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Lakers and Celtics Brace for Epic Game 7

Just another battle for a magazine cover as the Lakers prepare to take on the Celtics in Game 7 of the NBA Finals (courtesy photo).

It’s come down to a coin flip for the NBA Finals. When the Los Angeles Lakers and Boston Celtics tip off Game Seven on Thursday night, it’ll be just the third time since 1994 that the NBA Finals has required a deciding game. And for the NBA and its fans, they wouldn’t have it any other way.

After a second consecutive failed attempt at a Lebron/Kobe Finals matchup, the league was delighted to settle for an old school brawl between Boston and Los Angeles. The Lakers and Celtics remain as the two best teams in the NBA, headed for a one-game elimination to settle the score for the championship title. Perfect!

Despite both clubs dealing with key injuries to their starting center positions, plenty of star power remains for Thursday’s game in what could turn into a record breaker for viewership ratings.

You know it’s Lakers-Celtics, the biggest rivalry in NBA basketball, seven games. It is what it is,” Boston point guard Rajon Rondo told Boston.com when asked about Thursday’s title clincher.

Multiple sources have already confirmed that Celtic center Kendrick Perkins will miss Game Seven after spraining his knee on Tuesday. With Perkins out for the Celtics, the Lakers will probably have to endure another injury-riddled effort from starting big Andrew Bynum. Bynum has gutted it out so far through the Finals with a knee injury but left the second half of Game Six after complaining of stiffness in his leg. With a championship on the line, Bynum is fully expected to give it one more go.

Boston will be expected to give it one more go after a poor performance in Tuesday’s 89-67 loss. The Celtics were outrebounded 52-39 and scored just the second-lowest point total in NBA Finals history. But Game Six for the Celtics is exactly that at this point, history. With their eyes focused on Game Seven, Boston will be expected to lay it all out on the line for the last time this season.

“To me, the game (Game Six) is over,” Rondo told reporters. “We have one game (left). They have one game. All or nothing. (Game Six) is in the past.”

If the Lakers and Celtics’ past is any indication, Los Angeles could be in trouble. The Lakers and Celtics have played in four Game Sevens over the course of their 11 previous Finals matchups, with Boston winning all four. Although the two clubs haven’t played in a deciding final game since 1984, Boston still owns the edge in the series 9-2.

While the Celtics have the history, the Lakers have Bryant. The four-time champion will try to extend his ring count to five with a win and further add to an already stellar legacy. But maybe more important than adding to his hardware collection will be inducing confidence to a Lakers team that has appeared rattled at times during the series.

“We’re used to being in must-win situations,” Bryant told reporters. “The way we look at it, (Game seven) is just a game we’ve got to win. I know what’s at stake but I’m not tripping.”

Bryant doesn’t have to “trip,” the NBA’s fan base will be head over heels for Thursday’s Game Seven; The league’s ultimate elimination game between a pair of the league’s ultimate franchises.

“This is what it’s all about,” Glen “Big Baby” Davis told reporters. “This is what you guys are going to talk about for years. You guys are going to remember this moment. You are going to remember Thursday forever. I can’t wait. I can’t wait to step up on the floor and win here in L.A.”

Confidence at its strongest. Perfect for a NBA Finals series at its most storied.

June 16, 2010 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Celtics’ Reserves Campaigning for more Playing Time Despite NBA Politics

The play of Celtics reserves Nate Robinson and Glen "Big Baby" Davis in Game 4 of the NBA Finals should warrant more playing time (Courtesy Photo)

You have to commend Boston coach Doc Rivers for not giving into politics during the Celtics’ 96-89 win in Game 4 of the NBA Finals on Thursday night. With reserves Glen “Big Baby” Davis and Nate Robinson providing electricity off the bench, Rivers had a chance to pull the plug on the show midway through the final period but declined. As he should have.

