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Here We Go Again

   by Al McMordie - 05/31/2010

Here we go again! The Lakers and Celtics meet in the finals for the 12th time with Game 1 Thursday night in Los Angeles. They are the NBA champions each of the last two years -- Boston beat the Lakers two years ago, and Los Angeles topped Orlando last season.
There's a lot to like about how even many of the matchups are, but there are some key differences with respect to style of play. The Lakers are more finesse, as they showed in an uptempo series against Phoenix, having no problem running with the Suns and beating them in six games. The Celtics play the physical style, pounding the boards and playing an attacking, in-your-face defense.
The Lakers can play tough defense just as the Celtics can play an uptempo offense at times, but their preferred styles of play are well documented. When Kevin Garnett smacked the hand of Dwight Howard twice in Game 6 (drawing a technical), that summed up the physical and emotionally intense style of the Celtics.
When Kobe Bryant erupted for 37 points in Game 6 against the Suns, that emphasized what his team is so good at: the Lakers can outscore anybody with a strong inside game and long range jumpers depending on who's hot.
Unlike two years ago, the Lakers have home-court advantage. They have won 28 of their last 31 postseason games at Staples Center. The Lakers have also lost nine of the 11 NBA Finals they've played against the Celtics, including being run out of Boston two seasons ago in possibly the most embarrassing Finals clinching in NBA history.
"We'll see how much we matured," Bryant said. "They challenged us extremely well in the finals a couple years ago. Now is a chance to see how much we've grown." Matured? The key players on the Lakers are all in their thirties.
It's likely you will see intense defense and possibly even slow-paced action. That's the Celtics style and notice the two regular season meetings sailed under the total: LA won 90-89 at Boston and the Celtics won 87-86 at LA.
Paul Pierce had a great 2008 NBA Finals against the Lakers, but for 2010 he will likely be guarded by LA newcomer, 30-year old Ron Artest. In the first meeting, Pierce was only 4 of 11 shooting for 15 points and 3 rebounds against the Lakers. In the second meeting, Pierce was 4 of 9 for 11 points, 6 boards.
The other matchup to watch is budding star Rajon Rondo at point guard against 35-year old Derek Fisher. Fisher has been good in the playoffs, though Rondo had 21 points and 12 assists in the first meeting and 14 points, 11 assists in the rematch at LA.
Another thing to note about those meetings was how Boston wilted in the fourth quarter. That has been a problem much of the year, even in the postseason. Often they get big leads then prefer to play stall-ball and the offense goes cold while the opponent makes a comeback. In the two regular season meetings, LA outscored Boston 24-16 and 17-11 in the fourth quarter. In the LA win, the Lakers outscored Boston on points in the paint 18-0 in the fourth quarter.
Kendrick Perkins and Andruw Bynum might cancel each other out, as Perk is no offensive threat and Bynum has a bad knee. KG and Pau Gasol appear to match up evenly, while sixth men Rasheed Wallace and Lamar Odom might be a wash, as well. The coaches, too, have rings and are well respected.
Last week Celtics players said that Doc Rivers began conducting a video-tape session in Orlando of Boston's Game 5 loss when he abruptly stopped the machine."We stayed over in Orlando once we lost, and Doc Rivers had a grueling film session," guard Tony Allen said. "And it was funny --- well, not funny --- but it kind of surprised me that he stopped the film session and just told us, 'Guys we don't even need to watch film. We just gotta go out there and play hard.' I think all the guys came together, probably remembered that speech and it showed in Game 6."
While the Lakers have the all important home court, the Celtics have an edge with the bench. The LA bench has been below average much of the season and got pushed around in the Western Conference Finals, particularly on the road. The Celtics have quality bench players in Tony Allen, 6-11 Wallace and Glen Davis, the energizer bunny. Davis is a fine defensive player, uses his body well against bigger men like Shaq and Dwight Howard and also provides an offensive punch inside along with a 10-foot jumper. Expect to see quick Boston guard Nate Robinson, too. The Celtics haven't used him much because of defensive mismatches, but that won't be a problem against the diminutive Fisher.
Lakers/Celtics, just like the old days, just like two years ago. If it's a defensive series where physical play determines the victor, the Celtics will take it. If home court and offensive execution lead the way, the Lakers are sitting pretty. No matter what, it should be more entertaining than last year's Orlando/LA series. Good luck, as always...Al McMordie.

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