What do you get when you add-up the respective jersey numbers of Pau Gasol (16), Andrew Bynum (17), and Adam Morrison (6)? That’s right — 39. Yes, the same number that the Lakers lost to the Boston Celtics by in the 2008 NBA Finals. It’s also the same number, that when separated into single digits and multiplied (3 x 9), and then reduced by the first digit of the initial number (27-3), equals 24. Yes, the same number of points that the Lakers led the Celtics by in Game 4 of the 2008 NBA Finals, only to give it all away and lose to them by 6 in the end.
Now, did any of those numbers make any sense to anyone at all? Nope. And they make even less sense to die-hard Laker fans all around the world.
Here we are, two years removed from that devastating debacle in Boston, and those numbers still confound and haunt the hell out of all of us here in Los Angeles — from the 39-point pounding in Game 6 to the 24-point lead the Lakers let slip away in Game 4 in Staples Center. While winning the Championship last year against the Orlando Magic was monumental in its own right (with Phil winning his 10th, Kobe winning without Shaq, and Adam Morrison and Sun Yue surpassing Lebron James in rings), it still didn’t provide us with the ultimate sense of freedom from the evil green cloud that continued to hang directly above our heads.
It’s 2010, and the Lakers finally have the chance to exorcise their biggest green demons. The team-names are still the same, the hatred is still the same, the motivations are still the same, and the ultimate prize is still the same, but entering into the 2010 NBA Finals, both the Los Angeles Lakers and the Boston Celtics possess several key differences in make-up and circumstance that separate them from their 2008 counterparts, so as to ensure that very little stays the same this time around.
The question now remains, however, whose respective evolution will prove to be the biggest difference in bringing home the 2010 Larry O’Brien trophy?
First, let’s look at how the Celtics have evolved from 2008 and what key differences, for better or for worse, may end up impacting the outcome of the series…
The Emergence of Rondo -
In 2008, Rajon Rondo had a very sub-par showing against the Lakers, scoring 20 pts and dishing out double-digit assists only once in two separate games. Yeah, that’s not happening again in 2010; the Lakers will be lucky if they can keep him under those numbers for one game. As he’s shown this entire regular season and post-season, he is the primary captain and conductor of this Boston Celtics team.
He’s Chris Paul without a jumper, and if he ever develops a jumper, he’s better than Chris Paul with a jumper.
His speed, penetration, sneaky defense, and uncanny play-making ability just might be the best the Lakers have seen all postseason in terms of point-guard talent — although one could say he’s merely just Westbrook 2.0 and/or that Nash is better. Regardless, the Rondo assignment will not fall solely on Fisher or on Kobe — but on the entire team as a whole.
How the Lakers collectively defend Rondo, with our bigs coming-in to close the lane gaps and alter some shots, will be the biggest determinant on whether or not we see the triple-double Rondo or the more contained 2008 Rondo.
No James Posey -
Call me crazy but, outside of the Rajon Rondo factor, I think that the loss of James Posey could be a major, often-overlooked factor for both teams involved.
In 2008, James Posey was the Celtics’ main 6th man off the bench, hitting timely threes and doing a good job of harassing Kobe all over the place. Kobe struggled throughout that entire series, and Ray Allen was hardly the reason — it was more about Celtics’ team defense and Posey’s own gritty man-to-man defense on him that gave Kobe such problems.
Posey had three separate games where he hit two or more 3-pointers, including an 18-point outburst in Game 5 when the Lakers let their home lead slip away. The fact that the Celtics no longer have a tenacious, veteran-savvy defender and shooter out there to help Ray Allen on both those fronts really benefits the Lakers, in my opinion. Unless you think that the lesser Allen (Tony), the 85-year old Michael Finley, and the predator-looking Marquis Daniels are adequate replacements. Yeah, I don’t, Marchony Dallenley (< all 3 names put together to form one mediocre mutant of a basketball player).
Rasheed Wallace and Nate Robinson (Goodbye, Leon Powe and Eddie House) -
In 2008, Leon Powe was a big spark-plug for the Celtics coming off the bench. He grabbed all the loose rebounds and went for all the hustle plays. Likewise, Eddie House came off the bench as well and gave the Celtics that extra streaky scoring punch that they needed. Both are gone now, and in their stead are Rasheed Wallace and Nate Robinson.
Earlier in the season, both these additions looked like huge duds, as even Celtics fans were bemoaning the fact that they had acquired such an old and useless Antoine Walker wannabe in Rasheed Wallace. And Nate Robinson? Well, he was playing just like he had with the Knicks — not at all. But as we saw through this whole postseason and more specifically for Nate, this past game against the Orlando Magic, both Wallace and Robinson have awoken and proven to be crucial contributors off the bench.
Wallace especially has found new life on both the offense and defensive end, his three-point stroke flowing like it did in his old days as a Detroit Piston.
Nate Robinson, on the other hand, while definitely not as sound and reliable as Eddie House was, is still very much a streaky game-changer when his shot is on and his mind is in the game. He’s definitely more explosive than Eddie House, but he’s also more erratic, and could easily cause just as much problems for his own team than for the Lakers with his often-cited poor shot selection.
