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Article:Best Team Wins NBA Finals

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(A little late on this one.  I posted it on my blog, but wanted to share it here, too.)


Last Tuesday, when the Boston Celtics shellacked the Los Angeles Lakers by 39 points to win the NBA Championship, it proved something that was so painstakingly clear throughout the NBA season: the Boston Celtics were the best team in the NBA.

There were many who doubted the Celtics were the best team.

Bandwagoners were quick to jump on the Los Angeles Lakers when they acquired Pau Gasol at the beginning of February and finished the season 25-8 with him on the roster.

The Lakers had Kobe Bryant, the league MVP.

The Lakers were unbeatable at home, especially in the playoffs.

The Lakers have an unstoppable offense.

The Lakers play in a better conference.

The Lakers...the Lakers...the Lakers...

Nine out of ten ESPN "experts" predicted the Lakers to win the series (some in as few as five games). Tim Legler, the only Boston sympathizer among the "experts," picked the Celts in seven.

As Game One was about to tip off, a spectator at the bar where I was working asked how I thought the series would turn out. "Celtics in six," I responded without any sense of embarrassment or favoritism for the home team. I even went as far to say that the Celtics would win all their home games and Game 4 in Los Angeles.

The series is over. It ended in pretty quick fashion. The Celtics did win in six. They did win all their home games and Game 4 in LA. Where are those experts now!?

Sure, there were lots of reasons to pick the Lakers to do well in the playoffs, but there were few reasons to pick them to beat the Celtics and the idea that Boston was an "underdog" was downright laughable. The NBA Finals proved this, but the writing was on the wall long before these two teams renewed their rivalry on June 5th.

Let's look at those reasons for picking the Lakers:

In their final 33 games with Pau Gasol in the lineup, the Lakers went 25-8 and were 27-8 since the beginning of February.

In their last 33 games, the Celtics were 26-7 and 30-8 since the beginning of February.

The Lakers had Kobe Bryant, the league MVP.

The Celtics had NBA First Teamer, Kevin Garnett, and NBA Third Teamer, Paul Pierce, not to mention a third 2008 All Star, Ray Allen. Furthermore, in the second round, the Celtics had already defeated LeBron James, who led Kobe in scoring by an average of nearly two points during the regular season.

The Lakers were unbeatable at home, especially in the playoffs.

The Celtics had the best record at home during the regular season and went 13-1 at home during the playoffs. The Celtics also had the best road record during the regular season and entered the NBA Finals, fresh off taking two games in Detroit during the Eastern Conference Finals.

The Lakers have an unstoppable offense.

Sure, and a pourous defense. A great defense always trumps a great offense, especially when you have an offense to compliment that defense; the Celtics had an average differential of +10.3 ppg (a league best) in giving up only 90.3 ppg (second to Detriot's 90.1 ppg) during the regular season.

The Lakers play in a better conference.

The Western Conference is indisputably better than the East. But, the 25-5 record the Celtics sported against the West all but negated this argument for LA. The Celtics won their first 16 games against the West, won three consecutive on a grueling trip through Texas, and swept Western Conference powerhouses like the San Antonio Spurs, the Houston Rockets, and, most relevant to this article, the LOS ANGELES LAKERS.

The simple mathematical equation for the NBA Finals is the Celtics are greater than the Lakers.

All due respect to Kobe, but he's got no one around him that can help him win championships.

All the experts will try give me an ear full about how great Pau Gasol is, but he couldn't do anything except whine and complain as Kevin Garnett dominated him at both ends of the court.

And Lamar Odom...

Remember when Kobe complained at the beginning of the year that he had no good players around him, ODOM WAS ON THE TEAM THEN! Nothing's changed, Odom's still not a good player. As I texted a Lakers fan before the series, "You ever think how great the Lakers would be if Odom was actually good?" A statement that he did little to rebut, responding how great they'd be if Bynum and Ariza were healthy (I'm pretty sure Ariza was healthy for the NBA Finals, then again, this is coming from me, a guy who actually thought he saw Chris Mihm on the court).

The Celtics had far more depth and were in control of the series from start to finish, as should have been expected.

In Game 1, Boston suffered what appeared to be a huge loss when Pierce went down with an apparent knee injury, but when Pierce returned moments later he dropped two threes to give the Celtics a lead they wouldn't relinquish.

In Game 2, while Los Angeles cried foul, and weaker players like Gasol were too busy complaining to drive the ball to the basket to draw the foul, the Celtics stormed out to a 24-point lead. At that point, the Celts decided the night was over and, for the first and last time in the series, almost lost control. Led by a three-point barrage, the Lakers closed the gap to within two, but Boston fended them off for the win.

Game 2 served as the final wake up call in the playoffs for Boston. Throughout the playoffs Boston had played with fire and survived. They learned not to take anyone for granted in Atlanta, they learned to match the intensity of a player like LeBron James in Cleveland, they learned to win on the road in Detroit; finally, against the Lakers, they learned to play a complete basketball game (something that would culminate with Game 6's blowout).

If the Celtics had blown that lead to LA, the series might never have made it back to Boston and neither would have the trophy. Blowing such a lead would destroy a team past the point of rehabilitation, something the Lakers would learn two games later.

LA certainly possessed enough ability to give the Celtics a challenge, and won a hard fought 87-81 Game 3. The Lakers took far more free throws in this game, which might have had to do with their complaining, but also had to do with a role reversal from Game 2 due to the Celtics refusal to drive to the hoop.

All in all, it was a disappointing loss for the Celtics, because they forced the Lakers to play a Boston game in Los Angeles and couldn't win. Even still, the defensive affair did prove that the Lakers were not "unbeatable" at home.

Game 4 decided the NBA Finals. The Lakers came out of the gates and overwhelmed the Celtics, opening a lead of 24 points in the first quarter. However, the Celtics chipped away and closed the lead to only two points by the end of the third quarter. Boston claimed the fourth quarter and the game, and, for all intensive purposes, the NBA Finals were over.

The Lakers fought back in Game 5, but it was just a bonus game for the Celtics, kind of like that "Free Play" you get when winning an arcade game. Boston knew if they won they'd be World Champions, but if they lost, they'd still have two opportunities to win in front of their own fans.

As stated before, Game 6 was a culmination of the season for the Celtics; it was the epic swan song during the encore performance; it was their best game of the year. The Celtics put their foot on the gas pedal for all 48 minutes of this sprint and never stopped accelerating.

The Celtics opened up a lead early and it only got bigger as the game went on. By the time, captain and longtime Celtic Pierce drenched Coach Doc Rivers in Gatorade, Boston had broke their own record (set in 1965 against the Lakers) for largest margin of victory in a Finals clinching game.

After those 48 minutes of what looked like a Basketball Clinic and the previous five games, two of which the Celtics didn't even win, the truth was evident to even the strongest doubters: from their first game on November 2 to the last game on June 17, Boston was the NBA's best team, and the NBA's best team was a World Champion.


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