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Boston vs. Los Angeles, Take 2

   by ASA - 06/02/2010

NBA Finals – 2008 vs. 2010

Let’s travel back two years shall we? The Big Three of the Celtics led Boston to the NBA Finals to set up an epic match-up with their rival Lakers of Los Angeles. Boston had home-court advantage after finishing with an NBA best 66-16 and earning the #1 seed in the East. L.A. finished the season with a 57-25 mark and earned the #1 seed in the West.

Boston benefited from their home-court advantage and took games 1 and 2 at the Boston Garden. L.A. won game 3 but Boston stole game 4 to take a 3-1 lead in the series. L.A. won one more game at home, but Boston closed out the Finals with a 39 point blowout victory at home to win the series, 4 games to 2.

That was just two years ago, but a lot has changed since then. We are going to assess the differences, specifically in positional match-ups, between the 2008 version and 2010 version of Boston vs. Los Angeles.

Point Guard:
In 2008, Rondo was in his 2nd NBA season and 1st as a full-time starter. He ran the offense efficiently throughout the playoffs but was often substituted in the 4th quarter for a more effective scorer. This postseason he’s taken on a whole new role in the Celts offense. He is averaging 16.6 PPG, 10.0 APG, and 5.3 RPG. Rondo has not only shown that he can control the game from the point guard position on offense but he's also Boston's best on-ball defender.

Derek Fisher is seeking his 5th NBA Championship as a member of the Lakers. He is one of the most battle-tested, experienced veterans in the entire league. Fisher may not possess the greatest statistics (11.1 PPG, 3.1 APG), but he has proven to be a clutch performer time and time again.

This is an interesting match-up; one of the up and coming stars of the league vs. a four time champion. Though D-Fish has had some vital NBA playoff performances, he’s been a liability on defense against quick guards (see performance against Russell Westbrook of OKC). Rondo fits that mold so don't be surprised if Kobe matches up against him a few times in this series and Fisher guards Ray Allen.

2008 Advantage: Los Angeles
2010 Advantage: Boston

Shooting Guard:
Kobe was coming off of a MVP season in 2008 and attempting to win his first championship without Shaquille O’Neal. He averaged 25.6 PPG in the 08 Finals, but made just 40.4% of his shots from the field in losing to Boston. He did get a Title though last season in leading the Lakers to a NBA Championship over Orlando. With the “Shaq monkey” off his back he can now focus on getting revenge against the Celtics. Kobe certainly has more pieces surrounding him compared to 2008, meaning he doesn’t have to take over games like he became accustomed to in the past.

Ray Allen is nearly 35 but he still has one of the prettiest strokes in the NBA. He is averaging 16.8 PPG this postseason compared to 15.6 PPG in the 2008 postseason. Despite the comparable numbers to the 2008 season, he’s playing a much different style this season. Allen doesn’t have to create his shot as much as he used to and depends on Pierce and Rondo to create open looks for him behind the arc.

When Allen is hot, he can hit from anywhere on the court. But I doubt he will be the answer to defending Kobe Bryant during the Finals this season (29.4 PPG, 48.3% shooting in the post season).

2008 Advantage: Los Angeles
2010 Advantage: Los Angeles

Small Forward:
Paul Pierce won the NBA Finals MVP in 2008 after averaging 21.8 PPG against the Lakers. This postseason, Pierce is again leading the team in scoring with 19.1 PPG. He had a game-winning shot against Miami in the first round and finished with 31 points and 13 boards in their series clinching victory against Orlando. He is still their go-to-guy during crunch time.

Ron Artest is the only new face in either of the starting line-ups. In 2008, it was Vladamir Radmanovic or Sasha Vujacic guarding Pierce. Artest represents a major upgrade on defense. He is arguably the most physical defensive threat in the NBA and has frustrated some of the best players in the game. In the two meetings during the regular season, Artest held Pierce to just 8 of 20 shooting for a combined 26 points.

This might be the most important positional match-up in the finals. Pierce is the Celtics leader and they need him to score & create. Artest came to L.A. for one thing and one thing only: a shot at a title. If he can play good defense and knock down open shots, he’ll get his wish.

2008 Advantage: Boston
2010 Advantage: Even

Power Forward:
Kevin Garnett averaged 20.4 PPG and 10.5 RPG for the Celtics in the 2008 playoffs. In Boston’s attempt to repeat last season, Garnett injured his knee and missed all of the 2009 playoffs. Whether it’s because of his age or the severity of the knee injury, he’s never returned to full-form. Though his numbers are a bit down (14.9 PPG and 8.2 RPG this postseason) and he doesn’t possess the same defensive presence as he once had, he’s still one of the best bigs in the business.

Pau Gasol was acquired by the Lakers during the 2008 season and has played a pivotal role in the Lakers three straight NBA Finals runs. He averaged 16.9 PPG and 9.3 RPG in the 2008 postseason. His numbers are way up during this postseason, scoring 20 PPG, 10.9 RPG, and 1.9 BPG. His defense was somewhat exposed by the much quicker Amare Stoudemire of the Suns, but he won’t face anyone with that size and quickness in this series.

Boston had to depend on Garnett heavily in 2008 as they didn’t have much depth behind him. The Lakers need Gasol to be a force in the paint with the knee injury to Andrew Bynum and he’s responded by averaging a double-double (explained below).

2008 Advantage: Boston
2010 Advantage: Los Angeles

Center:
Kendrick Perkins has been an unheralded starter for the Celtics for much of the past decade. He isn’t much of a scorer, but he’s another big body that will bang for rebounds and make things difficult for Gasol and Bynum.

Andrew Bynum was injured during the 2008 playoffs and had no impact on the outcome. He posted career highs in points and rebounds during the 2010 regular season but is injured again and has played a limited role in the 2010 playoffs. He played in just 17.8 minutes per game against Phoenix and has averaged 9.1 PPG and 7.1 RPG this entire postseason.

Kendrick Perkins is a workhorse in the paint for the Celtics while Bynum may not even earn 20 minutes in a game this series. Keep an eye on: Perkins is one technical foul away from receiving a mandatory one-game suspension.

2008 Advantage: Boston
2010 Advantage: Boston

Bench:
Boston’s 2008 core of James Posey, Eddie House, P.J. Brown and Leon Powe are all gone. That group had a major impact on the 08 Finals and they’ve set the bar high for 2010’s reserves. Rasheed Wallace was a major offseason acquisition that had a disappointing regular season but has played a vital role in their postseason run. Glen Davis, Tony Allen, and Nate Robinson also play a crucial role in the teams’ success.

A lot of the Lakers reserves remain the same. They still have Lamar Odom, Jordan Farmar, Sasha Vujacic and Luke Walton coming off playing key minutes. Shannon Brown is a new face and tremendous athlete who gives L.A. some quality minutes off the bench. But outside of Odom, none of their reserves have played a major role on the outcome of any playoff games thus far.

Both teams’ benches were out-performed in their previous series. Boston’s bench averaged 24.3 PPG (26% of team average) while L.A. averaged 26.8 PPG (23.6% of team average). Nate Robinson and Rasheed Wallace have shown flashes of brilliance off of the bench but both need to become more consistent. And Lakers’ Odom is getting starter minutes because of Bynum’s injury.

2008 Advantage: Even
2010 Advantage: Boston

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