In either case, if these two main role players are on their games, our Lakers will definitely have a handful.
The Rest of the Deep Celtics Bench -
The 2008 Celtics were deep. The 2010 Celtics are even deeper. I placed Rasheed Wallace and Nate Robinson in a separate category, but there are even more key players off the bench who can really do some damage for the Celtics outside of those two: the next two most important players being lip-licking Glen Davis, and the now-healthy Tony Allen.
Glen Davis, is of course, a big, stout body that can help push the Laker bigs out of the paint on both ends — with his wide frame on the defensive end and his smooth mid-range jump shot on the offensive end.
Tony Allen, on the other hand, has been quite serviceable for the Celtics this postseason (more so in the Cavaliers series) with his athleticism and hustle (he’s done as much as Shannon has in the playoffs, and maybe even more).
Rounding out the bench are Michael Finley and Marquis Daniels. I don’t worry too much about them, but they are pretty solid end-of-the-bench options and you may even see Daniels guard Kobe if people are in foul trouble.
It’s a good thing that the Lakers were forced to face a very talented and tough Suns’ bench in the conference finals because the Celtics’ bench will be just as tough, if not tougher, to handle.
The Big 3 are a little less big, and a little more old -
I’m still deathly scared of Ray Allen’s deadly three-point stroke, and Paul Pierce has really turned it on in the playoffs without LeBron James guarding him and vice-versa, but as far as the collective presence of the Big 3 is concerned, they all seem a lot less intimidating to me. Let’s not forget, that while Kevin Garnett is actually healthy this year, he was also a lot more healthy in 2008.
These guys are 2-years older and a lot more banged-up, so the Lakers have no reason to be afraid or back-down. If anything, we should play more physical and bang the old bodies of Garnett, Pierce, and Allen all we can so as to wear them all down.
In 2008, the Big 3 were fierce, domineering, and tough. These days, I think it’s clear that their bark is definitely much worse than their bite. Kendrick Perkins is probably the toughest Celtic out of the entire team at this point. These days, I just see Paul Pierce as a flopping princess and Garnett as nothing more than a loud, karate-chopping yeller. And the Lakers shouldn’t see them any differently. I know Quentin Richardson and Lamar Odom don’t.
The Evolution of the Lake-Show -
Home Court -
I don’t know who you think this favors more, but this is definitely one important difference that changes the entire dynamic between both teams in this year’s finals. The 2-3-2 format is always a tricky thing to deal with. Obviously, I feel a lot more confident and safe having home-court and the possibility of getting a jump-start on the Celtics, provided that we do get that jump-start. After all, the Lakers were unable to win two-straight home games last year in the Finals, so it will definitely be interesting to see how these first two games at Staples Center play-out.
If the Lakers win the first two home games, then home court is definitely to their advantage. If not… well, let’s just hope that we don’t have to relive the 2004 Finals scenario with the Detroit Pistons all over again. Needles to say, the first two games are must-wins for the Lakers.
Kobe Bryant is Playing the Best Ball of His Life -
What? I know, this sounds stupid… especially considering how everyone, including myself, was writing him off in the earlier rounds due to his age and injuries. But, the Mamba, like he usually does when doubt and criticism are thrust upon him, has proven everyone wrong once again.
This is the best I’ve ever seen Kobe play. And while the flashy, insane, highlight dunks may be gone, the impossible, butt-tapping, fade-away J’s over two defenders are still there. Kobe is playing his best all-around game ever, closing games when need be, and distributing and directing teammates at just the right times so as to keep defenses in constant paranoia. As he’s shown in the last two series, especially against the Suns, scoring 30+ points in 11 of his last 12 games, Kobe Bryant is not in the decline of his career — he’s at the peak, testing even his own limits to see if he can go any higher.
For the Celtics’ sake, they better hope he’s peaked. They can at least be thankful that Charles Barkley is no longer on-air to provide the Mamba with some added motivation.
Exit Trevor Ariza & Vlad-Rad, Enter Ron Artest -
In 2008, we had Vladimir Radmanovic guarding Paul Pierce. Yes, that Winter X-Games, snow-board-lying, space cadet. The much-loved Ariza, on the other hand, was pretty much playing spot minutes on Pierce because he had just come back from a long-term injury, so his contributions were pretty bare. Needless to say, having the big enforcer, Ron Artest, now available to guard Paul Pierce will definitely cause Pierce a lot more problems than spacey Radmanovic and an injured Ariza were ever able to.
More importantly, Artest’s confidence since his game-winning put-back in Game 5 against the Suns has been sky high. His three-point shot is finally falling and he seems more focused and dedicated than ever to truly get on the same page with his teammates and win his first ring. The Boston Celtics are the primary reason why the Lakers brought in Ron Artest. His ferocious will and defensive tenacity and hustle will be counted on more than ever in this upcoming series to show how ‘hoodalized’ the Lakers have become.
We just have to hope that he stays composed and that all his energy doesn’t backfire on us in the form of any more ill-advised threes.
50% Bynum Is Better than 0% Bynum -
Pau Gasol has always had a tough time maneuvering through Kendrick Perkins’ big body whenever he’s been matched-up against him (heck, Dwight Howard struggles as well). With Bynum in the mix, Pau Gasol can have more time solely on Garnett, using his speed and savvy post moves to get a much older Garnett off-kilter.
If Bynum can play 20 solid minutes, alter shots at the basket, make Perkins work and wear him down, and get a few offensive rebounds and put-backs, the Lakers will be golden. A lot more golden than they were in 2008 when they had an invisible Bynum pulling down 0 rebounds and blocking 0 blocked shots. It’s definitely not ideal that we don’t have the explosive, athletic Bynum of earlier in the season at our disposal, but hey, Bynum is still a freaking long giant even if he’s just standing there, clogging the paint.
Let’s just hope he can do more than stand.
Adam Morrison: I won’t go any further. But can you say ‘difference maker’? Because he can’t.
The (Deep or Shaky) Laker Bench -
In 2008, the ‘Bench Mob’ moniker was born out of the great chemistry, drive, and passion the Laker bench displayed whenever they found time on the court together. And while our bench inevitably gave-way on us in the Finals that year, we were still a much deeper team back then than we are now, because of how much healthier and better guys like Sasha, Farmar, and Luke played.
Our bench this year has, of course, been shaky at best, even with Lamar coming off the pine now. Luckily, the fact that we can have Odom come off the bench now gives the Lakers a new look that they weren’t able to throw at the Celtics in ’08.
Hopefully, the Lakers can get Shannon some easy break-away dunk opportunities to get his overall confidence and game back on track. Furthermore, the glimpses of productivity that Sasha and Farmar have shown in recent games need to continue and remain consistent if the Lakers want to match the depth and talent of the Celtics’ bench and do a better job of maintaining the starters’ leads.
Well, our guards have surely shown the toughness and swagger that we need to truly get over the hump. Kobe may not be able to throw punches in real life (see Chris Childs and Reggie Miller), but he’s a definite serial killer whenever he has a ball in his hands and nobody plays as physical as he does at the two-spot.
Fisher, of course, is our bull-dog enforcer who doesn’t back down against bigger guys like Luis Scola and Michelle Wie’s ex-boyrfriend, Robin Lopez.
Ron Artest, of course, can punch just about anyone (as well as pull their pants down).
And Sasha has shown his toughness against… other Slovenians.
Overall, we’ve got a very gritty, scrappy, physical bunch of smalls on our team.
But once again, the question remains – how tough are our bigs?
Pau Gasol has seemingly made some improvements in that department and shown that he has a lot tougher skin and balls than he lets on (although he did look a little soft against Amare).
Lamar Odom is a definite thug in real-life situations (I’ll take him in a fight against Garnett any day), but can he be one on the court with a ball in his hands as well?
Bynum, on the other hand, while hurt, deserves a lot of praise for his resiliency in the midst of pain. I applaud Bynum for showing some real grit and dedication this year, playing through his first real injury and trying to find different ways to contribute in his limited status.
Over the last two years, we’ve definitely seen glimpses of a much more motivated and tougher front-line, but we’ve still never truly been able to measure them up to the team with which ‘toughness’ mattered the most to. Well, we’ll find out soon enough how big our bigs have grown against those annoying green leprechauns from the east.
Pau Gasoft is now Pau Gasolid. Lamar Odumb is now Lamar Kardashian (You don’t want to mess with Khloe, man). And Andrew Bynumb is… now Chris Bosh. Just kidding, he’s Bynumite. And if the referees actually let us play ‘tough’ this year, rest assured that we’ll be just tough enough. Hope you’re ready, Boston Celtics.
Final Thoughts -
While the regular season is never truly indicative of what can be expected from teams in terms of their actual play in Playoffs, it still, at the very least, gives us a relatively coherent picture of how both teams stack up against one another. And over the past 2 years, the Lakers have gone 3 and 1 against the Celtics (the one loss sans Kobe), and have taken every game personally, developing quite a nasty, mean-streak swagger about them in the process.
There is no doubt that when the Finals start on Thursday, both teams will come-in carrying their own respective swaggers about themselves, each signaling to the opposing team that “you’ll have to go through us to win.”
Now, we can continue to analyze all we want and argue about whose respective upgrades and regressions outweigh the others — and Lord knows, the NBA scheduling has forced us to do just this — but the fact of the matter is, we won’t truly know how it will all unfold until we actually see both teams in the flesh, scrapping and fighting their butts off out there on the court.
As we all know simply from watching this year’s Playoffs, the NBA is so unpredictable, players are so unpredictable, and factors that we once thought fully sound and bullet-proof could end up crumbling right before our eyes in present-form. As such, the best thing for the Lakers to do is to remain confident, trust one another, and just play their game.
In the end, who can truly say what the real difference will end up being in the Lakers quest to avenge their loss to the Celtics in 2008? All I know is, it’s tough to stop Phil and Kobe from racking up streaks once they’ve already got one ring under the belt.
1, 2, 3… Queensbridge!
Who’s with me for changing the Laker chant if we win a 2nd ring? No? Okay. 1, 2, 3, RING it still is!
The Fridge has some ‘left-over’ business to take care of,