis Daniels (who might not play due to a concussion) who is a complete non factor, and Tony Allen. Allen could help Boston, but he can also hurt them. Nate Robinson is typically a Lakers killer, but who know how much PT Doc Rivers will give him. Michael Finely is 95 years old. I expect Lamar to have a great series. Especially matched against Rasheed, or if he drives against KG. I also feel Farmar should be able to play well offensively against the Celtic bench. Shannon Brown and Sasha Vujacic can be X-factors if they can play well. I just can't see Boston's bench hurting us.
So, Lakers in 6. There's just too much to prove for Pau, Lamar, Ron, Bynum, and Kobe. They wanted this. They need it. Their guts will show bright as their talent this time around. They are ready. Plus, the Lakers just don't lose much at home, and they have homecourt this year. They'll win Games 1 and 2, lose 3 and 4, win 5 and 6. You know, these Lakers' favorite way to win a series. Hopefully, I'll see you at the parade, and if you make your way out to Boston, hit me up.
C. A. Clark
Early in the season, we thought these were the two best teams in the league, and we were right. Both teams spent a majority of the regular season making us question that belief. Suddenly, all those ideas of Boston - L.A part two were weighed down with ifs. IF the Celtics can stay healthy. IF Kobe Bryant doesn't fall apart. IF Kevin Garnett can return to form. IF the Lakers can make any outside shots. IF IF IF IF IF. Well, all the ifs pretty much came true. The struggles of the regular season are over, for both of these teams, and we're left with exactly what we saw in October. The two past champions going at it over 7 games.
As I've already pointed out, this series is more exciting than most, because there is history, but no precedent. Rivlaries are formed when teams battle each other repeatedly, in the playoffs, with close contests and mixed results. But rivlaries are also usually combined with an established precedent. You might not know who will when the rivals face off, but you generally know how the team that does win is going to accomplish it.
This matchup? I have no idea. The Lakers spent most of the year with no offense, now they are firing on all cylinders. The Celtics took most of the season displaying no effort, now they work harder than anybody else. The Lakers have shown tremendous defense, and none at all, all in these playoffs. Same goes for the Celtics offense. Combine all these unknowns with two teams that look to be perfectly matched to stop the other, and you've got a great series on your hands.
The Lakers begin with Kobe, and Boston knows all about stopping a superstar. The Celtics begin with Rondo, and Kobe's defensive capability and preferences are perfectly suited towards stopping him. The Lakers usually dominate with tons of size, but the Celtics are one of the few teams that can match it. The Celtics get most of their scoring from the wings, but the Lakers have the best perimeter defense in the NBA. I could go on and on, but you get the picture. If you were to design a team with the sole purpose of defeating the Celtics, they'd probably look a lot like the Lakers do. If you were to contrive a group of guys with the best chances of slowing down the Lakers, the Celtics wouldn't be far from your perfect combination. These two teams were, almost literally, made for each other.
Because both teams seem capable of solving the litany of match-up problems the other team is used to enjoying, I have a feeling that we're in for a defensive slugfest. The Lakers D hasn't been spectacular in the playoffs, but we know it's there, and against a Celtics offense that isn't very strong, I expect it to return full force. Meanwhile, the days of 1.2 points per possession are long gone for the Lakers.
Lakers in 6 might seem like too kind to the home team, considering I just spent so many words telling you to expect anything and everything should be close. My prediction is based on two factors: Home court advantage (and the specific advantage of the 2-3-2 format which has already been discussed), and the fact that, down the stretch, the Celtics have shown, both in the regular season and the playoffs, to struggle to score, mainly because Rondo gets passive on account of not wanting to be fouled. On the other side, Kobe Bryant has spent the entire year refusing to be denied in crunch time. So, while most the games will be close, I suspect the Lakers will win most of the close games.
So there you have it, the Lakers will win the NBA championship for a 2nd straight year, based upon the unanimous predictions of the SS&R staff. Then again, all of Celtics Blog predicted Celtics victories, so take everything with a grain of salt. I'm a little disappointed that no author from either fanbase had the stones to pick against the home team, but I guess we all genuninely believe in our teams chances 100%. One group will be proven horribly wrong at days end. Here's hoping its them.