June 7, 2010
Lakers vs. Celtics - The Great Battle Begins
I wrote this article in collaboration with Jonathan Rego at iSport.in, and the article was published on iSport on June 3, 2010.
Jonathan Rego is a huge Celtics fan, and Karan Madhok favours them too. While Jonathan feels that the Lakers are a no-brainer to repeat this year, Karan does not agree.
So to settle they have have decided to go public with their spat. Once again for the record, Jonathan = Lakers, Karan = Celtics.
It's not every day you get to see a team cast off as washed up and done, steam roll their way into the NBA finals. And nothing makes me...make that us (Karan and me) happier than to see our beloved Boys in Green (read KG) in the Finals once again.
They shifted gears when it mattered and showed Dwight and his Magic a team game that kills you on all ends of the floor rather than from just beyond the arc and in the paint. The CELTICS ARE BACK BABY!!!
The Lakers did not have it easy this time. Kobe, Gasol and (shockingly) Fisher kept bailing them out of tight spots. Right from their surprisingly tough series against the OKC Thunder down to a resilient Suns team that almost took them to a Game 7 (damn you Artest!), the Lakers have been a bit unpredictable this playoffs. They were written off and exalted in the same sentence. From being cast as mediocre to being hailed as the eventual NBA Champs, the Lakers have seen it all this time.
So now that they are up against the resurgent Celtics, how will this Finals play out?
Will Kobe cave in under the responsibility and do a repeat of his 2008 debacle, or will he put on one of the greatest series of his career? (A second championship in a row will his etch his name in titanium and wipe all previous aberrations including the aforementioned 2008 Game 6 stink bomb).
Will the Celts stop showing up after 20 point leads and see off the final window for a shot at the Championship, or will they gather their best men and steal the O'Brien trophy from under the nose of the defending champions?
Without further ado, I am drawing first blood.
Jonathan R: A healthy rested Kobe + A consistent Gasol + A resurrected Fisher have delivered throughout the playoffs. What makes you think they cave in now? Also, the Lakers have home court advantage and are 28-3 in their last 31 home court games.
You may also want to consider that Phil Jackson is 47-0 when he wins the first game of a series.
And is thinking of quitting this year.
And will coach his backside off because of that.
You still picking the Celtics, my friend?
Karan Madhok: So here we are - at the biggest stage in the world of basketball, and who do we have in front of us? None other than two of the most storied franchises in the league, who have shared 32 titles between them and will add a 33rd by the time the dust settles on this series.
Taking care of business. One super star at a time.
Now, anyone following basketball all season would've probably agreed with your points about the Lakers - Kobe's playing well and healthy, Lakers have home-court advantage, Gasol's consistency, etc...etc. But as we know, the playoffs are a whole different game, and for the Lakers, the Celtics are going to be a matchup nightmare.
Yes, the Lakers DO have home court advantage, but guess what? The Celtics are the only team to ever reach the Finals after performing better on the road than at home! So to the Celtics, as you can see, home and away doesn't really matter.
Hell - they're probably happier to be on the road!
Kobe IS playing well and healthy, and no, there's no denying he will be the best player in the series. But so far, he has come across defences in the West that are more porous than chai-sifters! No one on the Thunder, Jazz, or Suns was equipped to stop him. The Celtics on the other hand, have stopped three All-Star starters in the last three rounds: Dwyane Wade, LeBron James and Dwight Howard. As the 2008 Finals showed us, if there's anyone that can stop Kobe, it's the Celtic defence.
And finally... Gasol. I love Gasol and love what he brings to the table, but the man has consistently suffered against Garnett. While he probably will average more points than him, KG will make his Gasol's miserable, forcing him to compromise on his efficiency. Gasol was bullied and made worthless in the '08 Finals. The winner of this match-up will win the series I feel, and I'm going to give KG the edge here.
I'm surprise you missed out one important point. How do you think the Lakers plan to deal with Rajon Rondo, who has arguably been the best player on the best team in the playoffs so far? Are you seriously suggesting Derek Fisher's old legs are going to keep up with the fastest player in the league?!
Jonathan R: I like where this going.
Firstly, my worthy adversary, we both know that the Celtics are not winning two games in a row against a healthy Lakers team. (Yes, I think this series goes 7) which means that even if they were to win Game 1 at LA and take home court advantage, the Lakers come back and beat them in Game 3 at Boston, where, as per your cited record, the Celtics aren't as good as they should be. LA is 34-7 at home (2nd best in the league) and on the road and 23-18 on the road (just three games short of Boston's home record). That Boston record you brandish? May not help.
Secondly, as much as I liked the chai-sifter comparison and want to admit the Celtics are a great defensive team, I'd like to take us moment to remember who shut Kobe down during the 2008 campaign. Yes, James Posey. The same Posey who was infamously let go by the Celtics the very next season! Considering their weakening knees the Celtics can play good team defence for a maximum of two games at a stretch. In Game 6 against the Magic they weren't half as good as they can be; they won that game only because the Magic kept missing wide open shots and shot an abysmal 27% from 3pt.
