LONGSHOTS: Twenty-one and six are the lucky numbers for the Cs
by Dave Long
Twenty-one and six are the lucky numbers for the Cs
I am jacked. In fact, Iím so jacked, Iím pumped and I now know what Pete Carroll has felt like all these years. I feel this way because I finally got what I wanted. Iím able to write the column Iíve been wanting to write for 21 long years. And I suspect, in varying degrees, itís pretty much what the rest of the NBA lovers around the country wanted as well ó an L.A. Lakers - Boston Celtics NBA final.
So hereís my take on what to look for in the series between the Lakers and Celtics.
The ďBack in the DayĒ Factor: Youíre going to hear a lot about it, but since it has been dormant for 21 years it will be absolutely no factor as Larry, Kevin and Robert and Magic, Kareem and James are not coming through that door, folks.
The Biggest Differences Between Then and Now: As a team the í84 Lakers shot an incredible 53.2% from the field while scoring 115.6 points a game. The current group shot 47.6% in scoring 106 while holding opponents to 44.6%. For the Garnett Celtics: they held the bad guys to 41.9% shooting and 90 a game while scoring 100. Birdís Celtics held the bad guys to 47% shooting and were an even 50% while scoring 112 and giving up 105. Translation: the defense is much better today.
The Regular Season: The Celtics smoked them twice, but it was before New Yearís Day and the Pau Gasol trade, so itís not real relevant. But while I donít expect it to be quite the same, still they had success harassing Kobie into 9 for 21 and 6 for 25 shooting. So theyíll make him work to get his.
The Lakers Edge: No one played better or more consistently in the playoffs. Kobie is great, they rolled through the vaunted West 12-3 and dethroned the defending champs. Plus Phil Jackson has been there many times, while Doc has not.
The Celtics Edge: They are the best defensive team and great defense almost always beats great offense. If you donít believe me, crane your head back toward the Super Bowl for a look. And while Gasol may turn out to be L.A.ís Orlando Cabrera, Iíll take the Pierce-Garnett- Perkins front court over Gasol, Lamar Odom and Vladamir Ramonvic in scoring, rebounding and defensively, even if Perk will have trouble if stuck on the perimeter with any of those guys. Nobody in that group can cover Pierce, who always pounded his hometown Lakers even when Shaq was in the middle.
The Lakers Question Marks: Who covers Pierce? Kobie is the only one who can do it. If he does, itíll force them to go small ó which takes away their size edge. So, I think the 33 Pierce put on the board the last time he was out there are a sign of things to come.
The Celtics Question Marks: Iím pretty sure the silliness of playing without urgency on the road is over. They knew home-court was the big edge vs. Atlanta and Cleveland and it showed with six lackluster road efforts. The best thing thatís happened in the playoffs was losing Game Two to Detroit because they were much more focused after that as they returned to the form that gave them the best road record in the NBA.
Beyond that, thereís the question of which Ray Allen shows up. How much will guarding Kobie take out of him? And just what the heck will they get out of the bench? Personally, I think the good Ray will show up to prevent Kobie from roaming on D. Though heíll probably play less as Doc has James Posey playing Kobie ó especially in crunch time as he did with Chauncey Billups in the Detroit final. As for the bench, the ďexpertsĒ say the Lakers bench is better. I say weíll see, as while Iím not sure where the help will come from, from game to game, I will wager it outplays L.A.ís when itís all said and done.
X-Factor: Rajon Rondo vs. Derek Fisher. One of Rondoís strengths is his ability to roam to make steals and rebounds. Fisherís is to spot up and bury the three, especially with the game on the line. If heís hitting, that will force Rondo to stay home and take him away from the passing lanes, which will hurt the D.
The Kobie Factor: If you didnít get the memo: heís good. Heís the MVP and playing at a high level these days. Like getting 39 to close out the Spurs. But the Cs have experience playing the guy who can beat them by himself in Lebron. And aside from his 45- pointer in Game Seven, he had trouble making shots against their defense. Of course, when that happens, he gets to the line 15 times to get his points.
The Fight: David Stern is not going to like this. And while it may not be like the one after the Kevin McHale take-down of Kurt Rambis in 1984 when Larry and Kareem went toe-to-toe, there will be one. I expect Odom to be in the middle for L.A. Heís the guy who planted Allen into the bench with a rolling block earlier in the year. If youíre willing to be dirty when itís just a game, why not when the intensityís high and the title is on the line?
Phil Jackson and Red Auerbach: Thereís more at stake than just the best team in 2007-08. There are some large historical elements as well. The Lakers coach loved to tweak the Celtics patriarch whenever the occasion arose. It came from his days as a player in New York in the late 1960s and í70s when the Cs and Knicks were the leagueís big rivalry. It continued as coach of the Bulls and Lakers when he caught Red for the most NBA titles won by a coach. A win here makes him numero uno, which may happen eventually, but the mantra should be ďnot against us.Ē
Historyís Winningest Team: Theyíve been in the finals an incredible 49 times. Next is Philly/Syracuse with nine. L.A. is 14 ó 14 in 28 appearances, while the Cs are 16-3. A win by Kobie and company cuts Bostonís lead to one, while a win for the good guys stretches it to three ó so this is the biggy.
The So-Called Experts: Nine of the 10 hoop gurus on ESPN.com picked the Lakers, as did 58% of those voting in its Sports Nation poll. Thatís good enough for me to help make the pick below.
Prediction: I had the Celtics in six over Detroit and road wins in Games Three and Six. The ultimate edge is their defense. Itís an instant replay ó Celtics in six.
Savor the series ó experience shows it may not come around again for a while.
Dave Long can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. He hosts the Absolute Sports Experience at Billyís Sports Bar in Manchester each Saturday from 10 a.m. to noon that is broadcast live on WGAM Ė The Game, 1250-AM Manchester, 900-AM Nashua.