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Back to the Future

   by Al McMordie - 06/02/2008

There's no doubt what the theme of the 2008 NBA Finals is: Back to the Future! Celtics/Lakers is going to have producers combing through archival NBA playoff footage from the 60s and 80s, with Bill Russell and Wilt Chamberlain crashing the boards, and Larry Bird and Magic Johnson running the break in their short shorts.

It was always billed as a clash of cultures, as well, with East versus West, proper Boston against hip LA, puritan New England against Hollywood. While the Lakers were the first team to extensively use in-game dancers, the Celtics were the last. They’ve met ten times in the NBA Finals, the Celtics winning the first eight, the Lakers taking the last two. And even though it’s been 21 years since they last met, there are some similarities from the old days. Boston is the physical, defensive team in the low post, leading the NBA in defense, while the Lakers play an uptempo style, fourth in the NBA in scoring.

But make no mistake: The Lakers can play great defense. This is a fact often overlooked with their high scoring attack, but LA allowed 44.5% shooting by opponents this season, sixth best in the NBA, just behind the Spurs. They used that defense to handcuff the Spurs in five games, all five going under the total.

In fact, the Lakers are on a 10-4 run under the total. Their strong defense shut down run-and-gun Denver in the first series, a sweep, and held San Antonio to 85, 71, 91 and 92 in their four wins in the Western Conference Finals. The Celtics have had their A-game defensively in their playoff wins, though it was surprisingly absent on the road as they started 0-6 SU/ATS away from home.

As far as matchups, the big men might be a bit of a wash, with Kendrick Perkins and Kevin Garnett battling Lamar Odom and Pau Gasol. All offer certain strengths and weaknesses, but there might not be a clear edge that stands out. How will the Lakers deal with young Rajon Rondo? As soon as the playoffs started, teams began dropping off the Celtics' 22-year-old point guard Rondo, daring him to beat them and jamming up Boston's offense. He’s been hot and cold, as many young players would be, and now the stage is even bigger.

Perhaps the real story is with Kobe Bryant and Paul Pierce. Will Pierce guard Bryant, or will Boston allow the shorter Ray Allen at the league MVP? It makes more sense to put the bigger Pierce on him. Pierce has played sensational defense this postseason, as well. There’s also a bit of history that may come into play with Allen and Bryant.

Four years ago, after the trade of Shaquille O'Neal, only one NBA player had the nerve to publicly rip Bryant for his alleged role in the Laker “divorce.â€쳌

That player was Ray Allen. Said Allen in 2004: "He's going to be very selfish. And he feels like he needs to show the league and the people of this country that he is better without Shaq." Responded Bryant: "Don't put me and him in the same sentence." Countered Allen, "In about a year or two, he'll be calling out to Jerry Buss that, 'We need some help in here' or, 'Trade me.'" That actually happened one year ago, with Kobe asking for a trade to the Bulls, though nothing ever came of it.

You can’t put too much into their regular season meetings, with Boston blistering LA twice, 107-94 and 110-91. Neither team was at full strength and Gasol had yet to join the Lakers. None of those games took place in 2008, either.

What’s more important is what’s happening now. In the first round, the Celtics struggled against the younger, more athletic Hawks, going 7 games. In the second round, the Cavaliers slowed the pace and the Celtics' offense all but disappeared, averaging only 84 points. They were 0-6 SU/ATS on the road at that point, before beating the Pistons in 6 games (winning twice in Detroit).

LA is 18-7 against the spread as an underdog, while Boston is 12-8 ATS as a dog and 9-5 under the total their last 14 games. Two things to keep an eye on in Games 1 and 2: tempo and bench use. LA will probably try and go uptempo, as they are young and better offensively. Plus, Celtics Coach Doc Rivers kept his starters on the floor for 398 of the 480 minutes in Games 5 and 6 against Detroit. The stars will get all the attention, but the NBA Finals is when role players off the bench can surprise with key minutes and big plays. Celtics/Lakers for the 11th time, bring it on! Good luck, as always...Al McMordie.

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