Friday, June 20, 2008

Finals Thoughts from a Lakers Fan

Greetings from a Laker fan who's lives in Celtic territory....

Alright well its over, its been over for over a week and it was over in my mind right after Ray Allen got his Jesus Shuttlesworth on for that layup past Sasha Vujacic and the Celtics put the finishing touches on the biggest comeback in playoff history in Game 4 of the Finals. After that defeat the Lakers and the little bit of mojo they were working with were closed like the refrigerator door to quote former Laker play by play announcer Chick Hearn. As a die hard Lakers fan who's been down since Abdul-Jabbar was hooking off the glass in the Forum, it was hard to accept and I must admit I have not been that pissed off about a basketball game in a while. But if the Lakers couldn't hold a 20 point lead with less than a quarter and half to play in front of the home crowd with pretty much the finals on the line then there was no way in Hollywood the Lakers would win the Championship. To make matters worse, after watching the first half of the game from work I stopped by some Enemies (normally I would say friends but in this case they were the enemy) / Celtic fans house. I figured I could stop by and at least gloat a little with the 20 point lead since I spent the game one loss across the same enemy lines. As soon as I walked in, Lamar turned the ball over and the snowball effect kicked in. Even as I watched the Celtics make stops, hit threes, make crazy reverses and frustrate the hell out of Kobe I didn't think they would make it all the way back. Even when things got tied at the end I still believed the Lakers would pull it out. But as I watched James Posey hit that three from the corner that put the Celtics up five in the final moments I looked up at the poster of the Celtics old big three (Bird, McHale and Parrish) in my Celtics friends house and went numb for a sec. The rest is finals history. And of course my Celtics friends thanked me for bringing the good luck of the Irish to them in the biggest comeback ever.

Coming into the finals I really thought the Lakers had a decent shot at winning the championship. They were playing great ball and the run they made thru the Western Conference was pretty impressive. The sweep of the Nuggets, the close out of the Jazz in Utah, and the 4-1 victory over the Spurs in the West Finals all gave me reason to believe the The Lake Show was ready to rise to the top of the basketball world once again. Even the fact that the Celtics beat the Lakers in the two previous regular season meetings didn't really bother me because I thought we were a much better team and both losses came before the arrival of Pau Gasol; so much for that theory.

Game 1: Can be summed up in four baskets. Finals MVP Paul Pierce hits a three and gets fouled by Vladimir "The Space Cadet" Radmanovic for a four point play to start the second half. The Lakers five point half time lead is gone in less than 45 seconds. After doing his best Willis Reed impression Paul Pierce returns from his now infamous injury and drops back to back trey balls that kill the Lakers and really key a big Celtics run. Those three shots plus the free throw equal 10 points on 4 shots which was the equivalent of the Celtics game 1 victory margin. The Pierce injury and return definitely stand out from game 1. When Pierce went down it appeared he really was injured and when he was carried off by four teammates and wheel chaired into the locker room I thought he was down for the count. I honestly didn't want to see that from the competition aspect of it, but looking back at how bad he torched the Lakers and how great he defended Kobe. I wish he would have been hurt. Nothing serious just something to keep him out. Honestly, I didn't expect the Lakers to win game 1, how many teams go on the road and win the first game, not many but I felt good going into game two.

Game 2: The Celtics completely dominated game two. Leon Powe completely dominated game two. He was so dominant that he attempted more free throws (9-13) than the whole Lakers squad (10-10). He was so dominant that no one on the Laker team even attempted to get in his way when he went coast to coast for the big dunk that I'm sure he will be replaying in his mind this whole summer. A couple early fouls on Kobe sent him to the bench early in the game and took the Lakers out of there normal rotation. The Celtics capitalized and were off and running. In the second half Kobe finally penetrated the Celtics stiff defense and got whistled for a technical after giving the ref a little urging to call the foul. In my opinion the techincal was a little premature but who knows what Kobe said. Regardless of the whistles, the Celtics were the dominant and more aggressive team. Even when the Lakers were mounting their 4th quarter comeback they couldn't stop the Celtics they just outscored them. After this game, I still had optimism with the next three games at the Staples but 0-2 hole had me a bit leary.

Game 3: The Lakers came out aggressive as expected. Kobe was attacking the basket early on and got more free throws in the first half of game three than he got in two games in Boston. Despite a terrible game by Paul Pierce (2-14 for 6 pts) and an off beat performance by Kevin Garnett (6-21 for 13 pts) the Celtics stayed close behind a solid game from Ray Allen (25 pts, 5-7 3pt) and some solid defense. Late in the game Kobe was able to knock down some big shots while being single covered by Ray Allen. And while the rest of the Lakers starters struggled (7 fg's for 22 pts) the self proclaimed "Machine" Sasha Vujacic did his best to compliments Kobe's 36 pts with a solid 20 and some timely shooting. As game three came to a close, a few things were becoming evident. The Celtics were looking like the better team, the Lakers couldn't stop the Celtics offense, the Celtics could stop the Lakers offense and unless the Lakers started to got some better numbers from Pau Gasol and Lamar Odom there was no way the Lakers would hold off the Celts for the next two home games. Whatever the case, a win is a win and the Lakers were one home win away from tying things up.

