The Eastern Conference Finals are over. I know, it's hard to say that after the Bruins' epic meltdown in the NHL playoffs that I heard so much about from the Beantown hockeyheads. But that was the fourth time in the history of sports that a team has come back from down three down in a seven game series, and really, Orlando's given up, even if they're masking it better than Cleveland did. So, the next games in this series are moot. And come on, the Suns aren't winning this series. If I'm wrong about this, and there is a Finals with either Phoenix or Orlando in it, then feel free to never take my NBA opinion seriously again. So, I'm going to go onto previewing the series, starting with matchups...
Point Guard: Rajon Rondo v.s. Derek Fisher This is the most obvious pick in the whole series in terms of match-ups. Rondo needs to exploit Fisher. Rajon Rondo's success has been my ultimate I-told-you-so of my NBA following life so far, and he hasn't disappointed one bit in the playoffs. They're talking about him being the best all-around PG in the league now, and he's certainly the best in the East. Say nothing about Rose, it isn't even close. This dude wants to win, and he's been carrying them through every series. Boston needs Rondo to keep playing like he can for them to have a chance at this series, and going against Fisher is the ideal scenario. The only trouble it could cause Rondo is if he gets into foul trouble amidst Fisher's selling (coughFLOPPINGcough) calls, but I don't see it being a huge problem. EDGE: Celtics
Shooting Guard: Ray Allen v.s. Kobe Bryant Kobe is still the craftiest player in the game, and he will definitely get his. Because he can beat you with points or dimes, he's effective no matter how you play him. Allen is a hot-and-cold shooter, and the Celtics need him to shoot if they want to win. Every time Ray gets going, the Celtics win. Every time. With a defender like Kobe on him, that could be a tall order for a player who isn't quite the speed type. Allen should drive to the whole often to get Bynum/Gasol in foul trouble. Kobe will be a big part of this series with Ray, because the Celtics will often put Tony Allen in to guard him on the perimeter. This will allow the Lakers to double-team shooters like Pierce or Garnett without having to worry about Tony's gawd-awful shooting on the perimeter. But Kobe wants to be talked about with Jordan in the GOAT arguments, and he's going to be looking for blood. Everyone knows who gets this one. EDGE: Lakers
Small Forward: Paul Pierce v.s. Ron Artest Pierce started off the playoffs shooting very poorly, even with his game-winner against Miami. Once the Orlando series started, though, the Captain came back and has been shooting the lights out at a 58% clip, and Matt Barnes, a supreme defender, was, well, defenseless. Artest will body up on Pierce all day, and will try to bully him off the dribble. Artest is the third or fourth option on the Lake Show, and his offensive skill set isn't enough to make a huge impact on the Boston defense. It all comes down to how Artest plays Pierce. It's close, but, based on how PDubs has been playing as of late, I'm going to say... EDGE: Celtics
Power Forward: Kevin Garnett v.s. Pau Gasol There's no question who the best player of these two is. Gasol was the best power forward in the league this past year, and his offensive skill set will create problems for the Celtics. But, that isn't necessarily against Garnett. Glen Davis will get a lot of time against Pau while Garnett gets old-man-rest-time, and when that happens Gasol will pick him apart. The fact that Gasol shies from contact is a big deal for Boston; they need to get physical with Pau. If they fail to do that, then it'll hurt them. KG has been playing like, well, KG on offense and defense for the past couple of series', and it's been huge for the Celtics. This match-up is full of conditionals and questions, and it will be fun to watch. But, ultimately, it's obvious who has the advantage right off the bat. EDGE: Lakers
Center: Andrew Bynum v.s. Kendrick Perkins I don't know the status of Bynum's knee, and I don't think anyone does, and it could all be different by the time the Finals start, but as of now, nobody really knows. He's been playing about 20 minutes a night, and he's still been effective. Reports have said that he might be all right by the end of their series, and for preview purposes let's just say that's what's going to happen. Kendrick Perkins will have no offensive impact on this series whatsoever. Bynum might. He has a significant size advantage over Perk, and even though it will be a good physical battle, Perkins might foul himself all the way to the bench whole Bynum dunks all over him. Perkins' defensive presence will still be there, however. So, it's hard to know now, but as I see it, if everything's okay, Bynum has it. IF. Edge: Lakers
Bench: Glen Davis, Tony Allen, Rasheed Wallace v.s. Lamar Odom, Jordan Farmar and Shannon Brown Lamar Odom is definitely the best player in either bench, by far. Odom is a huge blow to the Celtics, simply because he's an answer to any question. If you want scoring, he'll bring it. If you need dimes, he'll dish 'em. If you need rebounds, he'll grab 19 or so boards (see: Game 1). The dude is unstoppable, and he's huge. But, GBBD has been playing like a starter, Sheed has been playing the way that we intended him to play when they signed him before the season started, and TA has been bringing the defensive energy and offensive athleticism that propelled the Celtics past the Cavs. Farmar and Brown are solid, but they can't match up to the rest of the Celtics' red-hot bench. Even though Odom could start for almost all teams in the League. Edge: Celtics
It's hard to make a prediction on this series. The size, athleticism, star power and experience that the Lakers have is undeniable, and everyone kew that they'd make it this far. The Celtics are a different story. Nobody thought they'd get past the first or second round, much less all the way to the Finals. But, the Celtics are definitely looking like the team that wants to win more than any other. They have shown a desire that has led them past the best teams in the league, and their savvy will be hard for the Lakers to get past.
In the end, the desire, deep roster, and a certain young point guard will prove to be too much for the huge and athletic Lakers. In seven tough, slow-paced (as both teams like) games, the Celtics will tough it out. I doubted them up until this point, and they are looking to secure their second championship in three years against the LAL. Should be a great series. Getcha popcorn ready...