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Wednesday, June 02, 2010

Los Angeles Versus Boston Preview

NBA Finals

Los Angeles (57-25) vs. Boston (50-32)

Season series: Tied, 1-1

Boston can win if…Kendrick Perkins, Kevin Garnett, Rasheed Wallace and Glen Davis are able to bully Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum and Lamar Odom the way that Boston's bigs manhandled the Lakers' bigs in the 2008 Finals. The Celtics will quite understandably do their best to not let Kobe Bryant singlehandedly beat them, so if the Lakers' bigs are soft and/or inefficient then Bryant will see the familiar "wall" of Boston defenders who impeded his path in the 2008 Finals; actually, Bryant will see that "wall" no matter what, so if Gasol, Bynum and Odom cut to the hoop aggressively and finish with power then Bryant will destroy the "wall" by passing over, through and around it--but his passing skills will be rendered meaningless if the recipients of those passes fail to convert.

Rajon Rondo will have to be the best player on the court--or at least very close--as he was throughout the Boston-Cleveland series and in significant portions of the Boston-Orlando series; Rondo must break down the Lakers' defense, force at least one Laker big out of position to contest his drives and then feed whichever player is open after the Lakers rotate. The Lakers will likely also force Rondo to prove that he is comfortable taking--and capable of making--outside jump shots.

Los Angeles will win because…Kobe Bryant is at the top of his game; after surviving a season in which injuries had a noticeable effect on his play for significant stretches of time, Bryant has regained his status as the best player in the league. He is just four wins away from avenging one of the most bitter defeats of his career, the Celtics' 4-2 triumph over the Lakers in the 2008 Finals, and it seems likely that Bryant will do whatever it takes to push the Lakers over the top this time around. As is usually the case with the Lakers, their success will in no small part hinge on Bryant's ability to score around 26-28 ppg (if not more) while shooting at least .450 from the field; the Celtics kept Bryant off of both of those benchmarks in the 2008 Finals by relentlessly swarming him because they knew that the other Lakers were too soft and/or inefficient to be effective.

It is easy to forget that even though many people picked the Lakers to beat the Celtics in the 2008 Finals the Celtics enjoyed homecourt advantage in that series; homecourt advantage in the 2-3-2 Finals format is important because it is very difficult to win the middle three games, meaning that the team that does not have homecourt advantage probably has to win two road games to win the series. Thanks to the Celtics knocking off Cleveland and Orlando, the Lakers have homecourt advantage in the 2010 Finals. If the Lakers "hold serve" in the first two games--which will not be easy but is certainly doable--then the Celtics will have to win three straight home games to have any realistic chance to take the series.

It is almost inconceivable that Bryant will have a 50 point game against the Celtics--and unlikely, though not impossible--that he will even cross the 40 point barrier. The Celtics will force the Lakers' supporting cast to provide at least 60 ppg in order for the Lakers to score 90-plus ppg as a team and that means that Gasol simply has to play better than he did in the 2008 NBA Finals; I think that he will be up to the task--even if he is not able to match the Celtics' physicality and aggressiveness in every game, I expect that Gasol will do enough that the Celtics will not be able to just shove him out of the way, disregard him and focus all of their attention on Bryant. The Bryant-Gasol screen/roll action will be a very important set during this series. In the 2008 Finals, Gasol set soft screens and seemed to be afraid to roll to the hoop, so the Celtics just sent both defenders at Bryant and the Lakers' offense died. Gasol must set a solid enough screen to force the Celtics back on their heels, thus giving Bryant the opportunity to create an open shot for himself or a teammate.

Other things to consider: There are several interesting matchups to watch. When these teams faced each other in the 2008 Finals, the Lakers' rotation was different in several critical ways. Bynum did not play at all due to injury and the since-traded Vladimir Radmanovic started all six games at small forward, with Luke Walton serving as his backup and Bryant also logging minutes at that spot when the Lakers went small in the backcourt with Jordan Farmar and Sasha Vujacic. This time around, Bynum will be expected to battle with Perkins in the post for at least 20 mpg, enabling Gasol to play power forward during those minutes.

