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Other than Cavaliers-Lakers, it’s the matchup the NBA was hoping for, and they got it. For the second time in three seasons, the Boston Celtics will butt heads with their arch rival, the Los Angeles Lakers in the NBA Finals. The Celtics come into the contest with a veteran, battle-tested group, ready to claim its second NBA Title in three seasons. They’ll take on a young and explosive Lakers squad looking to defend its crown. Led by superstar Kobe Bryant, and 10-time NBA Champion head coach Phil Jackson, they’ll present a big challenge for Boston.
On their way to the Finals, Boston dispatched Dwayne Wade and the Miami Heat in the opening round in five games, upset LeBron James and the number-one seeded Cleveland Cavaliers in six in the Semis, and ousted the Orlando Magic in six games in the Eastern Conference Finals.
Meanwhile, Los Angeles took care of business out west, defeating Kevin Durant’s up and coming OKC Thunder in six games, sweeping the Utah Jazz in the Semis, and toppling Steven Nash’s Phoenix Suns in the Western Conference Finals.
Thursday’s tip-off will mark the 12th time these two historic franchises have squared off in the NBA Finals. The Celtics defeated the Lakers in their first eight Finals meetings. Los Angeles then took the title in 1985 and 1987, but lost the most recent Series in 2008.
This time around however, unlike in 2008, the Lakers, who finished the regular season as the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference, will have home-court advantage. There will be some new players like Ron Artest and Rasheed Wallace looking to make an impact, and some familiar faces like Rajon Rondo and Pau Gasol, who have significantly improved their games since 2008.
So, it is without further delay that I bring you an extensive preview of the 2010 NBA Finals, or what many are now simply calling “The Rematch.” As Judge Mills Lane would say, “Let’s get it on!”
The Lakers and Celtics split their regular season series 1-1. The Lakers won the first meeting in January in Boston, and the Celtics won less than a month later in Los Angeles. The combined margin of victory in the two games was just two points.
Kobe Bryant nailed a go-ahead jumper with 7.3 seconds remaining to lift the Lakers over the Celtics in their first meeting of the season. Rajon Rondo scored a game-high 21 points and had 12 assists, but it was not enough to overcome Bryant’s late-game heroics. Ray Allen missed a potential game-winning shot as time expired.
Ray Allen and the Celtics got revenge less than a month later, scraping by with a one-point victory over the Lakers in Los Angeles. Allen scored a game-high 24 points, and this time around it was Derek Fisher, not Allen, who missed a potential game-winning buzzer-beater. The Lakers played without the services of Kobe Bryant, who sat out the game with a sprained left ankle.
We all know Kobe Bryant is going to bring his A game, but what should we expect from Pau Gasol? Gasol was physically dominated by the Celtics throughout the 2008 Finals. The Spanish International averaged just 14.7 points per game, 4.2 points lower than his regular season average. However, Gasol has been an absolute beast throughout the 2009-2010 season averaging 18.3 points and 11.3 rebounds per game. He’s currently averaging 20 points per game this playoffs.
The Celtics hope Kevin Garnett will be able to knock around Gasol like he did in 2008, while the Lakers hope Gasol will continue to effectively supplement Kobe on the offensive end of the floor. Gasol is by far the best member of Bryant’s supporting cast, and he’ll have to play well for the Lakers to have a shot at winning the series.
In order for the Celtics to defeat the Lakers, Paul Pierce will need to have a big series like he had against Miami and Orlando. Boston cannot afford to have Pierce disappear offensively like he did in the Cleveland series. In that series, Pierce had a hard time scoring against a younger, bigger, more athletic LeBron James.
The Lakers will use defensive specialist Ron Artest to try to shutdown Pierce. Like James, Artest is a big and physical defender. He’s not as quick as LeBron, but he’s got the ability to make the player he’s guarding a non-factor, which is something Pierce and the Celtics can’t afford to have happen.
If the Lakers use Kobe Bryant to guard Rajon Rondo, that will force Derek Fisher to match up with Ray Allen. At 6-foot-5, Allen has four inches on 6-foot-1 Fisher. This should allow Allen to shoot over Fisher with ease, and beat him up inside and on the glass. Fisher probably isn’t tall enough to effectively guard Allen, but he’s certainly not quick enough to stay with Rondo. At 35, Fisher just doesn’t have the legs to keep up with the Celtic’s speedy playmaker. If Allen catches fire from beyond the arc, look for Phil Jackson to use a lot more of Jordan Farmar and Shannon Brown in this series.
A lot of people believe this series will go seven games, but I see the Celtics winning it in six. In my opinion, Boston presents too many match-up problems for Los Angeles on both ends of the floor. Derek Fisher will be exposed trying to guard Rajon Rondo or Ray Allen, and Pau Gasol will find it difficult to operate against the Celtics tenacious interior defense that shut down Dwight Howard for part of the Eastern Finals. The Lakers also have to be a bit concerned with Andrew Bynum’s injured right knee. Boston has held seven of its last nine opponents to 92 points or fewer, and they won all seven of those games. Defense is what won the C’s a championship in 2008, and it will be the reason they win again in 2010. There will be no revenge for the “Black Mamba.” Celtics in 6.
Tags: Andrew Bynum, Boston Celtics, Derek Fisher, Jordan Farmar, Kevin Garnett, Kobe Bryant, Los Angeles Lakers, NBA Finals, Pau Gasol, Paul Pierce, Phil Jackson, Rajon Rondo, Rasheed Wallace, Ray Allen, Ron Artest