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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.

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

Rondo’s Shove on Artest Pushes Lakers in 3-2 Hole

When Rajon Rondo shoved Ron Artest with 4:41 remaining in the second quarter of the Celtics’ 92-86 Game 5 victory on Sunday, it triggered a role reversal that played out for the rest of the night. With less than five minutes remaining in the quarter, Rondo attacked the Lakers on a fast break, setting up Boston center Kendrick Perkins who later dished off to a cutting Kevin Garnett. Garnett was then shoved to the ground by Artest on a hard foul, prompting Rondo to push Artest in retaliation after the whistle was blown. Rondo received a technical foul for his exploits but his team received a shot in the arm for his courage.

With his team leading 34-31 in the second period, here’s Rondo —the second smallest member of the Celtics’ rotation— shoving Artest — arguably the Lakers’ best defender and most physical player— to the side like he’s two inches shorter than him. Rondo’s push, followed by a profanity-laced reprimand of Artest, showed the Celtics’ heart and passion and was just one of a series of plays that helped to mentally subdue two of the Lakers’ most important players for another contest.

Highlighted by 6-foot-4 reserve guard Tony Allen’s block on Laker seven-footer Pau Gasol in bottom of the third quarter, the Celtics out-muscled and out-played the Lakers for a second consecutive game. Gasol, who went on record after his 23-point, 14-rebound performance in Game 1 to say “Garnett has lost a step,” was stuffed three times in the period. One by Allen that left him on the floor and two others by Garnett, the same player who had “lost a step.” 

In fact, Garnett has actually gained a few steps over the past few contests, averaging 19.6 points per game in the last three outings. Light years more effective than the 11 points per game Garnett struggled to score in the series first two games. Garnett’s inspired containment of Gasol (15.3 points per game the last three meetings, 12 points and 12 rebounds in Game 5) has helped swing the series in Boston’s advantage but it was Rondo’s shove that swung the series momentum.

Artest, known for his bruising style of in-your-face defense, was pushed by Rondo and later torched by Paul Pierce for 27 points while the Laker forward could only muster a seven-point, 2-of-9 shooting performance. Since churning in a strong Game 1 with 15 points and two steals, Artest has bottomed out over the last few games (like Gasol). Artest has averaged just six points per game and is shooting a wretched 24 percent from the field, connecting on 8-of-33 field goals in his last four games.

Artest was acquired by the Lakers last summer to be their hired hit man; their bruiser sort to speak. After his first career Finals game, Boston has now turned Los Angeles’ biggest offseason acquisition into its biggest goat and a player that Lakers coach Phil Jackson has to strongly consider lessening minutes for at this point.

Gasol and Artest aren’t the only two reasons why the Lakers now find themselves down 3-2 and one game away from another Celtics’ championship. However, Los Angeles cannot afford to have two of their core players physically and mentally manhandled again in Game 6 if the Lakers want to even the series.


June 14, 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

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

Seems Like Old Times, Celtics/Lakers Set for Rematch

The shorts are a little longer, the names a little different but the Celtics and Lakers are still the highlight of the league. (Courtesy Photo)

Thanks to a rejuvenated Kevin Garnett, we can do without a pair puppets and a possible Kobe/LeBron matchup because we’ll be getting the next best thing; Boston vs. L.A. No disrespect to Orlando and Phoenix but let’s be serious; it’s all about the Lakers and Celtics this year, again. It’s typically out of my character to just write teams off in the middle of a series but why not? Everybody else is doing it. I couldn’t wait to get a crack at previewing this series, with so many twists and plots, it should be another great one.

So if Boston and L.A. do eventually matchup for the 12th time in NBA Finals history, things should be pretty interesting. Despite the historic brilliance of both clubs, the Celtics/Lakers Finals series has been pretty one-sided so far. Boston owns a 9-2 edge in the series with their last victory coming in 2008 when visions of a Boston comeback, a Boston blowout and Doc Rivers being doused with Gatorade defined the series. But things could be different this time around. Or could they?

After all, Pau Gasol is a better player, Kobe Bryant is still Kobe Bryant and the rest of the Lakers are more experienced and better equipped to scrap with a rough and rugged Boston squad. But Boston is also sporting a different look these days. Gone is the dominance of the “Big Three” and in is the superstardom of All-Star point guard Rajon Rondo. Rondo’s emergence has continued the Celtics’ image of a lock and block defensive unit while upping the tempo and transforming them into a fast-paced drive and dish team.

The Lakers have had a history of being openly victimized by athletic point guards and a new defensive game plan will have to be in order for a Finals rematch. Bryant exclusively locked up with Rondo in the ’08 Finals in an effort to give him a rest on defense and out of chasing Boston sniper Ray Allen off screens. But Rondo was nowhere near the scorer in ’08 that he is now so Bryant typically gave him an open cushion and the green light to launch jumpers. While perimeter shooter still isn’t one of Rondo’s strengths, it would be a huge mistake for the Lakers to put Bryant on him again should the teams meet. Rondo has stamina to burn while Bryant, 31, is nowhere near the thoroughbred he used to be. But L.A. will be in a tough position regardless because putting Derek Fisher on Rondo will be just an open invitation to the rim for the Celtics point guard.

Bryant will have more help next time around should his Lakers meet up with the Celtics (Courtesy Photo/AP-Yonhap)

There’ll be a lot of clashes in this possible series to keep note of; Ron Artest vs. Paul Pierce and Gasol vs. Kevin Garnett will both weigh heavily on the outcome but Boston doesn’t have a man to check Lamar Odom off the bench and with the way Odom is playing right now, the Celtics will definitely have to key on him.

Everything about this series screams television viewership records from the names on the front of jerseys to the ones on the back. No other teams are hotter right now than the Lakers and Celtics. Los Angeles has turned into a scoring machine while Boston has been the premiere defensive unit of the postseason.

It shouldn’t be long now, just have to wait for Orlando and Phoenix to lie down and let history take its course. The last two NBA Champions set to slug it out in what could be the last hurrah for both clubs. Kobe vs. LeBron would’ve been nice but who needs puppets when you got the Celtics and Lakers?

 

May 20, 2010 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment