If you didn’t watch Game 1 last night, read this. But if you’re looking into the minute details of this epic rivalry and series, read on. Here are the five overshadowed subplots of the NBA Finals.
1. Phil Jackson vs. Doc Rivers
In the 2008 Finals, it was widely presumed this matchup was an enormous advantage for Los Angeles. The Zen Master versus… a guy affectionately called Doc. Jackson was attempting to win his 10th NBA title while up until that season, Rivers had never coached a team past the first round. The defining moment in the C’s Finals victory was during the historic game 4 debacle. That Thursday night, Boston fell behind 45-21 halfway through the second quarter. The game should’ve been over. But, Rivers never lost faith, constantly pounding into them that they still had a shot. An underlying storyline for this Celtic group: much of its swagger comes from a coach who never makes it through a timeout without telling his squad how great they are. His focus is always on the present, which makes the job he did this season all the more incredible. Did Doc really outcoach Jackson that series? The argument is there.
2. What sub – on either side – will win a game?
Who remembers Leon Powe ripping apart the L.A. defense for 13 free-throw line trips and 21 points in the C’s six-point Game 2 win two years ago? Or Sasha Vujacic going off for 20 points and a clinching corner three during the Lakers’ Game 3 victory? With so much focus generated around the key characters, you can bet 2010 won’t be unlike any other Finals. These two teams are probably as evenly matched as any two finalists since San Antonio and Detroit five years ago. They know each other well, maybe too well. But, with a pair of defenses that do such a great job of walling off lanes for opposing stars, more than one game should come down to which bench/role players show the biggest balls. For L.A., it could be Jordan Farmar. Rasheed Wallace could provide the same for the Celtics.
3. Will Boston generate enough paint points?
The Lakers have Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum and Kobe Bryant as primary paint scorers. The Celtics have…maybe Kevin Garnett? Boston is known for their physically imposing bigs. Yet, none are huge paint scorers. In fact, according to 82games.com, 70% of Garnett’s shot attempts were jumpers. Points will come at a premium in this series as both squads play some of the best defense in the League. Lay-ups will be sought after commodities. Rajon Rondo, who is averaging 16.7 points in the playoffs, must get into the paint and either score or set up Kendrick Perkins and Garnett for lay-ups. The Lakers have a solid edge in this department, but if Boston can keep the disparity close, it will be enormous.
4. Will any Lakers besides Bryant step up in crunch time?
As great as he was against Utah and Phoenix, Bryant probably won’t produce as many crunch-time buckets against Boston. Their team defense is too good and will force him away from his sweet spots (the pinch posts on either side of the foul line). Derek Fisher continues to prove his mettle as a shot maker, averaging 13.3 points on the road in the playoffs, but who else will be there? There is a good chance this series is close in every game and just as the Celtics lack of post play may hurt them, so too could the Lakers over-reliance on Bryant. Lamar Odom and Ron Artest will play critical roles. You can bet Boston will continue to challenge them over and over to make shots in the closing minutes.
5. The number 3
One of the most overlooked aspects of the Finals is the 2-3-2 format. On first glance, it may appear to favor the Celtics with three middle home games. Yet, it is almost impossible to win three home games in a row at this level against championship caliber teams. Only Miami in 2006 and Detroit in 2004 have done it since 1990. Because of this, the team with home court in the Finals is 19-6 in the past 25 years. Recently, I also pointed out the Lakers futility in playoff games where they take more than 22 treys. If they take less than 22, they are unbeaten in the playoffs. Boston is playing by far the best defense any team has played all year and in the 2008 Finals, they smothered the Lakers. L.A. must attack because jump shots will never beat the Celtics. On the other side, the Celtics are the number one three-point shooting team in the post-season (they are tied with the Suns). They’ve hit over 38% from deep and it was a key weapon in killing any rallies Orlando made against them in the Eastern Conference Finals. Yet, the Lakers were one of the best all year in defending against the deep ball and have continued that in the playoffs by holding their opponents to just 32% from the arc. Whichever team controls that line will give themselves a huge edge in a series which seems destined to be played out in crunch time.
What do you think?
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