Thursday night, the Lakers and Celtics meet in the NBA Finals for the 2,316th time. Their previous series have featured NBA Hall of Famers like Bill Russell, Bob Cousy, Jerry West, Elgin Baylor, Ed McMahon, Sam from Cheers, and many, many others. In 2008 the Celtics won thanks to a big edge in defensive commitment and intensity. What has changed since that series to make us think the outcome will be different?
1) James Posey is gone and Ron Artest is here. This is a big deal. Posey had the size and discipline to spell Paul Pierce in guarding Kobe, and he made a couple of crucial, timely plays at both ends that had a major impact. Artest is making those plays for the Lakers in the playoffs so far, and he has the size and skill to impede Paul Pierce’s 1 on 1 game. No one on the Lakers could really defend Pierce in 2008. He had his way with VladRad and Walton. Artest has not been able to lock down Pierce in their history, but he has the game to at least make life difficult and painful at that end.
2) Rondo is now the Celtics’ best player. That’s a big deal too. Derek Fisher cannot stay in front of Rondo. Like the Magic, the Lakers have good size and shotblocking on their backline, but if Gasol and Bynum have to rotate to defend the rim all game, the Boston bigs should be able to clean up the boards. The Lakers could put Kobe on Rondo. I’m not sure if he could stay in front of Rajon at this point with the modern rules, but he’s got the ability to space himself and dare the jumpshot-challenged Rondo to shoot.
3) Bynum is playing, if not exactly healthy, and Powe is gone. Andrew Bynum missed the entire 2008 Finals, and the Lakers largely lost the series up front. His size should be a big help. At the other end Leon Powe, who had a fantastic, though foul-plagued, series against LA in 2008 is now a Cleveland Cavalier. His minutes have been taken by Glen Davis, who has played with great energy and success, and Rasheed Wallace, who has had a few good games but otherwise hasn’t been very valuable.
4) Doc Rivers is an NBA coach with championship experience. The first time these two teams met, Phil Jackson sat on the Lakers’ bench with 9 championships. Doc Rivers sat on his bench with none. Now Phil is up to 10, but his cherry on top is far less valuable than Doc’s first ring. Not that having jewelry is going to make Glenn more intelligent or better at his job, but he does carry a greater level of credibility, and if and when adjustments are made, his veterans have reason to trust him.
All things considered, I think the Lakers have come farther as a team. They won a title together last season. They have a size advantage this time around, and they didn’t in 2008. Ron Artest gives them a weapon to slow Boston’s best scorer. This year the Lakers have home court advantage. Will that be enough to give them the edge to actually win the whole series? Maybe not. Boston still basically has the advantages they had in 2008. They are the better defensive team, and that means a lot. They are the more physical team, which may or may not be an advantage. Rondo, Nate Robinson, and Tony Allen may be the three most athletic players in the series. Boston has gone through the more difficult opponents to get to the NBA Finals, defeating the teams with the top 2 regular season records in back to back series.
I’m calling this one for Boston in 6 games, just like the last two series and the 2008 Finals. It’s a homer pick, but come on! You didn’t think I was really going to pick the Lakers, did you?