With Lakers center Andrew Bynum tied to the bench with a knee injury, Rivers wasn’t up against the size disadvantage that he’s faced throughout the first three games of the series, meaning his shorter reserves like Davis (who’s outplayed starting forward Kevin Garnett at times throughout this year’s playoffs) were able to see extended minutes. Bynum’s knee injury going forward could and possibly should result in more minutes for Davis. He’s the only Boston big who appears content with attacking Los Angeles downlow and rather bang than settle for a jumpshot.

But while a vote for extended action for Davis is obvious, Robinson also deserves to be in the running for an increased workload. His perimeter shooting opens up the court for Boston’s half court offense and allows one-on-one specialists Davis, Garnett, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen more room to operate in isolation. It’s clear that Robinson is no where near the playmaking point guard that Rondo is but the long distance shooting and scoring that Robinson provides over Rondo is unmistakable.

Before Thursday night, Rivers had played Rondo 40, 42 and 42 minutes through the series’ first three games and received modest but unconvincing numbers from his star point guard. Aside from a 13-minute, scoreless performance in the Game 1 (where the whole team played poorly), Robinson has given the Celtics 24 points in just 29 minutes of playing time in the last three contests. Even Senators haven’t campaigned harder for more face time than Robinson has this past week.

It remains questionable why Rivers hasn’t ran more of a Rondo-Robinson backcourt at times, especially when Lakers coach Phil Jackson is playing some combination of Shannon Brown, Sasha Vujacic and Jordan Farmar as his guard set. While Rondo and Robinson are both small in stature, they play bigger than their size, collecting rebounds and blocking shots (Robinson’s block on Dwight Howard in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference finals was athleticism at its finest).

Rivers’ reluctance to play the 6-foot-8 Davis heavy minutes against Bynum and Pau Gasol through the first three games was understandable but his reluctance to play Robinson however is something he’ll need to rethink going forward. Now that the complexity of the series has changed drastically with Bynum’s availability for the remainder of the series in serious doubt, it should allow Rivers to be more creative with his bench. Robinson, Davis, Tony Allen and Rasheed Wallace played fantastic during Game 4 and have played solid overall during the Finals as well.

If Garnett, Ray Allen, Rondo and Pierce continue their inconsistent play, Rivers should continue to avoid NBA politics and rely on his reserves if he wants to avoid losing the 2010 championship election.

June 11, 2010 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Celtics’ Reserves Star in Leading Role in Game Four Win over Lakers

Glen "Big Baby" Davis carried Robinson and the rest of the Celtics down the stretch in Game 4 of the NBA Finals (Courtesy Photo)

The movie “A-Team” doesn’t premiere until Friday but it was the Celtics’ “B-Team” that was starring on Thursday night. Boston reserves Glen “Big Baby” Davis and Nate Robinson provided the scoring while Rasheed Wallace and Tony Allen added the defense to help the Celtics beat the Los Angeles Lakers 96-89 in Game 4 of the NBA Finals and even the series 2-2. With starters Rajon Rondo and Kevin Garnett struggling, Robinson and Davis combined for 30 points, exciting the crowd with momentum sparking plays and timely baskets.

Davis, 18 points, took advantage of a depleted Lakers frontline, wrestling with reserve forward Lamar Odom for four offensive rebounds and nine fourth quarter points. A foul and continuation on Davis’ basket with 8:22 remaining prompted Robinson to hop upon Davis’ back as the “Big Baby” drooled for the camera with excitement. With Laker center Andrew Bynum limited to 12 minutes after aggravating his knee in Game 3, the 6-foot-9, 290-pound Davis was the heaviest man on the floor down the stretch and it showed. The Celtics outrebounded the Lakers 41-34 and doubled Los Angeles on the offensive glass 16-8.

Kobe Bryant scored 12 of his 33 points in the final period but was limited to just two points for much of the quarter until sinking a free throw with 2:50 remaining. By the time Bryant scored his third point of the period, Allen’s defense on Bryant down the stretch had helped the Celtics turn a 62-60 deficit at the start of the fourth into an 85-78 lead. Wallace’s defense on Laker power forward Pau Gasol may have been even more impressive than Allen’s. Wallace limited Gasol to only four points in the quarter before leaving with 1:16 left after falling on his already ailing back a few plays earlier. Celtics’ coach Doc Rivers went with the bulk of his “B-Team” deep into the final period until Garnett, Rondo and Paul Pierce returned to put Los Angeles away for the final 2:50.

