About one year ago this time, things weren’t looking so hot for the Boston Celtics organization. Boston was coming off a 24-58 season that included a streak of 18 consecutive losses, the death of franchise legend Red Auerbach and the 2nd worst record in the NBA that only resulted in the 5th overall lottery selection.
The Los Angeles Lakers franchise was also in the midst of much turmoil just having been eliminated from the playoffs in the first round for the 2nd straight season, with superstar guard Kobe Bryant demanding a trade publicly from the front office executives immediately.
How quickly things can change.
The two historic organizations find themselves in the 2008 NBA Finals, facing each other in the championship for the 11th time. The Celtics hold the 8-2 edge in head to head series play but the Lakers have captured the last two match ups in 1985 and 1987.
This rivalry has made the NBA what it is today. The Bird vs. Magic era brought excitement to the league like there had never been before and now both teams are loaded with future hall of famers and leaders like Paul Pierce and Kobe Bryant.
Last summer, the two NBA All-Stars were playing pickup ball together at UCLA’s gym. Both were frustrated with the outcome of their seasons and knew that trade talks would be likely for both of them.
“I remember being in the gym with Kobe, and me and him were arguing over who was going to get traded first,” Pierce said Monday after the Celtics held their first practice in preparation for the NBA finals.
“He went public about getting traded, … and I was like, ‘Shoot, I’m going to getting traded before you,’ and betting that it would happen. That’s what so crazy, now we’re both here sitting in the finals, where a year ago we were both in the gym.”
Big reasons why both players find themselves 4 wins away from a championship are the acquisitions that were made to get their teams to where they are today. For the Celtics, the important moves were made before the season while the Lakers pulled some strings right at the trade deadline.
Boston acquired SG Ray Allen on draft day via trade and then shortly after made a 7 for 1 player swap to package former league MVP Kevin Garnett into beantown as the newest member to the Celtics organization. And as they say, the rest is history. Combined with the force of Pierce, the three have reenergized basketball fans in Boston for the first time since the mid 80′s. As for the Lakers, they were able to trade for All-Star PF Pau Gasol right before the trade deadline for almost nothing. His acquisition has sparked a 2nd half turnaround that put LA atop the Western Conference.
After the Celtics downed the Detroit Pistons in six games and the Lakers took care of the defending NBA Champion San Antonio Spurs in five, the stage is set for what many are calling the best Finals match up in over 25 years.
Lets take a look at the probable match ups between teams and which club has the advantage at each position.
At points guard the Celtics will go with Rajon Rondo and he will be matched up against veteran Derek Fisher. Fisher certainly wins some points for experience but Rondo has been more of a contributing factor offensively dishing out assists and scoring big buckets when needed. The best part about this match up is that if Rondo needs a quick blow, veteran back up Sam Cassell will step right in and provide the veteran experience that Rondo lacks to equal that of Fishers.
ADVANTAGE – BOS
The most important match up of the series will be at the shooting guard position featuring two of the NBA’s premiere perimeter players in Ray Allen and Kobe Bryant. Both can flat out shoot the ball and anything within a few steps over the half court line is in their range. Allen’s defense can be suspect at times due to ankle problems, while Kobe has been on the NBA’s Defensive 1st team multiple times. Allen will not be the only one covering the reigning MVP, look for some help from fellow wingman Paul Pierce but their job will be simple, hold Kobe to his averages and let the other Lakers beat you.
ADVANTAGE – L.A.
While Paul Pierce is not helping out with Bryant he’ll have his hands full guarding Lamar Odom. This match up will create problems for both sides because at 6’10″ tall, Odom has a 4 inch height advantage and will try to post up his smaller defender when the opportunity presents itself. However, Pierce has the speed advantage and will create for himself opportunities to take the ball to the hole off the dribble which could put LA’s big men in foul trouble.
ADVANTAGE – EVEN
When it comes to Kevin Garnett, it really does not matter who’s covering him because he’s going to have the advantage regardless. The Lakers will send Vladimir Radmanovic for some KG duty but as we saw in both the Cleveland and Detroit series, it doesn’t matter who’s covering the big man because he can beat you in the paint or from the outside with his 18+ foot jumpers all night long.
ADVANTAGE – BOS
The match up at the center position between Kendrick Perkins and Pau Gasol could be a big factor one of the series. Perkins showed Boston fans that he’s capable of being a beast on the boards against Detroit when he hauled down 16 rebounds and dropped 18 points in their Game 5 win. Gasol lifted LA with a similar effort in their Game 5 win grabbing 19 boards and scoring 12 points. Gasol does have a little better offensive touch then Perkins which makes him more a threat in the paint.
ADANTAGE – LA
The series gets underway on Thursday night in Boston at 9:00pm EST. The home court advantage that the Celtics earned during the regular season may be a huge factor with possible Games 6 & 7 to be played at the TD Banknorth Garden in front of the hometown crowd. LA, who has yet to lose a playoff game at home, will try to steal one of the road before returning home for Games 3, 4 and if needed 5.
As the Lakers go for their 15th banner and the Celtics quest for Green 17 continues one thing that is certain, this match up has the potential to be one of the greatest of all time and all we can do now is enjoy every minute of it.
Celtics vs Lakers NBA Finals tickets now available.