By Chris Le
The match up everyone wanted is now here.
Each the number one seed of their respective conferences but more importantly, the two best teams in the league—which seems to be a rarity in sports these days—face off in the championship series.
That’s why people should be pumped.
It shouldn’t be because of the storied histories of each franchise or a rivalry of a bygone era. Those are impossible to meet standards that really don’t apply to this particular group of players. Looking at Kobe Bryant and Kevin Garnett, I just don’t get the feeling that this is a rivalry anymore, in the same sense of Magic Johnson and Larry Bird or Wilt Chamberlain and Bill Russell. I mean, it’s been, what, a few decades since both teams have concurrently lived up to their franchises’ reputation?
This rivalry needs a shot to the heart. Let’s hope that when this series is over, instead of living in the past, a new chapter in the Celtics-Lakers rivalry is born.
(1) Los Angeles Lakers vs. (1) Boston Celtics
Regular Season Series: Celtics 2-0
Outcome: Everyone and their mom are on the Lakers’ jock—and for good reason. They’ve been dominant, mixing the most versatile offense in the league with an improved defense (which I personally didn’t see coming). Their combination of size, athleticism and shooting seems to be an impossible riddle to solve.
If there’s a team to do just that, however, it’s the Celtics.
Simply put, from top to bottom, they’re a better all-around team than the Lakers. Justification for such a claim begins with their unparalleled defense, which is just as vaunted as Los Angeles’ offense. Boston is extremely physical, which should help neutralize their opponents’ speed advantage, even if just a bit, and discourage a few of their softer players.
One possible red flag I see is Boston’s lack of a post presence. Without an active body in the paint, the livelier Lakers could have a feast on the boards like they did against the Spurs, playing right into their up-tempo style.
If they can limit or even offset the production of Los Angeles’ role players, though, the Celtics have a legitimate chance of hoisting the Larry O’Brien Trophy when it’s all said and done. KG will have no trouble against Pau Gasol or Lamar Odom, on both ends of the court, keeping the Celtics close. And Paul Pierce is dynamic enough and has a sufficient mean streak to close out a game.
But despite all this, in the end, the Lakers have two factors the Celtics do not: Phil Jackson and Kobe Bryant.
There’s simply no comparing the Zen Master, possessor of nine rings who’s seen everything there is to be seen in basketball, and Doc Rivers, who hadn’t even won a playoff series before this year. This is an utter mismatch that shouldn’t be underestimated.
And then, of course, there’s Kobe, who has raised his game to a level that only an elite few have experienced, where he never loses control of his opponent or his own teammates. Against the Celtics, he’ll have a tougher time incorporating the rest of the Lakers, at which point he’ll have to go for 40—well within his realm. But unlike years past, he knows which Kobe (selfish or unselfish) to be at the right moment. Boston will have to be exceedingly active and amorphous on defense, attempting to make Kobe schizophrenic.
Ultimately, I don’t see them doing it, and Kobe will be the difference in this series.
Lakers in 7.