Of course, the biggest change for the Lakers is that Ron Artest starts at small forward and will be assigned the task of guarding Paul Pierce one on one. The Lakers acquired Artest to deal with the likes of LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony and Pierce. The Lakers did not have to face Anthony's Nuggets or James' Cavs but Artest did excellent defensive work versus Oklahoma City, Utah and Phoenix. Now he faces his biggest challenge of the postseason and it is not an exaggeration to say that most of the verdict about the de facto Artest-Trevor Ariza swap will hinge on the outcome of the Pierce-Artest matchup. Expect Artest to play "bump and run" defense to the full extent of the NBA law, resulting in marked declines in Pierce's scoring average and shooting percentage; much of Pierce's game is based on his ability to use his size to overpower other small forwards but he cannot overpower Artest.

Artest's presence means that Bryant will not likely have to guard Pierce much, if at all, a marked contrast from the 2008 Finals when Bryant had to play "firefighter" and put out whichever "blaze" was causing the most damage: Pierce or Ray Allen. Although it is widely assumed that Bryant will match up most of the time now with Rondo--who has emerged as Boston's best player--I think that Lakers Coach Phil Jackson will at least try to get away with matching up traditionally at the start of the game, putting Derek Fisher on Rondo and Bryant on Ray Allen. Then, if necessary, Jackson can switch Bryant on Rondo for key stretches. Although the Lakers enjoyed great success after putting Bryant on Oklahoma City point guard Russell Westbrook in the first round, I am not convinced that the Lakers really want to wear Bryant down by having him chase Rondo for 40 mpg throughout the course of the series.

Bryant's supporting cast often receives a lot of praise--particularly from people who do not want to give Bryant his due--but after Gasol (a skilled, talented player who has well documented issues when he has to deal with forceful, physical players) there is a significant talent drop off. What can you say about Odom and Artest? Coach Jackson asked Odom--who was Artest's AAU teammate way back in the day--to be a "guardian" for Artest but Jackson conceded that this is an instance of "not the blind leading the blind, but probably the deaf leading the blind." The good thing for the Lakers is that Odom and Artest each have one definable skill--Odom is an excellent rebounder, while Artest is a tenacious defender; the bad thing is that on offense both Odom and Artest vacillate between trying to do too much and then inexplicably becoming so passive that they hardly do anything.

Fisher is a heady, gutsy, tough player who has proven that he has the nerve to take and make big shots--but the Lakers have had to overcome a matchup disadvantage at the point guard position in every single series so far and that will once again be the case in the NBA Finals.

The Lakers' bench has been overrated for years; that group was decent--not great, but decent--back in 2008 (the "Bench Mob" days) but since that time it has regressed disastrously; there are good reasons that Jackson has said that he wants to vomit when he watches his reserves play and that Bryant has said that if the carnage becomes too bad when he is out of the game then he will just check himself back in to restore order. Odom is the most effective reserve but because Bynum has been constantly injured throughout his career Odom is a de facto starter in terms of his minutes/role. As for the other guys, anyone who is honest realizes that Shannon Brown (the 13th man on the 2007 Cleveland team that made it to the Finals and is widely derided as a weak squad that was carried by LeBron James), Farmar and Vujacic (who provided a great six point play--for the Phoenix Suns--in game six of the Western Conference Finals with his shaky defense and stupid flagrant foul) would not even be in the rotation for many of the other teams that reached the NBA's "Final Four" in recent seasons.

This series could ultimately become a war of attrition: the Celtics are an aging team and several of their players are nursing various injuries, while the Lakers lack depth and they also have several banged up players. Another X factor is that Perkins is just one technical foul away from receiving an automatic one game suspension; it will be interesting to see how that situation affects his aggressiveness and his general demeanor. The team that wins this series will have to display a lot of mental and physical toughness.

Look for the Lakers to win in six hard fought games, with Bryant earning his second straight Finals MVP after averaging about 27 ppg while shooting in the neighborhood of .450 from the field.

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posted by David Friedman @ 4:50 PM

16 comments

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16 Comments:

At Thursday, June 03, 2010 1:24:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

MARCEL


i like lakers in 6 as well but if boston gets split it could get intresting but i dont think la will lose at home.

rondo will kill fisher but westbrook and nash and willams did as well the celtics are superior team to those 3 so this could be a bigger problem than those.

pierce artest i dont expect pierce to dominant like he did in 08 22 6 4 i think he gets 16-18 ppg in series artest will do good job on him.

garnett was most consistent player in 08 playoffs for celts averaged 18ppg 13 boards vs lakers in finals. i dont think that happen agian he has declined some he can average 13 and 7 i think the lakers have big frontline can do a good job on him.

ray allen averaged 20 ppg in 08 finals he has capability of doing it agian i think they hold him down kobe will be on him some and rondo as well.

bench for celts not as good, and guys they miss was posey and house posey and house had 29 in game 4 comeback vs lakers 18 posey 11 house and both had key baskets in game 6 26-6 run that won the ring for them, wallace baby allen robinson inconsistent in playoffs.

for lakers

fisher

will have work cut out for him with rondo his offense will be a bonus really 8-10 ppg

ron artest

it depends how kobe and gasol play really kobe. if they double kobe then that will give artest open shots like phoenix series where he averaged 15ppg i dont see that happening his offense is a bonus he will be needed more to slow down pierce.

bynum

if bynum can get 10 ppg that is good bonus for lake show as well his defense aroumd the basket will be a big thing for lakers.

gasol

he is CRITICAL he can not get punked or scared and play soft he needs to averaged 20 and 10 last time he got 15 10 not good enough i think he can he is very skilled he is not on level of pippen mchale kobe 2000-2002, he is like james worthy ginobili parker level sidekick worthy was probaly better im 25 i didnt see him.

the bench

the lakers only have odom and we dont know what to expect from lamar as we all know from game to game. good lamar can get you a good double 17 and 12 if he shows up and farmar and brown play well than lakers be alright if they dont lakers starters will have to play even better the bench got to give them something.

kobe

i think he will play well in series he wont shoot 52 percent, but he also wont shoot 40 like 08 he is playing out of his mine the last 11 games, i know people will say it was utah and phoenix and thats fair. But did you see the shots he was hitting? there not layups and 5 footer he was hitting those shots were incredible and he could and i believe will hit them vs celtics he hit mainly jumpshots vs phoenix and utah celtci d isnt as good as 08 theyll miss posey agian there, because kobe bean bryant playing so well i think he is the reason why the lakers will win series he will get finals mvp 5 rings one from mike lakers in 6.

 
At Thursday, June 03, 2010 3:46:00 AM, Anonymous yogi said...

The Celtics remind of the Thunder, except the Celtics are a better and smarter defensive team.

This will be a tough series to win, for either team.

I think that Kobe, and the triangle and 2 years together as well as Garnett regressing, help the Lakers take this in 6 or 7 games.

 
At Thursday, June 03, 2010 3:38:00 PM, Blogger $9,000,000,000 Write Off said...

As a Laker fan, I'm comforted by your prediction, as well as by Legler picking the Celtics. But I'm very, very worried that Hollinger picked the Lakers because you can ordinarily make money betting against his Laker analysis.

I would add a couple of marginal things to your analysis, which covered all the important things.

The Celtics like to isolate Pierce or post up Garnet, but I don't think those sets will work for them. Garnet can shoot over
shorter players, but will have trouble scoring on Gasol. As you pointed out, isolating Pierce on Artest is not great. That leaves them running P'R or stagger screens for Allen.

The stagger screen may not work well either. The Celtics run this set by setting illegal screens (or, as you put it, "to the full extent of NBA law") and usually get away with it, but Fisher is outstanding at drawing the illegal pick call. The Celtic stagger screen set will be ineffective if Fisher can draw those calls and force the Celtics to set legal picks.

Stan van Gundy said the way to beat the Celtic D is to move the ball and move the bodies deep into the clock because all defenses will eventually break down scrambling around. The Lakers really improved in that area against the Pho zone D, so maybe they're ready to play an active, disciplined, smart offense deep into the clock. On the other hand, besides Gasol and Kobe, they have terrible basketball IQ so probably not. (Rick Fox, Horace Grant, Ron Harper are not walking their brains through that door, although Brian Shaw is).

The Lakers crash the offensive boards very well and will pick up some easy points there.

 
At Thursday, June 03, 2010 4:41:00 PM, Blogger vednam said...

I'm not convinced that home court advantage will be as big an issue as you suggest. The Celtics are coming off of series in which they won 2 out of 3 games in Orlando and 2 out of 3 games in Cleveland. In this postseason, there doesn't seem to be much of a road disadvantage (or a homecourt advantage) for the Celtics.

I pretty much agree with the rest of your points though. I think Artest will give Pierce a lot of trouble. So who will be left to deliver for the Celtics in the clutch? I could see Ray Allen having a big series, but can he really fill-in for all of Pierce's duties? Rondo did so against Cleveland, but I'm not yet convinced that he can consistently play at an All-NBA level (which the Celtics will need to have a chance). Rondo also seems to be a little banged up.

I think Rasheed Wallace is a player to watch. He can have a big impact on the series.

 
At Thursday, June 03, 2010 5:11:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Vednam:

As I indicated in my preview, I think that homecourt advantage is more significant in the Finals due to the different format. Also, the Lakers are a more dominant home team (at least in this postseason) than Cleveland or Orlando.

Sheed could indeed be an X factor but it remains to be seen how hobbled he is by the back injury.

 
At Thursday, June 03, 2010 5:16:00 PM, Anonymous JackF said...

David,
Lakers should be aware that this Celtics team went to Orlando(owners of the best home record in the league) and won both games"on the road". Pau Gasol is not as strong as Howard so I don't see him being able to withstand Boston's physical play. Like the Phoenix series showed, Pau still struggles against Physical play. As for Kobe, I'd be shocked if he doesn't have a big game against Boston given that nobody on that team can really guard him then I'd be shock. As for kobe needing to win this championship to validate his laker legacy: I dont buy it. If he wins this one, then next year it'll be about catching Jordan or getting mroe than Magic. National media will always create a story to draw viewers.
If Boston intimidates Gasol like 08 then I like Boston in 6.
If Gasol doesn't get intimidated, then I like the Lakers in 5.

 
At Friday, June 04, 2010 12:46:00 PM, Blogger Gil said...

@Jackf - Gasol does not look intimidated.

 
At Sunday, June 06, 2010 6:56:00 AM, Blogger Adi Vase said...

Hey David,

Always enjoy the blog posts and your analysis of games. You have inspired me to start my own blog. Just started a blog at: http://94x50basketball.blogspot.com.

I'd appreciate it if you could read a few of the posts and let me know what you think as well as any improvements I could make in my writing.

Cheers,
Adi

 
At Sunday, June 06, 2010 4:10:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

marcel

if gasol play like he did the lakers will not lose. kobe plays the same way they wont lose either both of them get 30 and 20 it will be difficult for the celts.

 
At Thursday, June 10, 2010 1:51:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

MARCEL

with lakers up 2 to 1 the next two are must win games for celts they cant go back to la down 3-2 if they hope to win series. derek fisher was key with 11 in fourth kobe didnt play well overall but played well in first half 16 6 boards 1 steal 2 blocks to help lakers build a 17 point lead celtics always do a pretty good job on kobe better than any other team in league no suprise to me.


lamar odom finally showed up after 3 games off game 6 suns and first two games in this series. but i think the lakers will game 5 and win in 6 the lakers have too much talent and best player well the celtics look old and slow.

 
At Thursday, June 10, 2010 6:39:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

David, I was looking forward to your coverage of this year's Finals because it's basically impossible to find quality analysis from any other outlets. I remember you having recaps for each of the games in the 2009 Finals or am I wrong?

What do you think of this idea floating around that there isn't a clear cut MVP of the Finals yet? I just read Tim Legler saying that Pau Gasol is the MVP of the Finals so far. I really don't understand what these people are watching during these games. I re-watched Game 3 last night and Kobe Bryant basically spearheaded the Lakers' first half run that got them the 12 point lead going into the second half. There's no doubt Derek Fisher closed out the game but without Bryant making several key plays and basically carrying the team in the second half, that opportunity for Fisher would never have been there. The "analysts" are keying in on the stats showing Bryant's poor shooting performance in Game 3, but a lot of those shots were the result of his teammates failing to initiate and run the offense resulting in Kobe having to take bail-out shots that were nearing the end of the shot clock. Of his 29 shots, I saw only 2 or 3 of them that wasn't out of need and was a questionable shot selection. Kobe was obviously tired down the stretch and Fisher was able to step into that void displaying his worth once again. I don't mean to discount the contributions of the other Lakers players; Gasol had another consistent game and has clearly proven himself a better player than he was in 2008, Odom finally came through with a strong effort and had a key offensive rebound and driving layup in the fourth quarter, Artest's overlooked defense on Paul Pierce down the stretch and Bynum not just gutting out his knee injury but having an impact... basketball is a true team game and contributions need to come from more than just one player, but it confuses me when former players, like Legler, make statements like Gasol is the MVP so far because you'd think they'd have a much better understanding of the game.

-Forest

 
At Friday, June 11, 2010 5:27:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Forest:

I agree with you that most of the coverage of the NBA Finals is very subpar. I could say a lot more about this subject but the situation really speaks for itself.

In previous seasons I not only provided in depth recaps of each of the Finals games but I also provided in depth recaps throughout the regular season and playoffs; I have cut down on the amount of material that I am producing so that I can devote more time and energy to other pursuits but I am watching the Finals very closely and I will do one massive post after the series is over: rest assured that it will be more in depth and more insightful than anything that you will read or hear about the Finals anywhere else.

 
At Friday, June 11, 2010 5:35:00 PM, Blogger Bhel Atlantic said...

David:
Regarding coverage of the Finals, it seems like on the two most popular national websites, there are only two writers (Kevin Arnovitz and Chris Ballard) who actually talk about the game as played on the court. I also like Charley Rosen.

All the other writers talk about personalities, playing time, statistics, controversies, contracts, etc., but not the game of basketball. (Not to suggest that I have much ability to watch a basketball game and credibly dissect the on-court action.) Your analyses are definitely valuable!

What do you think of Glen Davis? Could he be a full-time starter at PF? Is his current weight a help or a hindrance? He was awesome in Game 4.

 
At Saturday, June 12, 2010 12:58:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Bhel Atlantic:

I don't think that Davis could start consistently at power forward for an elite team but he is a valuable role player.

 
At Sunday, June 13, 2010 10:16:00 AM, Anonymous JackF said...

@David
Why do people say that Gasol is a different player now compared to 2008 when he hasn't look productive without Bynum in the game? look at what happened in last Thursday's game!

on Kobe: he's looked pretty average this series. It can't be the defenders since both Tony Allen and Ray Allen are much shorter than Grant Hill or Dudley.

 
At Monday, June 14, 2010 5:45:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Jack F:

Why do you ask me to explain how other people think? I think that your questions are well intentioned but I really don't concern myself with such things. Perhaps you should directly ask these people what they mean by their comments. I have made it perfectly clear that I do not buy into the idea that Gasol has somehow magically transformed himself from the player that he was in Memphis; Gasol was--and is--a skilled big man but now he benefits from the extra defensive attention that Bryant receives. However, it is up to Gasol to take advantage of that situation by finishing plays and Gasol sometimes struggles to do this against physical defenders.

I disagree that Kobe has looked "average" during this series. As Kobe said to a reporter who made a similar comment to Kobe's face, have you noticed that the Celtics are sending three and four defenders at Kobe? Why would a team send three and four guys at an "average" player (or even an "average" superstar, if there is a such a thing)?

As I have repeatedly mentioned, I will post my in depth analysis of the Finals after the series is over.

 

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