Pierce scored the next five points and Rondo stole a pass and finished a layup to put Boston ahead 92-84 with 31 seconds remaining. While the Celtics’ bench was emulating a group of ’80s fictional heroes, it was the Lakers who were reenacting their own real life movie. Bynum’s absence in the 2008 NBA Finals helped Boston punish Los Angeles up front and win the series 4-2. With Bynum stationed on the bench the majority of Game 4, it was the first time all series that the Lakers have failed to post double digit offensive rebounds and block less than seven shots in a game, finishing with three.

Despite limited action, Davis, Allen, Wallace and Robinson have played well throughout the Finals as Rivers has given heavy minutes to his first team. With his starters playing inconsistently throughout the first four games, Rivers may be forced into using his “B-Team” more as his “A-Team” down the stretch of games similar to what he did Thursday night. It certainly worked in Game 4.

“We just knew we had to bring our energy, that’s the main thing for us,” Robinson told reporters about his reserve unit’s play. “The more energy we bring, the better offensively we are and the better defensively we are.”

June 11, 2010 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Hold the Hoopla: Bynum Reinjures Knee in Lakers Win

Sandwiched between reserve forward Lamar Odom’s revival and Derek Fisher’s clutch shooting in the Los Angeles Lakers’ 91-84 win in Tuesday night’s Game Three of the NBA Finals was Los Angeles Lakers center Andrew Bynum hobbling to the bench in the third quarter. Bynum reinjured his already faulty right knee twice in the quarter, reducing him to just four minutes in the final period.

Bynum later told reporters he reaggravated his knee while chasing down a loose ball and landing from a block of Boston Celtics center Kendrick Perkins. Bynum’s presence through the first three games of the Finals has been huge for the Lakers but his remaining availability going forward has the potential to reshape the whole series.

“It’s going to be a little questionable Thursday,” Bynum told reporters after Game Three. “There’s a lot of swelling in there because of the couple of little tweaks I got today. What I’m going to do is attack it all day [Wednesday], probably get three treatments in and then take it from there.”

Before limping to the bench, Bynum still managed a respectable nine points and 10 rebounds. His appearance in this year’s Finals has given the Celtics all kinds of problems thus far, evident by his Game Two performance of 21 points and seven blocks. Bynum is averaging 13 points, 7.3 rebounds and 2.6 blocks in the series despite playing only 32 minutes per game. His presence alone has made for a clear difference from this year’s Finals and the Celtics and Lakers 2008 matchup when Bynum was out with an injured knee.

During Bynum’s absence in ’08, the Lakers were forced to move starting power forward Pau Gasol to center and Odom to power forward, where the more physical Celtics dominated Los Angeles on the interior. Although the Lakers went with the same lineup down the stretch on Tuesday, they were fortunate to have raced to a 17-point first half lead—aided by Bynum’s presence— that Celtics had to battle back from.

Los Angeles was also fortunate to have received a positive game from Odom as the versatile reserve posted 12 points and five rebounds and came up with key baskets down the stretch. But Odom has been inconsistent so far this series and a possible absence by Bynum or his limited availability could put Los Angeles back in a familiar position. The same position that resulted in a 4-2 Finals win by Boston two years ago.

June 9, 2010 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Despite Series Split, Lakers Frontcourt Dominating

The Boston Celtics evened their series with the Los Angeles Lakers on Sunday night courtesy of a dominant performance from their backcourt. Highlighted by Ray Allen’s endless three parade and Rajon Rondo’s triple double, the Celtics’ starting guards combined for 51 points, 15 rebounds, 12 assists and connected on 9-of-12 shooting from beyond the arc. While the Celtics were able to escape Los Angeles with a 1-1 series split, concern has to be brewing in Beantown.