The Heat, Cavaliers and Magic are all one dimensional teams. Wade won one and Lebron won two games on their own and the Magic won two games because of Dwight and their dead-eye
Now the Celtics have to deal with two superstars in Kobe and Gasol a borderline star in Odom.
Thirdly, I think the following are key factors to the series.
2. Bench Strength
Rondo, if healthy, will take Fisher apart. But, if his (Rondo's) injury holds up, I think Rondo and Fisher will cross each other out. Also, Fisher hasn't really been a pushover in these playoffs. You don't want to leave him open.
Yes, the Celtics have a better bench. But expect Phil Jackson to get into the heads of Bynum, Brown and Farmar to deliver their backsides off. This has legacy potential for Phil Jackson, i.e. one of the few coaches who has won back to back titles with two different teams!
Also, the technicals on the Celtics are a huge factor. Phil Jackson is a sneaky customer. He will play Bynum on Perkins just to piss him off.
Karan Madhok: Good points all, Jonathan,
Yes, Phil Jackson being the master of all coaches, will be playing to piss off Perkins (and possibly Rasheed Wallace) and forcing a slew of technicals.
Yes, James Posey was the one that defended Kobe the best in 08,
Yes, the Celtics are an older, weak-in-the-knees squad,
But...with the Celtics, it has never been just one person - this Celtics team have defended as well as they did two years ago, this time without Posey.
Also, injury woes could crop up in the case of Andrew Bynum, who was supposed to be the X-factor for the Lakers - Bynum played minimal minutes against the Suns, a team that was supposed to let offenses thrive.
As the playoffs have shown, the Celtics have had no change in desire whether playing home or away, and especially after Game 3 against the Cavaliers, they went on to win six straight games, both at home and away. This is proof that they are more than capable of winning several games in a row.
Sure you may term the Heat a one-dimensional team, but the Cavaliers and Magic had two of the best three regular season records this year. Cavaliers actually had a better record than LA. You can't tell me they were a one-dimensional team all season?! The Celtics FORCED them to become one dimensional. I feel that Celtics will do the same against LA, i.e. force Kobe to make all the offense work thereby disrupting team chemistry.
Finally, I feel that the winner between the Gasol-Garnett match-up will decide who wins the series. If Gasol can hold his own and be productive, Lakers will have a chance. If KG steps up, he will negate Gasol both offensively and defensively.
I agree that this series goes seven games, but I feel that it will be Boston that will be left crowned champions at the end, ultimately due to KG's match-up against Gasol.
What do you feel?
Jonathan R: While it is true that the Celtics did win 6 games on the trot (both at home and away) I disagree with the observation that the Cavaliers and the Magic aren't one dimensional teams.
The Cavaliers did not progress only because the Celtics crowded Lebron and forced the rest of the team to beat them. Similarly with the Magic...stay tight on Dwight and force the team to beat you from the 3pt line (the Magic shot the lights out in the two games they won).
The Lakers are not one dimensional. They have three people who are legitimate threats to break the 30 pts barrier and keeping an eye on all three will be a task for the Celtics. Even if they lock down others and force Kobe to win this game on his own, we all know Kobe can deliver. Besides, as much as I love Allen, he is a defensive downgrade from Posey. His responsibility on Kobe will undoubtedly affect his own offensive game.
I agree with your Garnett-Gasol analysis. However, in my opinion, it is the Celtics bench that can win them this series. Everyone from Glen 'Big Baby' Davis to Nate Robinson have to deliver if the Celtics are serious about winning this series.
Karan Madhok: You make a good point about the Celts bench - during the regular season, they weren't much to count on, but they have definitely stepped up in the playoffs. When Nate Robinson and (gulp!) Rasheed Wallace are being productive, you KNOW the team's going to be hard to beat.
Lakers have fallen victim to their own complacency in the past, when they lost two games to the Thunder, and were one lucky-Ron-Artest-tip-in away from being down 3-2 to the Suns. The Celtics are a far more efficient team than those two, and what's more, they have improved as the playoffs have progressed. I feel the Celtics can mentally break the Lakers down.
For all the talent they have the Lakers are just not strong enough to keep on responding to Celtic attacks. Phil Jackson and Kobe maybe, but the rest of the team do not share the same consistent toughness.
When the dust settles, I say Celtics in 7!
Jonathan R: Are we really talking about complacency on the part of the Lakers when the Celtics are famed for giving up 25 point leads? They will need every ounce of will power to keep them going (no matter the lead) and that is something the Lakers understand.
Look for them to make the Celtics work. Work Hard.
Lakers in 7
LET THE GAMES BEGIN!!!