Tonite, the NBA Finals begin on ABC, pitting the Los Angeles Lakers against the Boston Celtics. The Lakers got to the Finals by beating Phoenix in six games (like I predicted) and Boston upset the Orlando Magic in six games (in a series I thought Orlando would win in seven). This series is a rematch of the 2008 Finals, which featured Boston pummeling the Lakers over the course of six games and winning the last game by 39 points. The Lakers are coming in as the defending NBA champs and will be coming into this series with a homecourt advantage. The regular season saw both teams win once against each other by a point in each game.
The stories getting beaten to death right now in the media pertain to the Lakers, particularly the 2008 series, Pau Gasol, and Kobe Bryant. In 2008, Gasol and the Lakers were manhandled by Kevin Garnett and the much more physical Celtics. In the regular season the past two years, Pau has exorcised those demons by playing tougher and grittier against Boston and the Lakers added Ron Artest this season. I've read far too many articles in the last few days retelling of the beatdown the Lakers received in 2008 and how it motivates them now and how they want to erase the memories of that. It gets annoying having to hear about how this defeat two years ago consumes them, especially since they won the title last season. I would think that coming back to win the title the year after getting humbled would be the response to show how serious they are.
The Kobe stories revolve around him getting revenge on Boston, but they also go into something even more absurd. Several stories are about how this series will define Kobe Bryant's legacy. Evidently winning this series would make Kobe the greatest Laker of all time and put him right up with Michael Jordan as the greatest player of all time. First thing's first, if the Lakers win against Boston I think that one could argue Kobe as the greatest Laker. They would be wrong, as Magic Johnson is the greatest Laker of all time. He led the Lakers to five titles against more difficult competition, including two titles over Celtics teams that were amongst the best teams of all time. Kobe's first three titles came when he was a second fiddle to Shaq and last year's title was against an Orlando team that wouldn't last more than four games against any of the teams Magic's Lakers played against. To give credit where credit is due however, Kobe has been phenomenal this postseason and has put some of the best numbers in NBA history. I would say he is close to Magic and since he'll have had a longer career than Magic and ends his career with more championships, one would be hard pressed to say he is not the bes Laker of all time.
Second things second, these comparisons to Jordan are absurd. Jordan won six titles as the top dog of his team, has six Finals MVPs, five regular season MVPs, a Defensive Player of the Year award, was the first person to record 200 steals and 100 blocks in the same year (while leading the league in scoring), ten scoring titles, and is a transcendent, once in a lifetime athlete. Kobe is great, but he is not Michael Jordan. Even if he wins multiple more titles, he is no Michael. His first three came as second fiddle (like I said above). Jordan was a better defender and scorer, although Kobe is a better shooter. No one is as competitive and no one dominated the game like Jordan. Kobe is arguably the best player since Jordan and arguably the best right now. There was no arguing with Michael. He was the best while he played; there was no debate over that. I don't want to get further sidetracked from my main point, but Kobe is not and never will be as good or better than Michael Jordan, but thats not a diss on Kobe. No one will ever be as good as Jordan.
Now the story that should be getting more attention is the Celtics and this run to the Finals. Earlier this year, the Celtics almost dumped Ray Allen and gave up on competing for the title. Instead, they just went for it and have now beaten the top two teams in the NBA record wise in Cleveland and Orlando. The story that everyone is missing is that this is most likely the last time this team with this lineup will compete for a title. Kevin Garnett's knees are shot and has been noticeably limping this season. Ray Allen is a free agent and could potentially be leaving Boston. Rasheed Wallace is old and out of shape. Paul Pierce is starting to slow down as well. They weren't really expected to do anything in the playoffs this season after all the injuries and malaise that hit them in the second half of the season. Instead, they took it to Cleveland and managed to wear Orlando down, although by the end of the series they were looking pretty worse for wear.
Matchup wise, I'm intrigued by Ron Artest vs. Paul Pierce. Ron seems like the kind of hardnosed, physical defender that will either bully Pierce into a terrible series or will get so rough with his techniques that he will take himself out of the game. Pau Gasol and Garnett is another intriguing matchup, as Gasol at this point is the superior player, but there are few people who can match KG's intensity. Knowing that this could be his last time in the Finals should spur him to play as hard as possible. It will be interesting to see if Pau can keep up with that type of pressure. In the backcourt Kobe will have to work harder on defense this series, as Ray Allen is a bigger threat than anyone he's had to guard in the playoffs this year and he will also likely have to share duties guarding Rajon Rondo (who will eat Derek Fisher alive). Boston is also a much better defensive team than Phoenix and Utah, so some of those looks he has had won't be there. The Lakers and Celtics have a fairly even bench, as the Lakers have the best bench player in Lamar Odom, but Boston's Glen Davis and Rasheed Wallace are better than the rest of the Lakers bench.
When it comes down to it, I think that the Lakers have a healthier and better team than Boston right now. The Celtics really seemed to slow down by the end of the Orlando series and they had a lot of problems getting scores in the 4th quarters of many of the games, since Ray Allen doesn't get the ball enough and Rajon Rondo doesn't play as hard in the clutch because he doesn't want to brick his free throws. I think that it is a winnable series for Boston, but I think that the matchups slightly favor the Lakers. If Garnett isn't completely shot, Pierce doesn't get stifled by Artest, and Ray Allen keeps playing the way he has, Boston should be able to win this series. If Pau Gasol plays the way he is capable of and doesn't get punked out again and Lamar Odom doesn't disappear, the Lakers should win. I want the Celtics to win and I'll be rooting for them, but I think it will be the LAKERS in SIX.