Maybe even more impressive than the performance of Boston’s backcourt was the play of the Lakers’ frontcourt of Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum. Los Angeles’ twin towers dominated for the second game in a row, tag teaming for a 46-point, 13-block effort.

The Lakers’ length has definitely been giving the Celtics trouble inside and it really showed on Sunday. Most troubling for Boston is that the matchup between Gasol and Kevin Garnett has been largely one-sided so far. Gasol exposed Garnett in both games at the Staples Center, going off for 48 points, 22 rebounds, nine blocks and six assists compared to Garnett’s 22 points, 10 rebounds and seven assists.

There was a point in time when Garnett’s two-game total would’ve been generated in one outing but that time seems ages ago at this point. Garnett’s Game Two effort of six points and six rebounds was badly overshadowed by Gasol’s 25-point, eight-rebound and six-block display. Even Bynum added 21 points and controlled the Celtics’ half court offense for much of the night with seven blocks. Bynum’s presence has been in full effect in both games so far but his showing in Game Two was nothing short of brilliant.

Allen’s hot hand was key for Boston because his long distance attempts were the only shots that Gasol or Bynum were too far away from to swat down. But unless Allen can keep up the flawless jumpshot sessions, the Celtics can ill afford to continue to be dominated in the frontcourt battle.

Allen’s a great shooter but his otherworldly precision shouldn’t be expected to continue throughout the series and Boston head coach Doc Rivers may have a crisis developing with Garnett’s sudden slump and reserve forward Rasheed Wallace’s inspired play.

Rivers could’ve easily played Wallace in favor of Garnett down the stretch of Game Two and probably would’ve avoided much criticism. Garnett had been a walking corpse until the final period before rewarding Rivers with a strong finish and helping the Celtics coach avoid a crucial decision for another night at least.

One of Boston’s best traits during their three-year run has been their collective selflessness. The Celtics have no problem taking advantage of whatever matchup that’s working in their favor. They don’t force-feed a bad matchup for the sake of getting a guy on the stat sheet, that’s not their M.O. The ability to attack with either their frontcourt or backcourt is one of the luxuries that the team has enjoyed in eight of the 10 playoff series they’ve been in since ’08.

The few times that the Celtics didn’t have that luxury were against Orlando in the ’09 semifinals and now. Boston lost that series against Orlando as their starting power forward/center combo of Perkins and Glen Davis (who was subbing in for an absent Garnett) was upstaged by the Magic’s Rashard Lewis/Dwight Howard combination as Orlando won the last two games of the series.

The Celtics frontcourt has been outplayed again so far in this series but they have a 1-1 split to show for it. But Boston also led Orlando 3-2 before eventually succumbing to the Magic’s matchup advantage and if the Celtics starting bigs don’t play light years better in Boston, a similar fate could be in store.

June 7, 2010 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Pick One; L.A. or Boston?

The Lakers and Celtics are set to tip off this Thursday for the 12th time in NBA Finals history. Boston owns the edge in the series with a 9-2 record and the Celtics fully expect to extend that mark by one more at the conclusion of the title round. But Kobe Bryant and the rest of the Lakers are the defending champs and will be heading into this rematch of the 2008 Finals with a little redemption in the back of their minds.

Maybe the telling sign of an excellent matchup is the varied opinions on who the winner will be. The AFRO sports desk has been at it all week over who will close the 2009-2010 season as NBA champions. Stephen D. Riley says Boston. Perry Green says Los Angeles. The AFRO says read their back and fourth debate.

SDR: Celtics will win in six games. Boston’s defense has been unbelievable so far this postseason. They’ve dealt with big time scorers LeBron James and Dwayne Wade and contained superstar big men past and present in Shaquille O’Neal and Dwight Howard. They’ll formulate a gameplan to contain another terrifying wing scorer in Kobe and limit Pau Gasol, just like they did in 2008. Boston’s rotation is 10 deep and it’s full of defensive-minded guys with things to prove. The Celtics have the size and toughness to make things problematic for the finesse Lakers.

