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Here are my thoughts on round one of the super-fight known as the 2008 NBA Finals between the two greatest NBA heavyweights of all time: the Los Angeles Lakers and the Boston Celtics.
For the Men in Green
1) Kevin Garnett, in his first NBA Finals run, was clearly the player of the game
(forgetting about his nine straight second-half misses) by dropping 24 on the Lakers while collecting 13 boards while providing a stifling defensive presence through out the game. In the fourth quarter he chased down a sloppy Ray Allen pass to the half-court line which kept a Beantown possession alive and a Sam Cassell jumper was the result. In the game’s final two minutes he then threw down a vicious follow-up jam off a James Posey long-range misfire (which was another possession he kept alive by getting his hands on a Rajon Rondo free throw clank) and knocking down two throws to seal Team Green’s triumph.
2) Props also goes to Paul “Willis Reed” Pierce“ for his gutsy performance last night by returning to the game after his sprain his knee and then nailing two trifectas when checking back into the contest and finishing the game with 18 points. It was also probably no coincidence that the Lakers ripped off a 14-6 run to end the first half after PP went to the bench after picking up his third foul with 5:14 remaining in the second quarter.
For the Purple and Gold
1) The Lakers can take comfort in the fact that their game one set-back comes on a night when Kobe had an off shooting-night, where he finished with just nine buckets on 26 attempts. The Mamba did have good miss several shots he would normally knock down but also credit the Celtic defense for clogging the lane which forced the Kobester into taking more jumpers then he might have wanted to. But do credit Kobe for making several outstanding passes to his teammates who knocked down some shots but weren't able to cash in on several other golden opportunites.
2) Phil Jackson and his staff have to be concerned that Vladamir Radmanovic can not keep up with Paul Pierce defensively, nor can Luke Walton. So that means Kobe will probably have to play a lot of small forward during this series which in turn means Sasha Vujacic see a lot of minutes at the two guard. Vujacic will give a good effort on Ray Allen defensively (although he got lost on a couple of occasions last night while on Allen) but if Sasha goes on cold streaks with his shooting as he did last night this could be a big problem for the Lake Show. The Zen Master may have to seriously consider giving Trevor Ariza minutes at small forward to lock down Pierce during the series assuming Ariza is in shape to handle such a duty. Or another possibility for Jackson: consider using Derek Fisher and Jordan Farmar backcourt at the same time while Kobe is at small forward.
3) Jackson pulled Lamar Odom with 1:49 left in the fourth quarter and brought Radmanovic back because the Celtics were sending defensive help off Odom. I would try to always keep Odom in the game-unless he was having a truly awful night while- because not only is Odom the better player and the Lakers need his rebounding, when Radmanovic checked in the game, Doc Rivers inserted James Posey into the lineup, meaning Kevin Garnett was the center. In my opinion, this smaller, quicker lineup with Kevin Garnett, James Posey and Paul Pierce in the frontcourt can be just as effective if not more effective for the Celtics for the entire season although PJ Brown did make a solid contribution off the bench last night.