Posted by: Nate | June 5, 2008

2008 NBA Finals Preview

With the  TV executives dream match-up of two great NBA powers beginning tonight between Boston and Los Angeles and the whole nation wrapped up in this series from the get go, it’s time for me to a do a preview of the series and the keys to success for each side.

Coaches:

I’ll start with the coaching match up between Doc Rivers and Phil Jackson. I think plenty of people have, and will, mention the huge disparity in this pairing. It is not an accident that Jackson has 9 NBA championships and is competing for his 10th. The man is an excellent coach with a brilliant offensive scheme in the Triangle Offense and has coached some of the most talented players in both recent memory and the history of the game. Doc, on the other hand, just won his first playoff series this season and has looked panic stricken and jittery for most of the playoffs. There are signs that Doc is coming around after grinding out 20 games with this unit already this post-season, but no matter how you spin this it’s a massive mismatch in the Lakers favor.

Starting Lineups:

Ray Allen               —     Kobe Bryant
Rajon Rondo          —     Derek Fisher
Kendrick Perkins   —     Pau Gasol
Kevin Garnett        —     Lamar Odom
Paul Pierce             —     Vladomir Radmonovic

I’ll say this right from the outset, I don’t think any one player on the Celtics will be able to completely neutralize and defend Kobe Bryant. We were the best defensive team in the NBA this season, and I don’t think any differently now, but Kobe is the reigning MVP, one of the greatest players of all time and is playing out of his mind as of late. There is no way Paul Pierce, James Posey, Tony Allen or anyone else takes Kobe out of the game by themselves.

As a team though, I think we can contain him much like we did LeBron by trying to force a lot of outside jumpers, contest everything in the paint and make him give up the ball. Granted, his supporting cast is much, MUCH better than LeBron’s, so it will certainly be a team effort defensively as Kobe getting 15 assists is just as bad as him scoring 35-40 points on his own.

Conversely, though, I am not sure the Lakers have a good answer for Paul Pierce defensively. He can take guys Radmonovic off the dribble or hit the long jumper over the likes of Sasha Vujacic. Putting Kobe on him is something the Lakers may employ, but at what cost to Kobe’s offensive game would this come? I think Pierce’s play will be a huge key to the Celts success and if he and Doc can properly exploit the mismatches created by him to get easy buckets or create opportunities for others, we’ll be in good shape.

Point Guard Play:

The Celtics have an edge in quickness, agility and offensive potential in the Rondo – Fisher match-up. Fisher is capable of having strong scoring games, but in that offense his is relied upon mostly to facilitate and hit the occasional open shot. Rondo’s role is virtually identical except he has shown a strong inability to make, and now even take, open outside looks. In his defense, when his is playing well eh can get to the hoop off the dribble often, if he is so inclined, but we haven’t seen a lot of that in recent weeks. Given Fisher’s experience both in the NBA and the playoffs and Rondo’s inexperience, tendency to rush things and relative lack of confidence in his game (thank you Doc Rivers and The Sam Cassell Experience) you have to give the consistent edge here to the Lakers.

The Big Bodies:

Kevin Garnett had his way with the Lakers during the season series (won by the Celtics 2-0) and has been a pretty consistent player throughout most of the playoffs. Granted, those 2 games were before the Gasol trade, so you have to take that into account. I’m not totally sure what Gasol brings to the Lakers defensively, but I think it’s safe to say that his ceiling there is probably “average” and his main effect on the floor will be his offensive output. I can see Garnett and Perkins easily having their way inside against both Odom and Gasol, neither of whom is going to be anything like the interior defense of Detroit with Wallace, McDyess and Maxiell.

Where things get interesting here, and frankly for the whole series, is the defensive match-ups. Do the Celtics put Garnett on Odom, which would likely draw him a bit further away from the basket due to his outside shooting? Or do they leave him on Gasol, which keeps him closer to the hoop to be able to help defend the rim and if so, who does Perk end up guarding? Radmonovic? Odom?

It’s very intriguing and I think the defensive key to the series is the Celtics ability to properly decipher the assignments needed to be most effective. The Celtics are more apt to win playing staunch defense and getting their scoring opportunities the way they have all season by working inside to KG and either having him take it or opening something up for an outside shot and then playing the glass. Here’s hoping that by game 3 Doc and the boys have figured out the proper defensive alignments and made the adjustments necessary to keep Kobe relatively in check. If not, Gasol and Odom can both throw up huge numbers offensively especially if Bryant continues his unselfish play.