PG: The Celtics may have the tools to beat the finesse version of the Lakers but this isn’t 2008 and L.A. isn’t exactly a soft push over anymore. Boston may have contained Shaq and Howard but neither of those “supermen” can score the rock as well as Gasol can.  There isn’t a better scoring big man in the league than Gasol, who will be able to play his natural power forward position, unlike 2008 when he was forced to center due to an injured Andrew Bynum. With Bynum on the court, L.A. has two 7-footers to match up with the Celtics’ size. Not to mention 6-foot-11 star Lamar Odom will offer support off the bench while Ron Artest, the best perimeter defender in the NBA, will make the Lakers a very tough team to beat. Lakers win the series in seven games.    

SDR: The thing that makes Los Angeles so tough is their twin towers in the middle with Bynum and Gasol but Bynum (just like in 2008) is hobbled with a knee injury. His minutes have decreased in each round of the playoffs from 29.7 in round one, 24.8 in round two to a paltry 18.2 in the Western finals. A gimpy knee against a physical Boston team spells trouble for Bynum and the rest of the Lakers. Kevin Garnett has the offensive game to attack Gasol in the post and get him in foul trouble. If that happens then the Lakers’ strength suddenly becomes a weakness and if Odom has to defend Garnett and/or Rasheed Wallace in the post on a regular basis it could become a long series for L.A, 2008 all over again.

PG: But there’s a difference between not playing at all and simply playing banged up. Bynum was completely absent from the 2008 Finals but trust and believe he will play this time around. And with an opportunity to help L.A. seek revenge from ’08 that may be enough motivation to mentally overcome his banged up knee and get the job done. Let’s not forget Paul Pierce was the hero of the series in ’08 but this time he’ll be guarded by either the very physical Artest or Bryant. Both are as good as it gets at defending swing forwards, which gives L.A. an advantage.

SDR: There’s also a difference between playing major minutes and being a liability. You would be wishing upon a star to expect Bynum to contribute anything significant in this series. Yes, his presence will help to provide a big body but he won’t be out there in the stretch of the game and he won’t be out there in the closing minutes of the game. Artest or Kobe checking Pierce could limit Boston’s main scorer but this is Rajon Rondo’s team now and the Lakers don’t have a point guard on the roster who can contain him. Bryant checked Rondo exclusively in ’08 but he won’t have that luxury again. Boston goes as Rondo goes and he flat out annihilated Jameer Nelson and Mo Williams (All-Star point guards in ’08) and he’ll do the same to Derek Fisher and Jordan Farmar.

PG: I agree, Rondo is the real deal, and may be the best overall player left in the postseason besides Kobe. But that still shouldn’t worry the Lakers. Fact is, L.A. has eliminated the Suns, Thunder and Jazz, three teams with three excellent point guards. Some would argue that Jazz guard Deron Williams is the best point guard in the league and Steve Nash is a two-time MVP. Fisher had to defend both of them just to get to this point and was embarrassed at times by their excellent skill. Yet L.A. still survived, nonetheless, mainly because of one player: Kobe Bryant. The “Black Mamba” has been playing in a league of his own the entire playoffs, scoring at least 30 points in 10 of the last 11 games. The man simply cannot be stopped on his quest of stamping his legacy as perhaps the greatest player in Lakers’ history. Good luck on trying to halt him, Boston. They’ll need it. 

SDR: Fisher was carved up repeatedly in the first three rounds but the Lakers survived because of mitigating circumstances. The Thunders’ lack of experience, the Jazz’s lack of healthy bodies and the Suns’ lack of defense. Boston will come equipped with all three elements plus a point guard who can attack. Plain and simple, the Celtics are built to beat the Lakers; an attacking point guard, a slew of tall defensive minded big men who can shoot and draw Gasol and Bynum away from the rim and a pair of scorers in Pierce and Ray Allen who can make Bryant work throughout the course of the series. Kobe ‘s been playing out of his mind so far this postseason but he hasn’t had to work defensively. All three of Boston’s primary scorers could make life miserable for Bryant. Allen will run him off screens and Pierce will make him work while Rondo will attack with his speed.

