The NBA Finals are upon us after an agonizing four day lay off (has it only been four?) which sees the Celtics and Lakers renew their storied rivalry. Much has been written about how these teams compare to their 2008 counterparts where the Celtics won in six. However, while the rosters remain mostly the same, these are two completely teams ready to go to battle. Let's take a look at each position and see who gets the edge.
The Center position is filled with many question marks. The Lakers' Andrew Bynum has been a valuable contributor during the playoffs but has been hobbled by a meniscus tear in his right knee. Bynum had his knee drained before the start of the Finals and the Lakers are hoping this will relieve some of the stress on that tear. However, how much can he contribute on only one leg?
Kendrick Perkins is in much better shape than Bynum and is playing some of the best defense of his career this postseason. He has been able to limit players such as Shaq and Dwight Howard and helped take them out of their games. However, Perkins has been known to lose his cool and he has six technicals this postseason. One more will mean a one game suspension. Furthermore he could possibly sit another game if he reaches nine technicals. The Lakers will try anything to get into Perkins' head, knowing full well the Celtics will be vulnerable if they are missing their anchor down low.
Bynum and Perkins are battling separate issues that could affect their game, but health is a much more important factor this late in the postseason. Perkins gets the edge.
Kevin Garnett is not the same player that he was two years ago when the Celtics won it all. He has lost a step or two and was looking tired by the end of the Orlando series after a monster performance in the Cleveland series. Even though KG is no longer the alpha dog, he is still the most intense player on the floor. His energy and defensive intensity makes the Celtics' defense go and without him, the Celtics look lost at times on the floor. KG is the key to a Finals victory.
Pau Gasol changed the face of the Lakers when he was traded from the Grizzles two years ago. Gasol gave Kobe and the Lakers a secondary scoring threat to lift some of the burden off Kobe's shoulders. He plays very unselfish basketball and displays great court vision. He always seems to be find the open man if he can't create his own shot. However, he has developed a reputation of being soft, especially made all the more glaring by KG during the '08 Finals.
I see KG's intensity being too much for Gasol to handle. Gasol has cruised through the playoffs without a dominant defender getting in his way. KG will get inside Gasol's head once more and force him to back down.
Paul Pierce has been dominant in this postseason after struggling with injuries all regular season. He was able to contain Lebron James and then destroyed Vince Carter in the Orlando series. When the game is on the line, Pierce is one of the best one-on-one players in the league and is usually able to create his own shot. However, we have seen this back fire on him. Pierce tries to put too much on shoulders and can sometimes play selfish basketball. More often than not though, Pierce is the number one scoring threat for the Celtics. He will need to make his presence felt if the Celtics have a chance of winning the Finals.
Ron Artest is a head case and an absolute loon. He usually takes awful shots at the most inopportune times, leaving Lakers fans screaming "NOOOO!" in protest. But what Artest does best is defend and he will be up to task against Pierce. During their meetings in the regular season, Artest was able to get into Pierce's head and was able to limit his production. Artest does everything in his power to smother his opponent and he plays especially well against Pierce. These two have a long history together and have had some great battles.
Paul Pierce will have his hands full with Artest. Pierce has had trouble this season with shut down defenders and I feel that Artest will be the biggest challenge yet for Pierce. Pierce will still have decent numbers but I don't forsee any 30 point explosions from him in this round. Because of this, Artest gets the nod.
Rajon Rondo's coming out party this season was somewhat lost amongst the talk of the Celtics' miserable regular season. All eyes are now on Rondo after his spectacular postseason run, highlighted by his ridiculous triple double against Cleveland in Game 4 of their series. Rondo is able to slice through almost any defense and either get to the point or find the open man when the defense collapses on him. Rondo has finally been able to hit jump shots on a consistent basis. While he tends to shy away from the paint when he's in foul trouble and passes up too many open looks during crunch time, Rondo is usually in command of the Celtics offense. When he is not on the floor, the Celtics are noticeably weaker on the offensive end.
Derek Fisher is one of the veterans of the Lakers who, along with Kobe, has been a part of all of their recent championship teams. He is able to come through in the clutch and is a reliable second option behind Kobe when the game is on the line. Age has caught up to Fisher and he has trouble defending quicker guards. Rondo will be his biggest test yet after playing the likes of Russel Westbrook, Deron Williams, and Steve Nash. Fisher has had trouble with all of them and Rondo will be no different.
Even though Rondo is playing through a bad back and leg cramps, he will have a great series against Fisher who will be completely overwhelmed.
There isn't much more you can say about Kobe Bryant. He is the arguably the best player in the league and shows no signs of slowing down. He has had transcendent series against the Jazz and Suns and everything on the Lakers runs through him. The series clincher against the Suns, Kobe was making the ridiculous look mundane and it looked like he could not miss a shot. He is the best player on the floor when the Finals begin and the fact that Artest is on the team helps him because he doesn't have to guard Pierce like in '08. He will have fresher legs and will be more of a scoring threat then ever.
The Celtics have been riding Ray Allen's hot hand throughout the playoffs. His two 3's in the beginning of the third quarter against the Magic in Game 6 all but iced the series for the Celtics. He has been the deep threat the Celtics have needed all post season. However, he will be the primary defender on Kobe and it will take much energy defensively to cover him. The major question for the Celtics is how this will affect his offensive numbers. He will be one of the go to players during crunch time so Allen will be asked to step it up to make a big shot at some point in the series.
Ray Allen will be a major factor for the Celtics in this series but he is no match for Kobe. Kobe is the best player on the floor, no matter who is defending him. Allen can only hope to somewhat limit Kobe's numbers to give the Celtics a fighting chance in this series.
Well, there you have it folks. Now that we have this out of the way, it's time for the Finals to finally begin and to renew one of the best rivalries in all of sports. It's time for the Celtics to bring home Banner 18!
Thanks to Eric Kilby for the photo.