The Allen Factor:


The third of my 3 big keys for the Celtics here, in addition to the play of Paul Pierce offensively and smart defensive play as a team, is Ray Allen. The question all Boston fans have been sweating since the Atlanta series is which Ray shows up for The Finals? If we get the Ray who can change the entire course and structure of a game by hitting 3’s (see Game 5 vs. Detroit) then the Celtics offense takes on a whole new dynamic. If we get bizzaro Ray who can’t hit anything AND not keep up with his man on defense, then we are in bad shape. Personally, I was encouraged by his play as of late and it looks like he is finding his touch again but it should be noted that Allen is almost 33 years old and coming off of 2 ankle operations this past off-season. Oh, and game 1 of the finals marks game 103 of the season, not counting pre-season games or off-season workouts. Let’s hope the Celtics employ miracle workers on the training staff like they do out in Phoenix for Steve Nash and Shaq…

The Benches:


As in most big playoff series, some games are going to be won by the role players and reserves who step up and fill in when the big guns are struggling. It’s a known fact. Let’s take a look at each squads key reserves (with apologies to Brain Scalabrine and co.).

For the Lakers, they have Vujacic, Farmar, Walton and Turiaf that see anything other than the deep end of the bench. Vujacic has a good shooting touch from the outside, evidenced by his career .381% from 3, which he elevated to .437% during the regular season and .411% during the playoffs. He’ll be counted on to spread the floor, hit the open shots and presumably cover the likes of Ray Allen, Rajon Rondo or whomever is replacing them for the Celtics.

Farmar is the backup point guard whose job is to spell Fisher and keep the offense flowing without screwing up too much. Basically, he’s Rondo without the offensive upside and starting role. He’s been struggling from the floor all post-season so it’s possible the Celtics player defending him will be readily available to double and/or help out on someone like Bryant or Gasol.

Turiaf is essentially just a warm body down low to come in, bang the boards, use his allotted fouls and give Odom, Gasol and Radmonovic a quick rest. The more minutes he plays in this series, the better for the Celtics.

Walton has been a key sub for the Lakers, providing valuable minutes off the bench by hitting open looks, finding the open man or making the hustle plays. He has the ability to be effective if left open or alone and has shown an ability to find the open teammate as well.

For the Celtics the bench fluctuates depending on Rivers’ state of mind. Some games we go 9-10 deep, others we play 8. I think he is getting the hang of a stable rotation, but again, we can only hope this is the case.

PJ Brown, the wiley veteran, has played his way into a prominent role off the bench and been very solid. He contributes a few points every game and can make an open jumper as well as hit free throws. He bangs inside on the boards and could be a sneaky source of rebounds for the C’s if he can get continue to get position as he has been in recent games. Provides another strong veteran presence for the team as well, which never hurts.

James Posey has become one of the lockdown defenders who can spell Pierce or Allen and hit open 3’s, making the loss of Allen from the floor less of a factor. My hope is that Doc utilizes his defensive ability a lot this series in an effort to curtail the potent Laker offense and no one takes too long of a look at his “Po-Z” tattoo.

Eddie House is the energy guy for the Celtics, adored by the fans and capable of hitting some big shots when needed. He doesn’t have the defensive ability of Posey, but has proven his worth in a moderate role off the bench. His biggest impact for me is probably his energy (seen here) over anything else, as maintaining intensity, especially on the road will be important. His son also plays a prominent bench role in cheerleading and flag waving, under the expert tutelage of Sam Cassell.

Glen Davis
/Leon Powe are the other big bodies who bang on the glass, utilize their fouls and score the cleanup points underneath. Both have had breakout games where they score 15-20 points during the course of the season, but I doubt either of them will get the minutes or the opportunities at this juncture of the season to repeat those efforts. Their playing time will also largely be a factor of the foul situation of the other big men in the game as well.

Sam Cassell is now head cheerleader and vocal leader for the team. We took a shot on him, and I think at this point it’s pretty clear he is running on fumes. His back is always wrapped like he just got out of a car wreck, and he has been atrocious from the floor. He and Eddie House’s kid should be cheering and nothing else this series.

The Prediction:
No one knows how Doc will coach this series, what kind of performance you’re going to get from half the Celtics players on a nightly basis and they are going up against one of the premier basketball players of all time at his absolute prime. Doesn’t sound like a winning equation to me.

However, the Celtics have home court advantage, the best defense in the league and enough X factors involved to take this series. It isn’t going to be pretty (much like the rest of their slog through the playoffs) but I think with the support of the Garden faithful, strong defense and a hot hand or two the Celt’s can take it, despite lacking the dominating player.

Celtics in 7!

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Responses

  1. Well I am with you in hoping that the Celts will pull this one through, but the Lakers are looking really impressive right now, and the Celtics have been plodding through the post-season.

    Hopefully the rest days that the Celtics have gotten will give them what they needed.

    Out here in LA all the radio stations are predicting a Lakers sweep, or Lakers in 5.

    crossmanwilkins.com

  2. It’s silly now to say that anyone predicting a Lakers sweep is an idiot – but they’re and idiot. The Celtics looked like absolute shit for 2+ rounds of the playoffs while the Lakers cruised through a tough Western Conference, but people didn’t look deep enough when they made their predictions.

    The Celtics play great defense, especially as a team, while the Lakers do not. LA is weak inside and the Celtics have some great matchups to exploit this series; Radmonovich looks completely useless in all aspects of the game though 4 games.

    Doc has done a good job for the most part making adjustments and throwing what he knows out there. Pierce, KG, Allen and the other vets have taken care of the rest.


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