Friday, June 06, 2008


Thoughts about the remaining 2008 NBA Playoffs

UPDATED: June 6, 2008

Game One is done.

Paul Pierce: hurt or hype?

Lakers versus Celtics: history or hype?

Let’s take the second question first.

There is no doubt but that any time the Lakers and Celtics play in a final series history is being made. We’re talking about the two most storied franchises in the history of professional basketball.

And yet --- could it be that the hype made Game One a bit less than what it could have been and should have been? Frankly, I think that the time lag between the Celtic’s last conference finals game and the first game played in the league finals was just too long. It’s obvious that both the NBA and the media want to stretch out the time between games to gain as much promotional value --- and money --- out of the events as possible. For professional sports teams, however, this causes a loss of rhythm that was very obvious in last night’s game. Kobe, who has performed exceptionally all year, had his worst game since having back problems earlier in the season. I believe that this, as well as inconsistent performances from other key players, is the result of having too much downtime. Daily practices can never match the intensity of playoff games and when teams sit too long without doing real combat, even the best squads tend to become out-of-sync.

As for Paul Pierce. Well --- you can’t fault his performance as of late. In years past he has been a scorer but not a leader. He seems now to have matured and is putting the Celtics on his shoulders. It remains to be seen how much weight he can now bear on those shoulders having obviously injured his knee in Thursday’s game. The drama of his exit and entrance is being called legendary by some and showboating by others. As always, proof is in the performance and next game will reveal the extent to which Pierce can continue to contribute.

Because of his injury Pierce now becomes more of an X Factor. Interestingly, there are more X Factors than usual in this year’s match-up. How well Gasol is or isn’t fitting in with the Lakers is an X Factor. Rondo is an X Factor for the Celtics because sometimes he plays like a champ --- sometimes he plays like a kid. If he can consistently hit his jump shots the Lakers will not be able to cheat off of him to double team Garnett, Pierce or Allen. If he is inconsistent with his jumpers, L.A. will gladly let him bang away all night. Bench performance is also a big X-Factor. Guys like Perkins and P.J. Brown can make a huge difference in the eventual outcome of the series if they contribute big for Boston. A player like Radmanovic, for the Lakers, represents the truth of the saying: “live-by-the-three-point-shot, die-by-the-three-point-shot”. Even the coaching staffs constitute X Factors. Doc Rivers, although he is showing exceptional abilities as a coach, has never been this far in the playoffs. Will he be able to master the fine craft of coaching to the betterment of this year’s team? Phil Jackson obviously knows most tricks in the book. Last night, when Paul Pierce returned to the game to thunderous noise from the Boston crowd, Jackson immediately called time out to help take the steam out of the hometown fans. That may sound like a small thing, but at this level of competition, the small things add up to big victories.

What about the next games?

Although Boston has home court advantage, games three, four and five are played in L.A. This makes it EXTREMELY important for Boston to win Game Two.

Will they?

Boston has been great at home, but I give the edge to L.A. in Game Two. Although they didn’t necessarily show it last night, the smooth effective offense of the Lakers will be back in rhythm during the next game and, of great importance, the rust will be off Kobe Bryant. Boston’s defense is outstanding and the Celtics are my sentimental favorite, but I just feel that Laker firepower will be on display during Game Two and will create a significant mountain for Boston to overcome in this series.

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