NBA Finals Preview
The Boston Celtics will face the Los Angeles Lakers for the NBA championship. InsideHoops.com presents an NBA Finals preview with our opinions, fan opinions, and quotes from professional writers elsewhere, all together. Each finals games is at 9pm ET on ABC television. Game 1 is June 5, Game 2 is June 8, Game 3 is June 10, Game 4 is June 12, and if necessary, Game 5 is June 15, Game 6 is June 17, and Game 7 is June 19. The first two games are in Boston. The next three are in Los Angeles.
The tale of the finals is the battle between the terrific defense of the Celtics vs. the awesome offense of the Lakers.
The AP reports: The famed franchises, who have combined to win 30 of 61 championships, are squaring off in the finals for the 11th time and first since 1987. These finals figure to deliver a needed jolt of excitement to the league, which began the 2007-08 season entangled in a gambling probe involving one of its referees and whose signature event has strained to recapture the sporting spotlight since the ’80s, when Celtics vs. Lakers, Bird vs. Magic was a rite of spring.
Phil Jasner of the Philadelphia Daily News writes: Celtics guards: Rajon Rondo, 10.5 points, 6.6 assists ... Ray Allen, 14.2 points ... Rondo is discovering what it can be like for a young point guard to sweat in the cauldron of the postseason ... Allen's vaunted picture-book jumper has spent too much time AWOL, but could be back at any moment.
Phil Jasner of the Philadelphia Daily News writes: Lakers guards: Kobe Bryant, 31.9 points, 6.1 rebounds, 5.8 assists, 1.27 steals, 50.9 percent from the floor ... Derek Fisher, 10.0 points ... Bryant's steel will and killer instinct have been more apparent than ever, even more than in 2001 when he faced the 76ers and said he wanted "to cut their hearts out.'' And, of course, he did. Fisher, with his court awareness and ability to knock down threes, has been a terrific complement.
Ramona Shelburne of Los Angeles Daily News writes: Vladimir Radmanovic vs. Paul Pierce - This is the match-up the one the Celtics hope to exploit the most. Pierce has always done well against the Lakers, the team he grew up rooting for. In 16 career games against Lakers, Pierce has averaged 27.9 points a game. Earlier this year he scored 33 in the Celtics win in Los Angeles. But Radmanovic is a better defender than people give him credit for. If he can stay in front of Pierce, and force him to settle for jumpers, the Lakers will be in good shape. Offensively, Radmanovic really seems to be rounding into form, shooting 46 percent in the playoffs and 63.6 percent against San Antonio.
Ramona Shelburne of Los Angeles Daily News writes: Lamar Odom vs. Kevin Garnett - Garnett has waited for this his whole life and seems intensely focused right now. The question is, is he too focused? If he starts pushing too hard and forcing shots, it'll hurt the Celtics at both ends of the court. In the playoffs, Garnett is shooting a fantastic 51.7 percent, but is only averaging 4.6 free throw attempts per game. Odom has been brilliant at times during the playoffs, but disappears at times. Still, he's averaged a double-double during the playoffs, and looks great when he's aggressive and driving to the basket. Look for Odom to start on Kendrick Perkins and Pau Gasol to start on Garnett. But there will be a fair amount of interchange.
Ramona Shelburne of Los Angeles Daily News writes: Pau Gasol vs. Kendrick Perkins - Perkins has stepped up and played big games at very important times for the Celtics and really seems to be rounding into a promising young center. Still, he's not much of a threat to score on a consistent basis, so whoever is defending him will be able to slide over and double-team Garnett. If Perkins defends Gasol, the Lakers center will have a distinct quickness advantage. He should also be able to draw Perkins away from the basket and force him to defend his midrange jumper. That's important because Perkins leads the Celtics in blocked shots (1.4 per game) during the playoffs.
Phil Jasner of the Philadelphia Daily News writes: Celtics bench: James Posey has been the most consistent, while elderly P.J. Brown has provided what could be described as effective bonus minutes. Sam Cassell was viewed as an important late-season addition, but is shooting 32.2 percent in the postseason ... The hot hand - Rondo, Cassell or Eddie House - is likely to be on the floor down the stretch. After that, Leon Powe and Glen Davis have helped in spots.
