(1)Boston Celtics vs (1) LA Lakers : The dream match-up between the Celtics and Lakers is just a few days away. After thinking long and hard about this series and worrying that my original pick of Celtics over Lakers in 7 games may be in trouble, I have done a complete 360 back to my original pick and I now believe the Celtics WILL win this series.
How you ask? Well, check out these three key reasons why the Celtics will win this series below:
Perkins/Garnett vs Gasol/Odom: To me this is the key match-up in the whole series because it is where Boston could have their biggest advantage. Gasol and Odom are great players in their own right but neither one is very physical and think that Perkins and Garnett will push them around on the boards for sure and will be able to match up pretty well defensively on them as well.
Perkins really stepped his game up against Detroit in the Eastern Conference Finals, averaging 9.3 points, 9.2 rebounds, 1.17 blks, while shooting 66.7% from the field. Garnett we know for sure is going to bring his A-game, so if Perkins can match his performance from the Detroit series, I think the Celtics will have a distinct advantage down low.
Sure Tim Duncan is a stud down low but I think Odom and Gasol will find there is big difference between dealing with Kendrick Perkins compared to Kurt Thomas and Fabricio Oberto. Not to mention the Celtics interior defense is stronger than the Spurs as well.
Paul Pierce Loves Playing Against LA : As mentioned on ESPN today, Paul Pierce kills the Lakers. Pierce is from LA and loves playing against the Lakers and historically has played well against them. For his career, Paul Pierce is averaging 27.9 points per game against the Lakers.
I really don't think there is anyone who can match-up with Pierce on the Lakers. After going against the beast Lebron and the lengthy Tashuan Prince, Paul Pierce should have a field day with whoever is guarding him on the Lakers. You may see some Lamar Odom on Pierce because of his length and that may be the best match-up for the Lakers but I would expect Pierce to see some Sasha Vujacic and Kobe Bryant on Pierce as well.
Now Bryant is a great defender but I think Pierce is too big and strong for Kobe and I wouldn't expect to see Kobe on him too much. Pierce is also going to have plenty of help from Kevin Garnett, who should be a beast in this series as well, but who will step up to help Kobe out offensively? I don't have complete confidence that Lamar Odom or Pau Gasol can be effective against the Celtics defense.
Celtics Defense: The Celtics are still a better defensive team than the Lakers. While the Lakers have played great defense in the playoffs so far, they are not as physical and play a much more wide open style than the Cavs or Pistons play. The Celtics have been the best defensive team in the league all season. Their strongest defensive unit is Rondo, Pierce, Posey, Garnett, & Perkins and I would expect to see this defense out their at key moments of the game.
Now how will the Celtics defend Kobe Bryant? Well, Kobe was horrible in the two games against Boston during the season, shooting 15 of 46. Now I fully expect Kobe to shoot much better than that in the NBA Finals, especially since he didn't have Pau Gasol to help him out in either of those two games.
However, I still think the Celtics will do a better job on Kobe than most other teams because they will not let him get in the lane for easy buckets. In fact, this analysis of the Celtics defense against Kobe, suggests that the Celtics will leave a weaker defender like Ray Allen on Kobe Bryant and dare him to shoot from the outside.
The logic behind this is that when Kobe shoots from the outside it is a lower percentage shot then if he gets in the lane for easy buckets or gets to the free throw line. It worked pretty well during the season and Kobe took the bait because he couldn't pass up the opportunity to take a wide open look in front of a weaker defending Allen. The other option the Celtics have is to get physical with Bryant, so that he is worn out by the 4th quarter and can't take over the game like he did against the Spurs. Now Kobe could certainly catch fire and score 40 plus points a game against the Celtics but the Lakers are winning this year because Kobe is sharing the ball with his improved teammates and I would find it hard to believe that the Lakers will win this series just because Kobe dominates the scoring load for the Lakers. The other players are going to have to chip in too. Some other X-Factors for the Celtics:
Ray Allen: Ray Allen has stunk for the better part of the playoffs but he actually didn't have a bad series against Detroit. Overall, he shot 44.2 % from the floor and averaged 17.5 points per game. In the last two games, he shot 15 of 27 from the floor, including 8 of 14 on three-pointers, and averaged 23 points. It's quite possible that Ray Allen has found his shooting stroke again and that would be really good news for the Celtics.
Rajon Rondo: Rondo did not play great against the Pistons but he certainly has the talent to be an X-Factor in this series. Just like Ray Allen, Rondo's play can be up and down, which is why he is an X-Factor and not a definite advantage for the Celtics.
Reasons the Celtics might lose:
Phil Jackson vs Doc Rivers: This one is pretty much a no-brainer because Phil Jackson is clearly a better coach than Doc Rivers. The only question here is how much does a coach really effect the game? It seems pretty unclear how much impact the coach actually has on each game because ultimately it comes down to the players and how they execute. The Lakers will have a definite advantage with Jackson as their coach but how much of an advantage is yet to be seen, especially since Doc has a good coaching staff led by defensive guru Tom Thibodeau.
Kobe Bryant: Kobe Bryant is the best player in the NBA and the MVP of the league. He could definitely dominate this series and lead his team to victory. Right now Kobe is playing out of his mind and completing taking over games in the 4th quarter. If the Celtics lose, you can bet it will be because Kobe has a monster series.
Bench Play: It is the general consensus that the Lakers have a better bench than the Celtics. This could be a big factor in this series if the Lakers bench outplays a struggling Celtics bench. The Lakers bench consists of Luke Walton, Jordan Farmar, Sasha Vujacic, and Ronny Turiaf. Farmar has been struggling in the playoffs but Walton and Vujacic have played well throughout the playoffs.
I don't think the Lakers bench will be as big of a factor as people think but it's possible that Boston's bench gives them nothing. Sam Cassell has been awful and he probably shouldn't be on the court in favor of Eddie House, so that will be something to look out for. James Posey has been great on both ends of the floor and PJ Brown has stepped up in moments for the Celtics.
I actually think the Celtics bench is deeper and bigger because they also have Leon Powe and Big Baby Davis if needed. However, if the Lakers bench lives up to the hype and outplays the Celtics bench, that could help lead the Lakers to a NBA Finals victory
Prediction: Celtics in 7 (That was my pick from the start so I'm sticking to it)
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