PG: But Kobe doesn’t mind working. He had to work defensively against the great scoring of Kevin Durant and also had to work to stop excellent scorers like the Suns’ Jason Richardson and Grant Hill. Like Boston, the Suns also played tremendous defense down the stretch of the postseason, a prime example being their dominance against the Spurs during the Western Conference semifinals. But L.A. still prevailed. Point is, this series will be tightly competed and both teams have a great shot at winning it all. But my money is on the defending champs.

May 31, 2010 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

How the West Was Won

 

Artest will be speaking the Triangle offense to Kobe instead of parting words next season

Artest will be speaking the Triangle offense to Kobe instead of parting words next season

 

I guess it’s over. Wrap it up. Place your bets. Just go ahead and slate the Los Angeles Lakers in for a spot in next year’s Finals.

I wouldn’t blame you. With news coming out of Los Angeles today on an agreement between the Lakers and Lamar Odom, barring injury, the Lakers will have no choice but to repeat as Western Conference Champions for a third straight year.

If it was already a nation of Laker Haters, then President Obama is going to have to do something about border control because the resigning of Odom and the addition of Artest is going to mean several more anti-L.Aians jumping the fence, standing in line to kick rocks at the purple and gold.

Even though former outcast turned superstar Trevor Ariza split title town and agreed to join forces with the Houston Rockets, the Lakers didn’t sweat it, they just went ahead and added a better piece to their puzzle in Artest.

While Artest may not be the up-and-coming ultra-athletic defender that Ariza is, he’s still one of the premier locksmiths in the league with a better all around offensive game.

The summer of 2010 is supposed to be the Y2K of the NBA. The year when systems go haywire, fantasy leagues turn upside down, and more money gets dished out than a Vegas upset payout.

But the summer of 2009 is becoming more and more exciting by the week.

Jefferson moved to San Antonio, Shaq joined forces with LeBron and Carter went back home to Florida.

You could argue that each of the names on that list is probably a bigger headliner than Artest’s or Odom’s is right now, but none of which was a bigger transaction than the addition of the former NBA Defensive Player of the Year or the resigning of the most versatile 6-10 forward in the league.

Artest, Bryant, Gasol, Odom and Bynum is more size, skill, and length than what any competitor in the West or the East has to offer right now.

And with Odom renewing his vows to team, Los Angeles may take a run at the 72 mark that Jordan’s Bulls put up back in 95.

 

Relax Kobe, Odom's coming back after all

Relax Kobe, Odom's coming back after all

No joke, I can really see a possible run at the NBA record for the Lakers. They finished last year at 65 wins without even trying and does anybody remember the last time some media labeled defensive nut joined forces with the best player in basketball?

Yup, the year was 95, Clinton had the country on cruise control, music was actually likeable and Dennis Rodman was running the court with good ole 23 to a tune of 72-10.

No wonder Phil Jackson announced his plans to return for next season.

I mean after all, the Zen Master was controlling the reigns for the Bulls that season and Artest’s announcement probably made coaching away games next year appear less of a daunting task for the aging Hall of Famer before he even got word of Odom’s resigning.

Dwayne Wade and LeBron James have to be somewhere throwing darts at their Kobe posters.

Artest was this close to signing with Cleveland and Odom was even closer to signing with Miami.

Ah well, guess we don’t have to worry about that.

Artest is headed for Hollywood, Odom won’t be getting a tax break and the only thing us non-Laker fans can do about it is just sit here with our mouths wide open praying for a miracle. 

Man-oh-man, Odom resigning isn’t only a definite threat to the league but a crushing blow to my online subscription for the NBA 2K series on Xbox.

I can see the cheaters now, putting Kobe and Artest in the backcourt, running Odom, Gasol and Bynum up front. I’m shaking my head just thinking about it.

Even with all that firepower, it still wouldn’t be enough to keep me from playing my favorite video game and I’m sure it won’t keep the hundreds of professionals in the league from playing their favorite game as well.

No way is some verbal agreement or some resigning going to keep us all from playing the video game or the sport we love.

Now winning? Well…… that’s another story.

July 31, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments