The East Still Gets No Love...
A year has past since the 2007 NBA Finals. A Final where Basketball fans all across the world saw the LeBron James led Cleveland Cavaliers fall to the San Antonio Spurs in four games. From this result, many saw the fall of the Cavaliers and came to their own conclusions; whether it be: The Spurs are a Dynasty and just too much to handle for the Cavs, the Cavaliers simply weren't ready for the Finals, the Spurs were just that much better than the Cavaliers. One conclusion that most came up with was; the Western Conference is far superior to the East. The Cavaliers, representing the Eastern Conference, previously getting to the Finals took out the powerhouse of the East for over 6 years...the Detroit Pistons in 6 games--winning four games in a row. At the time, the Pistons were the hands down favorite to go all the way, maybe even win the Championship that year; yet they still managed to go down to the Cavs in 6? Hmm....the East can't be all that bad, right?
Now it's the off-season. Big trades, signings, and release, all bound to happen in these magical 4 months. It's a Basketball fans dream...well not if you root for an actual team. Okay, it’s not exactly a basketball fan's dream
but it’s when all the fun starts. The biggest transaction of the off-season was no doubt the Boston Celtics acquiring Kevin Garnett from the Minnesota Timberwolves. KG? Wanting to come to the East? Hmm...Now the Boston Celtics nation arose from the dust, wanting to support their new look team, hoping the new look Celtics could bring another 'ship to the Garden. Okay, so the Eastern conference gets a little better right? Well prior to the KG deal, in a Sign-and Trade deal, the Orlando Magic saw Small Forward Rashard Lewis sign to a deal. The East isn't looking that bad...
October 30, 2007 starts the new Season. An Eastern Conference somewhat improved, and the West...in many eyes the West was where it really mattered. Tons of "Powerhouses" like the Spurs, Mavericks, Suns, and to some, even the Rockets. I mean....the East got some big names, but hey who cares? It's the East, right? The season is underway; it’s already a close battle out West. The Mavs, Spurs, and Suns all start out sharp, and then the sudden resurgence of the Hornets, and Lakers surprised many. Fans out West are already picking their Finals favorites.
Now let’s take a look out East... The Celtics jump out the gate like gangbusters, winning 8 in a row before falling the Orlando Magic...speaking of the Magic, the Magic also surprise many; Hedo Turkoglu vastly improved from a season ago, the young stud Dwight Howard averaging Double-Doubles, and Rashard Lewis doing what he was sent in to do--hitting the open looks, and making the right plays. The Cleveland Cavaliers, reigning Eastern Conference Champs find their selves in an awkward situation, when their star LeBron James goes down missing 6 games in a row. Meanwhile, the young core of the Chicago Bulls, surprisingly the favorites of the East found themselves on the losing ends of games; which eventually led to their head coach, Scott Skiles to be fired. The Miami Heat, Two years removed from their miraculous Finals victory over the Mavericks saw themselves in a hole. Their star player, Dwyane Wade would be out a few months more from returning. But with the bad comes some good...the Atlanta Hawks hopped out early, even being above .500 at one point. Most teams out East had improved that year, with at least 7 teams at .500 or better.
So...the Playoffs arrive! Everyone's talking about how excited they are to see the Western Conference match-ups, and with good reason. A young Chris Paul leading his troops against the Veteran Mavericks. Can Tracy McGrady get out of the first round...even without Yao? Shaq vs. Duncan...someone has to go! And can the Kobe/Gasol led Lakers see some playoff success? Some nice storylines to help juice up the Playoffs. The Eastern Conference...Pistons/Sixers--Piston sweep. Celtics/Hawks? Celtics sweep. Orlando/Toronto? Not much to report over here. Cavaliers/Wizards seemed to be the only match up with some hype to it. Two years in a row this match has happened--each time, the Cavs successful. Can the Cavs make it a Three-Peat?
Needless to say, I think the Eastern Conference First Round woke some people up. The Pistons wouldn't just breeze by this young Philly team. The Philadelphia 76'ers attacked the Pistons early, jumping out to an early 2-1 series lead. At this point, many though the Sixers could do what Golden State did to the Mavericks...a first round upset; of course it wouldn't be easy. Ultimately, the Sixers fell to the Pistons 4-2, but not before turning some heads. Not just of the NBA, but the fans, media, and even some players...Meanwhile everyone was getting the brooms ready for the Celtics/Hawks series. Should be an easy Boston sweep, right? The Celtics did was needed, defending the home court in a convincing fashion. The Hawks, a rejuvenated young team, and for many, saw their first ever Playoff game at the Phillips arena in Atlanta. Just lucky enough to be in the Finals, they had nothing to lose. To the surprise of many, the Hawks pulled it
off, and actually won a game! Okay, they just got lucky...Game 4, lightning struck twice as the Atlanta Hawks tied up the series 2-2. But that wasn't enough, the Hawks had lived to see another day, that day being game 6; a Game 6 where once again lightning had struck, but was it simply luck? The Hawks headed back into the Boston Garden, trying to chance their luck just one more time; 48 minutes away from the second round...the Celtics were just too much in the end. The Hawks earned the Celtics respect, as well as the respect of many teams throughout the league. A young team on the rise in the East. They'd have to be taken seriously now. However, the Boston Celtics, being taken to 7 games in the first round? The best team in the league goes down to the statistically worst team in the Playoffs? Interesting, maybe the east isn't that
bad. How would the Celtics fare in the Second round...?
Celtics/Cavs: Here's a chance for the Celtics to redeem themselves. After being taken to 7 against the Hawks, surely they'd fare better against the Cavs. Unfortunately for the Celtics, this series saw similar results. Once again, the Boston Celtics would see a game 7 against an inferior ball club. What’s going on here? Meanwhile, out west, the Hornets would see their joyride come to an end against the Veteran Spurs; and the Lakers upset the Utah Jazz in 6, making their first Western Conference Finals appearance since 2004.
The Eastern Conference Finals saw the two, maybe only two Powerhouses of the East. The Pistons and Celtics. Based off of their first two series, casual fans lacked confidence in the Celtics to beat the Pistons. If the Celtics were forced to 7 against the Hawks, and Cavs...how would they manage against the Pistons, arguably the best team out East? The Series started out in Boston's favor; winning the first game...this luck wouldn't last. The Pistons came into Game 2, and captured the unlikely road victory...its anybodies series now. The Celtics came back for Game 3 and got a road victory of their own, regaining the home-court advantage. The Celtics began to go back to their winning ways, demonstrated in the regular season, ultimately defeating the Pistons in 6; earning a spot in the NBA Finals. So in one season, the Celtics get a high lottery pick, the next, an NBA Finals appearance...all out east.
It's Finals time! Everyone's pumped to see a rivalry renewed; Celtics vs. Lakers for all the marbles. But first...let's take a look at what our "experts" had to say. According to ESPN, com, 9 of their 10 "experts" picked the Los Angeles Lakers to beat the Celtics in a convincing fashion. Now how could this be? The Celtics had the League's best record at 66-16. The Lakers also had a fantastic season, and in a way, should have been the underdog going into the Finals. Somehow, they were the overwhelming favorites; picked by fans and "experts" alike. Were they favorites because they had Kobe? Arguably the best player in the league toady. Or was it because they dethroned the defending champs, the San Antonio Spurs? Or....was this just another case of people underestimating the Eastern Conference? There was only one way to find out. The Celtics, and Lakers squared off in an epic battle....a battle ultimately won by the Celtics in 6 Games, giving Paul Pierce, Ray Allen, Kevin Garnett, PJ Brown, as well as other vets their first taste of Championship Gold.
Looking back from the 2007 NBA Finals, to the 2008 NBA Finals a lot can be interpreted. Although the Cavaliers, '07 ECF Champs would later get dethroned by the '08 Champs, both teams were able to keep their status at legit contenders. Statistically the Cavs got worse, the Celtics got better; but still the Cavs were able to compete against a team statistically better than them. Nobody can say the Cavs were "Paper Champions" or "just a fluke". Some may take the Celtics and say they're the "flavor of the month". Aging players, not too deep roster; but in a year where the Eastern Conference vastly improved, an Eastern Conference team won it all.
So...in one year this is what we've seen happen in the Eastern Conference: The Boston Celtics go from chumps to champ, the Orlando Magic become a legitimate Eastern Contender, the young Hawks on the rise, the sudden resurgence of the Philadelphia 76ers. Not too bad. Don't take this the wrong way; I love the level of competition out West; however the East is considered the "Step Child" of the NBA. There are plenty of Gems out East; though maybe not as consistent out west, the competition is there. Now as for this off-season? So far, the 76'ers acquire Elton Brand; the Toronto Raptors acquire big man Jermaine O'Neal, the Bulls, and Heat draft Point Guard Derrick Rose, and Forward Michael Beasley...All this, and with only 2 months into the off-season. Some more trades, and transactions could be brewing. The Charlotte Bobcats could be on the rise as well with a core of Raymond Felton, Emeka Okafor, Gerald Wallace, and Jason Richardson. The Pistons are still legit, as well are the reigning Champions, the Boston Celtics. The Eastern Conference isn't as bad as most fans think. The competitiveness is definitely there. Hey, don't even be surprised if my Knicks make some noise this season!