Game 4: Lakers lose the biggest lead in playoff history and go down 3-1, despite double digit points from all five starters. As I stated earlier, this marked the end of the series for me. There were times in the mix of the Celtics comeback when i wondered why Phil didn't break away from the triangle and put Kobe at the top of the key and allow him to make some plays. I thought this would have at least forced the Celtics to double team Kobe up top or he would drive and dish or create something for himself. Regardless of strategy, the Celtics locked in on both ends of the court for the second half and made history. I still can't believe it.

Game 5: Turned out to be good game from a fan perspective but not from a die hard Lakers fan perspective. Despite the stay alive victory I wasn't impressed. Even with the hot start and early 19 point lead the Lakers could not stop the Celtics on offense. Paul Pierce (38 pts) was doing any and everything he wanted and at one point in the 2nd quarter he scored something like 10 straight points on a variety of tough finishes at the hoop. If not for Kobe's late poke away from Pierce for the steal and dunk and a couple missed free throws by Garnett the Lakers might have been watching the guys in green get money for the championship on their home court. I was so down after the game four loss and the unimpressive performance of game five that I began telling everyone I would feel good just to see the Lakers make it to game seven because I didn't see anyway they could steal two games in Beantown.

Game 7: The 39 point loss leaves me at a loss for words. After the first quarter the roof caved in. I didn't think the Lakers had a chance to win but 39 points is embarrassing. I must say I was proud of Kobe for not throwing his teammates under the bus in the post game press conference after the loss because he easily could have and then we may be right back to where we were last summer.

Here are some things that were made clear to me as the series went on and was finished off by the Celtics in 6 games.

-The Celtics were obviously the better team from top to bottom. That's why they were the best team in the NBA all season.

-Despite the Lakers impressive run thru the Western Conference playoffs they are still a young team and their lack of playoff experience came to the forefront in the the Finals.

-The Celtics were put together this year to win the championship, each and every piece of that team was there for the championship run. James Posey, Sam Cassell, PJ Brown and Eddie House were all brought to Bean Town for this reason and they full filled the preseason expectations brought on by the Big Three.

-The Celtics Big Three made the Lakers big three look little.

-The Lakers team defense was terrible the whole series. Not usually a staple of Phil Jackson teams.

-Phil Jackson got out coached by Doc Rivers for crucial parts of the series.

-The Lakers interior defense was non existent for the series.

-I couldn't help but think if things would have been different with a healthy Andrew Bynum.

-The Celtics defense was able to lockdown when it needed to.

-Pau Gasol was exposed in the series for being a soft player. It didnt help that he was matched up against the defensive player of the year Kevin Garnett but how many floppy half hooks can you throw up before you starting taking the ball strong to the basket? I started to see signs of this in the San Antonio series but the Celts made look Pau look bad.

-Pau Gasol should spend the summer learning the sky hook from Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, he doesnt like contact so this move would compliment his fragile game.

-Ray Allen was the most consistent player in the series. It seemed like once he decided to wear the Kobe arm sleeve he was back to the Ray Allen of old. How come he couldn't perform like the Ray Allen from the first two rounds of the playoffs?

-Paul Pierce was the best player in the series.

-Kobe Bryant was not the best player in the series.

-The Celtics defense on Kobe was reminiscent of what the Pistons did to Kobe in his last visit to the finals.

-James Posey might be the new Robert Horry, he just kept hitting big shots all series.

-The Lakers had no answer for Cali native Paul Pierce. Vladimir Radmonivic didn't stop Pierce from doing anything at any point in the series. His sub Luke Walton didn't stop Pierce from doing anything either. Pierce created things with his first step and never looked back.

-The Lakers have a two players in their starting lineup (Lamar Odom and Radmanovic) who are unable to lock in and concentrate for the entire 48 minutes. Both of these guys suffer from serious mental lapses and on the biggest stage their mistakes were magnified. Teams can get away with one player like this in your starting five but not two. There are times when the

-Lamar Odom may have played his way to a new address next season. I'll start the Ron Artest for Odom chants now.

-The 3rd quarter is typically the most important quarter of the game as Phil Jackson has stated many times. For the series the Celtics outscored the Lakers 165-122 in the 3rd.

-Shaq is smiling somewhere

I guess I could go on and on and dissect the way the Celts dismantled the Lake Show but like I said at the beginning it was over after the comeback in LA so game six didn't hurt as much as it should have. Congrats to the Celtics, they handled their business and lived up to the hype. I can't hate I can only appreciate a team that fulfills its destiny. No matter what, there is one thing that hasn't changed in mind.

I still love LA.

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