ONCE AGAIN, ITâ€™S ON: The previous two NBA Finals MVPâ€™s, Kobe Bryant and Paul Pierce, left, will garner most of the attention leading into tonightâ€™s start of the NBA Finals. The 12th Finals meeting between the Lakers and Celtics will come down to newer faces Rajon Rondo, right, and Andrew Bynum. (Photos by Jeff Lewis for Sentinel)
Lakers-Celtics meet for the 2nd time in 3 years with legacy and destiny on the line.
By Evan Barnes
Sentinel Sports Editor
By now, you’ve probably had your fill of every Lakers-Celtics angle. Everything from the 11 previous meetings in the Finals to Kurt Rambis’ face meeting Kevin McHale’s forearm to two years ago when the Celtics won in dominating fashion.
Well it’s time to stop talking. Tonight, it’s time for everyone to see it settled on the court as Game 1 of the 2010 NBA Finals begins at Staples Center.
Much has been said about the Celtics being older and the Lakers out for revenge. But both reached this point in similar fashion -they survived similar body blows and brought out their A-game at the right time.
Cleveland was supposed to have finished Boston off after handing them the worst home playoff loss in team history. All it did was inspire the Celtics to win seven of their last nine playoff games and easily dispatch the Cavs and hold off the Orlando Magic.
The Lakers were pushed to the brink by a young Oklahoma City team. After a rough Game 4, they rebounded to win eight consecutive playoff games and survive Phoenix’s zone to reach their third consecutive Finals.
That’s how they got here. Now here’s how the Lakers can make sure 2010 isn’t a repeat of 2008.
1. Stop Rajon Rondo – While fans marveled at Rondo the last two seasons, the Lakers saw what he could do in the Game 6 clincher two years ago when he had a near quadruple-double (21 points, 8 rebounds, 7 assists, 6 steals).
Rondo is the engine of this Celtics team and as he goes, so goes the rest of the team. A double-double machine who can get to the basket with ease, he’s got the easiest matchup advantage in the series.
The Lakers must make him more of a shooter instead of a slasher and with Kobe Bryant handling the matchup, it’ll be important for Jordan Farmar and Shannon Brown to keep the slack up.
2. Make Paul Pierce work for everything – The Inglewood native upped his scoring in the postseason (22.5 over the last 8 games) after disappearing in the first round and a half.
Of the Big 3, Pierce is the main one who’ll have no trouble finding a way to get his shots. This is where Ron Artest has to prove he’s worth the Lakers’ money.
Artest is similar in size to Pierce and his physical defense must keep him from driving to the basket with ease. Outside of Rondo-Bryant, this will be the key matchup of the series to watch.
3. Bynum/Odom must contribute every night – Andrew Bynum is still hurting but he played with aggression in Game 6 against Phoenix. Lamar Odom is fresh off outplaying an All-Star in Amar’e Stoudemire.
It’s not enough that they do this in one or two games. They have to do it again every night because their matchups – Kendrick Perkins and Glen Davis – will make every attempt to outwork them.
Bynum has to average a near double-double with two blocks while letting Perkins know he can’t outmuscle him. Odom has to fill up the stat sheet because outside of Kevin Garnett, nobody can keep up with him all over the court.
This NBA Finals will come down to desire and will. For the two main players that have questions in those areas, they need to provide a different answer like they did against Phoenix.
4. Bench Mob must come alive – This is for Jordan Farmer, Shannon Brown, Sasha Vujacic, Josh Powell and DJ Mbenga if Phil Jackson remembers him on the bench.
Outside of defense, the bench play will be a big factor in this series. In addition to Davis, Boston will bring Nate Robinson, Tony Allen and old friend Rasheed Wallace, who needs no reason to get motivated.
Lamar Odom alone can’t be the only productive player for the Lakers. If the Phoenix series said anything, it spoke volumes about how valuable a bench is. Farmer and Brown have to be factors, especially in guarding Rondo and hitting open shots.
5. Remember Game 6 – The confetti coming down, the dejected looks, the 39 point beatdown that remains one of the worst losses in team history. All that’s missing is James Brown in the background singing “Revenge! I’m Mad!”
Since then, the Lakers have beaten Boston three of the last four times and the only loss was by one point in February minus an injured Kobe Bryant. Of course, as Cleveland has shown the last two years, regular season means nothing.
If the Lakers want to shed the bridesmaid tag to the Celtics, they have to play like the Bride in “Kill Bill” – efficient, cold and able to throw harder counter punches.
Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol’s legacy are on the line in this series. Phil Jackson may be done after this season. They have homecourt advantage and haven’t lost a series with it since the 2004 NBA Finals.
The cards are in their deck and the hunger to avenge two years ago is strong. Now it’s time to see if they can act on it or if Boston’s young ace (Rondo) and three aging kings have one more run in them.