The Eastern Conference Finals has put me as a Laker fan in the uncomfortable position of rooting for the hated Boston Celtics against Lebron James and the equally hated Miami Heat. Naturally, I'll be rooting for either San Antonio or Oklahoma City in the Finals, no matter the opponent, but I chose to root for Boston over Miami because them raising banner 18 the week before the band breaks up is preferable to watching Lebron getting ring number one with a bright future ahead of him.
However, watching these Celtics has opened my eyes to how little fight the Lakers had in them this post season. This was readily apparent in the Denver series as they struggled to close out the Nuggets, lacking the killer instinct seen in previous seasons. And there is no shame in the Lakers losing this year to the Oklahoma City Thunder, who clearly were the better team. But going into the postseason, just about any Laker fan would have said, "At least we're going further than Boston this year." All the sports analysts counted the Celtics out as well, saying they were too old and couldn't stand against teams like Miami, just like the Lakers stood little chance against the Thunder in the media's mind. So why have the Celtics been able to take one more run at glory while the Lakers watch back home?
The Celtics fought. And the Lakers didn't. Kobe and Metta, they fought. I can't take that away from them. But everytime Pietrus hit a three tonight, I wondered where Matt Barnes went this postseason. When Garnett dominated on defense or hit the open mid-range shots, I wondered about where Bynum was on defense or why Pau couldn't locate his mid-range game, even on the most open of shots. As Keyon Dooling made Miami pay everytime they left him open, Steve Blake's inconsistent three-point shot came to mind. I almost wrote about Rajon Rondo's wizardry on offense this series, but that doesn't even seem fair to Ramon Sessions. At the end of the game tonight, as Doc Rivers called time outs to rally the troops and draw up brilliant out of bounds plays, I shook my head in disgust recalling Mike Brown's absentee performances at the end of games 2 and 4 against OKC.
It hurts to write this, but if Boston raises number 18 in November, I am okay with that. They have continued to fight despite the inevitability of free agency for Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen, and the possibility of Paul Pierce being traded this offseason. They continued to fight despite the expectations of failure, because they know that the playoffs are determined in the newspapers but rather on the court. So if they win the championship this year, good for them. They play the game of basketball the way it should be played and they do not have an ounce of quit in any of them. Whoever is left from this year's Lakers when all is said and done this offseason would do well to look across the country at their bitter rivals and learn what it takes to be a champion.