As a Celtics fan, I've been pretty nervous all the way through these playoffs; if you've followed
these playoffs at all, you'll understand. Seven games against the Hawks, seven against the Cavs, six against the Pistons - if the Lakers series goes to six games, it will be the most playoff games played by any one team in the history of the NBA, that's not the path a championship team follows, that's a bizarro world version of Moses Malone's "fo', fo', fo'," and I don't like it.
Still, watching that last game of the Pistons series, I saw, one more time, the Celtics I fell in love with over the regular season - a team that destroyed their opponents with defensive rotation, star power, and sheer determination and force of will. A team I could believe could beat this Laker's team.
With all the talk of how strong the Lakers are and how quickly they're going to stomp on the Celtics, it's fair to point out that the Celtics match up very well against the Lakers. Look:
PG - Derek Fisher vs. Rajon Rondo
Fisher is steadier and more capable, but he's got no upside. Bryant's the playmaker and the man who stays in control of the rock, that's why Bryant's assist numbers are double Fisher's. Fisher's responsibility is to play second fiddle to Bryant and not mess things up - eleven points, three dimes, and a steal a game in the regular season, and his numbers have dropped even further in the playoffs (though his steals are up). He's a good man for the job he's got, but he's never going to step up more than he has.
Rondo might. No one's made more strides over the course of this season than Rondo, and he continues to move forward over the course of these playoffs - his assists are up one and a half per game, and he's hit as many three-pointers as he did over the course of the whole season. He's obviously much more of a wildcard than Fisher and might implode at an inopportune time, but on the flip side, he could also suddenly explode for 15 dimes, and his playmaking continues to take so many strides that his defenders are starting to give him that extra step - even established point guards like Billups. Fisher's no Chauncey Billups.
SG - Sasha Vujacic vs. Ray Allen
Vujacic is a long-range gunner with no other skills, Allen's a fading superstar with a little left in the tank. Vujacic gives the Lakers 8 points a game on 44 percent three-point shooting but can't be trusted to do anything else, Allen's will get twice as many points, twice as many rebounds, three times as many assists, and for once will not be a liability on the the defensive end as Vujacic is not suddenly gonna become a drive-and-dish slasher.
Slump or no slump, bad ankles or no bad ankles, Advantage: Celtics
SF - Kobe Bryant vs. Paul Pierce - It's closer than people think, but, not much closer, so yeah... it's a dumb question.
By the way, speaking of Kobe, he's launching his way into becoming one of the top-10 players of all time, but there's a caveat - as great as he is, he's always going to be that player who bitches and whines until he gets his way, even if his way isn't the best way.
Look at it like this: if you were to play a pickup game, two-on-two, you plus any player in history in their prime, with the punishment for losing being death, how high on that list would Kobe be? I'd pick Wilt and MJ first, but after that... I mean, I'd pick him over Bird. I'd pick him over Magic, the big O, West, Russell, Hakeem, Duncan, Shaq - I really think he'd be my third pick in that situation.
Now, let's say that you're building a team that will compete for several seasons, with two superstars, one that will be picked at random and one that you get to pick. You can pick any superstar from history. How far down is Kobe on that list. 10th? 20th? 30th? Further? You would take far less talented players just to avoid the possibility of everything blowing up in your face. Everyone would.
Just thought I'd settle that. Moving on...
PF - Lamar Odom vs. Kevin Garnett
Bad reputation aside, Odom's been strong, both this season and these playoffs. Shooting well, 15 points and 10 boards a game, he's a legitimate third option for the Lakers, a position that fits him much better than second option ever did. If he takes it up a level, it'll negate the effect Garnett has on this series, and likely swing the whole series in favor of the Lakers.
Garnett's still a mystery to me. The whole playoffs, he's been reluctant to establish himself as a force down low, relying on jump shots and high post moves. If he takes Odom to the rim consistently, this matchup is gonna be a lot more important than just the extra five points per game Garnett offers.
Center: Pau Gasol vs. Kendrick Perkins
The question isn't whether Gasol is better, or if it's even close, but just whether Perk can stand up to Gasol enough to handle him. These playoffs, Gasol has increased his rebounds and assists - he's now averaging an 18-9-4 with 2.5 blocks a game. That's domination down low there.
Perkins is a young guy, he's up and down like most young big men. He'll disappear in some games and come out strong in others. At least once this series Gasol will take him for 28 points and 16 rebounds, at least once in this series Perk will play him head to head. We'll lose Gasol's good game and win Perk's good one. And we better hope he's got more than one good one.
Bench - Lakers vs. Celtics
James Posey could legitimately start for any playoff team, and there's no one like that on the Laker bench. The Lakers have a talented point guard in Jordan Farmar and a strong big man in Vlad Radmanovic, and no one else of interest. The deeper you go into the benches, the more the Celtics have the advantage - between Sam Cassell and Eddie House, they've always got a backup PG option, plus an experienced big man in P.J. Brown. Plus, some good young big men in Leon Powe and Big Baby Davis that can pound away down low.
Coach - Phil Jackson vs. Doc Rivers
Heh. Heh heh. Ha ha ha ahaha hahahahahahaha! Ha ha ha!
Massive Advantage: Lakers
So, despite the large coaching gap, that doesn't look too bad, does it? That looks like a legitimate series right there, not some runaway train pounding a sad-sack newcomer? I say yes.
1. If the Celtics win the series and Pierce is named Series MVP, he becomes a lock for the Hall of Fame, something he wasn't before.
2. Whoever wins Game 1 wins the series.
3. Kobe has at least one game over 40 points.
4. Pierce has at least one game over 30 points.
5. Garnett destroys Odom by a painful degree in one game.
6. Same for Gasol with Perkins.
7. Anytime Ray Allen scores more than 20, the Celtics win.
8. Rondo has one game with more than 12 assists.
9. There will be hundreds of articles trumpeting the even-better-than-expected ratings for the series.
10. Garnett will have one point where he will go so ballistic even the announcers are scared.
11. Celtics in 6.