There are times when you just have no idea what the future can hold. Before the NBA finals started, I had a friend ask me if I was nervous at all for the Lakers to be facing the Boston Celtics. I was a little bit nervous as I had seen the Lakers get dismantled by the Celtics in the regular season. I had seen the way Tom Thibbedeau had figured out ways to get his players to consistently disrupt the triangle offense. With his defense, he turned the perfect offense from one of crisp passes and smart shots to the ugly stationary basketball that got the Lakers blown out in both games. Yet I was suddenly confident in the ability of the young Los Angeles Lakers. I told myself that they were a different team. They had added Pau Gasol, earned the number one berth in the tough western conference, and beaten the San Antonio Spurs to get here. They stifled the Spurs with their defense, and finished them off with their amazing offense. So when my friend asked me if I was nervous, I told him that the Lakers would have to seriously screw things up to lose four out of seven games.
Then last night happened, and seemingly every good thing the Lakers had done this season to get them to this point was meaningless. The Celtics stomped all over them for a 131-92 battle. The Laker offense was once again pushed away from the basket and forced into stationary basketball while the defense was repeatedly abused by the veteran Celtics who already had to beat much better defenses in Cleveland and Detroit to get to the finals. In the end, Celtics just wanted it more as they played through the contact to achieve their goals while the Lakers let the contact disrupt them from whatever they wanted to do. The Celtics dived after every loose ball, made smart gambles on defense (leading to a ridiculous 18 steals,) and fought for every rebound available.
The Lakers never threatened in this game, so there is no point to doing the usual who played well and who played poorly. If you can get blown out by 39 points, no one played well. It is that simple. Conversely, if you can blow a finals caliber team out by 39 points, then everyone played well.
Indeed, this years Celtics is a championship team to forever remember, and this game highlighted all of their strengths. Ray Allen used screen after screen to hit shot after shot. Paul Pierce chipped in point wise only when he needed to and added 10 assists while the real point of the Celtics Rajon Rondo added eight of his own to go along with his 21 points and pesky, 6 steal, defense. Even Kevin Garnett bounced back from a lousy game five to get 14 rebounds. Speaking of which, in this game, the Lakers shot just 42 percent and yet got just two offensive rebounds (both when the game was out of reach.) The Celtics managed to win the battle of the boards 48-29.
More surprising was the way the Celtics coaching staff was able to hold their own. Before the series started, everyone was under the impression that Phil Jackson and his nine NBA titles would destroy Doc Rivers in everyway, shape, or form during these finals. Instead, the opposite may have happened. Rivers and his coaching staff always seemed to be at least one or two steps ahead of Jackson who was forced to play catch up. In the end, Jackson never figured out how to beat the Celtic defense, and could never get his team to play consistent defense where as Rivers shredded the Laker defense with simple screen and rolls and motivated his players every step of the way.
So what’s next? For the Celtics, they can relax for a little bit and enjoy some time in the sun. They have done what every team wanted to do at the start of the season: win it all. For doing that, they can justify some time off. When they are done, they can start looking for a backup point guard who can dribble better than Eddie House or Sam Cassell. Maybe they should add another swingman as well as insurance if Ray Allen’s legs can’t hold up or just general depth. Other than that, I expect to see this team back in the eastern conference finals at least next year.
As for the Lakers, this loss will be tough to swallow. They must become more mentally tough if they do want to someday win it all. Moreover, when Bynum comes back what happens to Odom? His jumper (unless continuously worked on over the summer) isn’t good enough to space the floor were he to start alongside Bynum and Gasol. Then the best bet would be to have him come off the bench and be a valuable sixth man. Can he handle that? Vladimir Radmanovic must be traded. His defense was completely gone this series, and his shot is too inconsistent. Getting rid of him even if only for a second round draft pick is worth it. Hell, at this point getting rid of him by way of buy out is also acceptable. In the end, this team has a lot of soul searching to do. Hopefully, Phil Jackson can further emphasize defense in training camp, because until then its going to be a long five months.