Phil Jasner of the Philadelphia Daily News writes: Lakers bench: Sasha Vujacic, 8.1 points, has profited mightily from Bryant's mentoring ... Luke Walton, 7.3 points, has been steady, as has Jordan Farmar. Ronny Turiaf has been OK.
InsideHoops.com says: Derek Fisher had the edge over Rajon Rondo, though Rondo's quickness can help make up for that. Kobe Bryant has a clear edge over Ray Allen. Paul Pierce has a huge edge over Vladimir Radmanovic and, when he comes off the bench, Luke Walton. Kevin Garnett has the edge over Lamar Odom. And Pau Gasol has the clear edge over Kendrick Perkins. As for coaches, Phil Jackson has the clear edge over Doc Rivers. And benches, on paper the Celtics bench matches up nicely with the Lakers bench, but on the court, judging by play over the last month or two, the Lakers have a bit of an edge there.
AN INSIDEHOOPS FAN CONTRIBUTOR SAYS
At point guard, it's experienced Los Angeles veteran Derek Fisher (11.7 ppg, 2.1 rpg, 2.9 apg) against Boston's Rajon Rondo (10.6 ppg, 4.2 rpg, 5.1 apg). Fisher has the advantage in almost every intangible you can think of. He's super-clutch, rugged, and does more than his stats suggest. Rondo has to make him work by penetrating hard as often as possible. Decent advantage: Lakers.
At shooting guard the Lakers have the best player in the world, Kobe Bryant (28.3 ppg, 6.3 rpg, 5.4 apg) against former All-Star Ray Allen (17.4 ppg, 3.7 rpg, 3.1 apg). Bryant has the advantage over anyone at this position, but Allen, aside from a few recent games and maybe one other, has been pretty awful these playoffs, looking slow and barely hitting any shots. Which Ray Allen will show up to the finals? Fairly big advantage: Lakers.
At small forward, the Lakers have Vladimir Radmanovic (8.4 ppg, 3.3 rpg, 1.9 apg) while the Celtics have star Paul Pierce (19.6 ppg, 5.1 rpg, 4.5 apg). Pierce has the huge advantage here, as Radmanovic mainly just tries to keep the Lakers offense going, stands outside and shoots threes, and on defense just tries to be decent. Expect the Lakers to sit him down and bring Luke Walton in quite often. Also, it's possible that Lamar Odom gets assigned to check Pierce and Radmanovic gets put on Kevin Garnett. we'll see. Big advantage: Celtics.
At power forward, the Lakers have Lamar Odom (14.2 ppg, 10.6 rpg, 3.5 apg), the Celtics have Kevin Garnett (18.8 ppg, 9.2 rpg, 3.4 apg). While Odom is versatile, KG is even more so, and defensively Garnett is fantastic and has the advantage. Previous playoff games suggest that the Celtics may need KG to step up and carry the team for stretches here and there, and now is the time he has to show that he's a superstar who can step up and perform on the biggest of basketball stages. Advantage: Celtics.
At center, the Lakers have star power forward Pau Gasol (18.9 ppg, 8.4 rpg, 3.2 apg) while the Celtics have role player Kendrick Perkins (6.9 ppg, 6.1 rpg, 1.1 apg). Although fairly new to his team, Gasol fits in perfectly, and his skill set, passing and scoring ability and understanding of smart, fundamental basketball allows him to work very well with Bryant and company. Perkins' role with Boston is to be a big body, take up space without getting in the way of teammates, do the dirty work, rebound, defend, and hit an occasional short shot or follow-up bucket. Big advantage: Lakers.
Off the bench, the Lakers use Sasha Vujacic, Luke Walton, Jordan Farmar and Ronny Turiaf. And possibly Trevor Ariza, if he's healthy enough to contribute. The Celtics use James Posey, Sam Cassell, P.J. Brown, Leon Powe and sometimes a little bit of Eddie House and Glen Davis. Advantage: Slight edge to Lakers.
Coaches: The Lakers have legendary Phil Jackson. The Celtics have Doc Rivers, who once won coach of the year but has a long way to go before people will put him in the same universe as Jackson. Big advantage: Lakers.