Some brief links/commentary before I head out to celebrate Memorial Day:
• Comparisons with 2008 are inevitable, and I will have one here tomorrow, and Boston fans will inevitably counter the notion that this version of the Lakers is superior to the ’08 version (they are, and it’s obvious) by pointing out that Rajon Rondo makes this Celtics team a different animal. Here’s Shaun Powell at NBA.com on Rondo’s maturity:
The big change with Rondo? He’s no longer a legend in his own mind. Sounds crazy, but Rondo actually thought he was a star before he officially became one, according to people within the organization. It led to some friction with the Big Three and the higher-ups, who grew weary of Rondo’s act. They paid their dues, he hadn’t.
There were times when the dominant voices on the club (Doc Rivers, KG, etc.) would say one thing and Rondo would do another, not to be defiant, but because he thought his way was better. And that often became an issue.
“Leadership is established by what you do on the court,” Ainge said. “It’s not what you say. It’s how you go about your job. Rondo’s had to learn that. He’s always been bright and looked at himself as one of the veterans. He’s had to learn how to be a listener.”
This narrative of a brazen young Rondo clashing with the wizened veterans has been floating around for 18 months now, and it usually appears, as it does here, in very general terms.
I’ve seldom, if ever, read concrete examples of it happening. Hopefully someone somewhere is saving some good Rondo Grew Up stories for a book.
• Charley Rosen of FOX Sports picks the Lakers in six:
Kobe, on the other hand, is the only player, alive or dead, who can reasonably be mentioned in the same breath as His Airness.
Artest can bull through Pierce on his way to the hoop and the offensive glass. The Celtics will smartly challenge Ron-Ron to knock down open shots while they point their defense at Kobe. And if Artest can repeat his Game 6 accuracy, the Lakers could sweep.
Two brief reactions: Thibodeau found a way to bother Kobe in 2008, when Bryant shot 40.5 percent in the Finals. The personnel was different then, sure, and the Celtics today do not have someone with the length of James Posey to serve as secondary defender on Bryant. Second: The Artest/Pierce match-up frightens me. The early comments about thi series shows me some Boston fans may not realize how much the Lakers have upgraded the small forward spot since the ’08 Finals.
I mean: Do you even remember who started at the three for LA in the ’08 Finals?
• Mike Bresnahan of the LA Times, cross-posting at the Herald for the Finals, has Kobe reflecting on Pierce and Artest:
“Pierce is a very tough matchup,” Bryant said. “He’s one of the few players that has a long ball, that has mid-range game, can get to the basket. I think that makes him tough to cover, but Ron is up to the challenge.”
That is a simple, elegant summation of why Pierce is a good offensive player, isn’t it?
• Howard Beck leads off his Finals piece in The New York Times with a fun anecdote:
Not long after winning the championship last summer, Jackson, the Los Angeles Lakers coach, visited his daughter’s apartment complex. There, improbably, he bumped into Paul Pierce, the Boston Celtics star.
The Celtics beat the Lakers in the 2008 finals but had failed to make it back for the rematch. Jackson had a request.
“I said, ‘Get it back. We want to meet you in the finals,’ ” Jackson said, recalling his moment with Pierce.
• Mark Heisler of the LA Times does a position-by-position breakdown and guesses that Kobe will spend more time than not guarding Rajon Rondo:
Rondo still passes up open 15-footers but finishes over big men, rebounds over big men, frees up teammates and gets every loose ball in or near his vicinity with his long arms and huge hands.
If Kobe plays him, Rondo had better start taking those 15-footers because he’ll get a lot of them.
If Phil Jackson really is ready to make Bryant Rondo’s primary defender, I hope Ray Allen is working on his post-up game.
• Ron Borges of the Herald gives us this nugget about the team’s extra-long film session between Games 5 and 6 of the Orlando series:
“It started after the loss to Orlando,” Celtics swingman Tony Allen said. “Guys thought it was going to be a long film session. It started off rough. Doc had a grueling film session 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 guys remembered that we don’t need to look at no film with this team. All we got to do is play hard, and we played hard and executed our stuff.”
Tony Allen’s ankle is an underrated little subplot of these Finals, by the way. He’s going to spend some time guarding Bryant, which means he’s going to spend some time on the court alongside Rajon Rondo. In that set-up, TA’s ability to drive on or post-up against Derek Fisher (should Bryant guard Rondo) is important to avoid the offensive stagnation that can always pop up when you pair two guards who both lack a consistent jumper.
• The Globe’s Julian Benbow reminds us that Red Auerbach played a role in changing the NBA Finals format to 2-3-2:
“Although he’s not here to defend himself and deny it,’’ Stern said in ’08, “I tell you that Red said to me back in ’84, ‘This is too much. Play, travel, play, travel, play, travel,’ In subsequent years, he said it was terrible that we changed it to 2-3-2, but a young commissioner was motivated by the father of us all.’’
• In a brief series preview at ESPNBoston.com, Peter May reminds us of two things:
- Lakers coach Phil Jackson, who passed Red Auerbach for NBA titles last year by winning his 10th, has never lost any playoff series when his team has won Game 1. Five teams he has taken to the Finals have lost Game 1: the 1991 Bulls, the 1998 Bulls, the 2001 Lakers, the 2004 Lakers and the 2008 Lakers. Only the 2004 and 2008 Lakers did not win the series.
- The current Celtics starting five has never lost a playoff series, winning all seven. And the Celtics still believe that if Kevin Garnett had been healthy last year, they’d be going for a three-peat.
Jackson’s teams are 47-0 after winning Game 1. That is fast becoming a pretty amazing record. According to this Globe piece, a team that wins Game 1 at home has gone on to win a best-of-seven series 86.5 percent of the time.
Now, Jackson’s teams weren’t at home for Game 1 in every single one of those 47 playoff series, but they were for most of them. And if those series had played out to match that 86.5 percent rule, Jackson’s teams would be something like 40-7 or 41-6 in those 47 series.
So what Jackson has managed to do—never lose a single time!—is a statistically significant thing, I think.
• Bresnahan lists some memories from the ’08 Finals the Lakers could use as motivators:
In no particular order, they could use: Paul Pierce dancing on the Celtics’ bench during a timeout in the final minutes of the 2008 NBA Finals; the Garden crowd derisively chanting “Where is Kobe?” while the Celtics hovered near a 30-point fourth-quarter lead and Kobe Bryant sat on the bench in the decisive Game 6; the Celtics returning to Los Angeles later in the summer of ’08 for a sports awards show and bragging onstage of “another win in L.A.” after taking the category for top pro team of the year.
The ’08 Finals were fun, weren’t they? Hopefully this series will be, too. It will definitely be physical and feisty. The Lakers are a focused, angry bunch.
Enjoy Memorial Day, folks.