You know you wanted a Lakers-Celtics NBA Finals. I know I wanted one, too. Deep down inside, I wanted this series to happen for more than a few reasons. But the biggest of which is that the fruition of these two teams meeting will kill all of the “what if” talk we’ve heard over the past two seasons.
You know what I’m talking about. Like, what if Andrew Bynum was playing in 2008? What if Kevin Garnett was playing in 2009? Etc., etc.
I’m done with that nonsense. We know that with the Lakers seeing blood (up 2-0 over the Suns) and the Celtics massacring the pride of all that is Orlando, we’re going to be watching the matchup we should’ve seen in 2008 — at the level it should’ve been at from the beginning.
The key difference for 2010 is Ron Artest being in the picture. He is the equalizer in a very real sense, because he can handle Paul Pierce one-on-one. That alone can mean the difference between the champions of 2008 and 2009.
I’m looking heavily at the development of Bynum, a budding all-star, as well. His contribution this year bears notice. He’s better than he was two years ago when the Lakers made it to the finals (without him for a month) and he’s continuing to play hurt, which is new territory for him. He’s currently handling the latter quite admirably. Almost, Kobe like. Besides cleaning up on the glass, as he should, he has shown he has better hands than what he is given credit for. Between Bynum, Pau Gasol, Lamar Odom and Kobe Bryant, the Lakers have four threats offensively and no defensive liabilities. Add to the mix the veteran Derek Fisher (who has always been one of my favorite players), and the Laker lineup resembles that of the Steinbrenner 9 — just in shorts.
But don’t let this post seem as if to be a serenade to the glories of the Lakers. There will be no (more) downplaying of the Celtics’ craftiness and experience. They’ve represented Boston well in the last month. This 2010 playoff Celtics team is nothing like your 2010 season Celtics. The resurgence of the team has been well documented, from Pierce finding his offensive game, to Garnett finding his moves, Rasheed Wallace shutting up and doing his job, Tony Allen becoming a playmaker, and Rajon Rondo taking the helm of this team as its offensive spark plug.
As Rondo goes, so does the Celtics. And with his ability to dice through defenses — at a speed unmatched as far as I’ve seen — the Lakers will have their hands full. Not only are the Celtics hot right now, but they have all the pieces needed to beat a team of the Lakers’ caliber. (And yes, the Lakers are the team to beat here as they are the defending champions.) Matchup-wise, Boston doesn’t give much ground defensively and where the team lacks for in offensive juice, it makes up for it in the scoring punch of Pierce and Rondo.
I know I’m being presumptuous with two more games to win for each team before even advancing to the finals (and here in Boston, we just witnessed an epic meltdown with the Bruins), but I’d bet my lunch money that this is going to happen. The Suns don’t have the talent or grit to out muscle the Lakers. The Magic are nonplussed, in steady shock over dropping the first two games of their series at home. They’ll walk into TD Garden and get hammered some more before being swept. These signs are clear. It’s the Finals that aren’t so easy to tell.
Is this Celtics team for real? Is Black Mamba healthy enough to lead the Lakers? Can Ron Artest keep his composure against a gritty Celtics team? Will ‘Sheed continue to keep his mouth closed?
I can’t wait to find out. While there’s lots of good basketball left in the conference finals, the NBA finals is setting up to be something great.