It has been impossible to find any story about the 2010 Finals that does not somehow frame this series around the 2008 Finals. Everyone wants to discuss:
How are the teams different?
How are they similar?
Is anything that happened in 2008 significant now? (Note: What people are really asking when they ask this question is: Are Pau Gasol and Lamar Odom still “soft,” to the degree they ever were “soft”?).
Celtics fans, of course, look back at 2008 and find reason for optimism. The ’08 C’s bullied the Lakers out of the gym, and now Rajon Rondo is awesome, too! Los Angeles fans will point out how different their roster is today.
The discussion is (sort of) interesting but ultimately irrelevant. Because if you think whatever happened in 2008 has any predictive value for what’s going to unfold starting Thursday, you’re nuts.
Here are three differences between 2008 and 2010 that make the entire discussion a fun but silly exercise.
1) Ron Artest.
This should end of the comparisons, really. The presence of Artest as LA’s starting small forward is, on its own, a large enough change to make the 2008 Finals a near-irrelevant precedent. In other words: If both rosters were entirely the same, and everyone’s skill level had remained the same, making the single change of replacing Vladimir Radmanovic with Artest as LA’s starting small forward is big enough to blow up any ’08/’10 comparisons.
The Lakers started Vlad Radmanovic at small forward in 2008! And he wasn’t a token starter! He played 21.5 minutes per game in the Finals, shooting 39 percent from the floor and playing mediocre defense against Boston’s best offensive player.
Luke Walton played 11 minutes per game in the Finals and shot 31 percent. Trevor Ariza, who supplanted both Rad Man and Walton in ’09, was a total non-factor, logging just 7 minutes per game in the ’08 Finals.
Those three players, combined, logged about 40 minutes per game in the 2008 Finals. I realize those minutes sometimes overlapped, but still: Forty minutes per game.
And now comes Artest, a guy who held Kevin Durant to 43-of-123 shooting (35 percent) in the first round.
Artest hasn’t exactly shut down Paul Pierce, but he has made Pierce work hard to score. In their last eight head-to-head match-ups dating to 2006, here are Pierce’s scoring numbers against Artest:
18.8 PPG, 43 percent shooting (46-of-107), 36 percent from three (14-of-39), 52 free throw attempts.
I can hear the Celtics fans already: Pierce couldn’t score against the Cavs, either, and the C’s steam-rolled through that series!
Come on, guys. The Lakers are a different team, with a much better supporting group of players than LeBron has/had in Cleveland.
2) Andrew Bynum.
Bynum is playing with a torn meniscus in his right knee, and he’s far from 100 percent. But he may have 20 minutes per game in him, and he’ll change the way the C’s guard the Lakers when he’s on the floor. Bynum is too big and strong for KG, meaning Perk, who did a wonderful job on Pau Gasol in ’08, will have to defend Bynum when Bynum and Gasol are on the floor together.
I’m not saying that hurts Boston defensively, because KG is a natural match-up for Gasol, and the Lakers’ offense has performed much worse with Bynum on the floor versus with Bynum on the bench, according to Basketball Value. But Bynum’s presence means fewer easy post-up chances for both Perk and KG on offense.
3) Guarding Kobe.
If you’ve been paying attention, you know Kobe has added a significant post-up element to his game this season. According to Synergy Sports, a full 22 percent of Kobe’s offensive plays started with a post-up in the regular-season, the highest number of Kobe’s career.
Our buddies at The Painted Area dug into Synergy a bit further and found that Kobe largely abandoned the post-up game against Phoenix in favor of isolations on the perimeter and spot-up jumpers. Why? Probably because Grant Hill is 6’8” and Jared Dudley is 6’7”, making them taller and (in Dudley’s case at least) stronger than Bryant.
Ray Allen is 6’5”. Tony Allen is 6’4”.
Expect a lot of Kobe Bryant in the post. All that work he did down there this season—it was almost, by accident, the perfect preparation for a series against Boston.
Paul Pierce is listed at 6’6” and is bigger and stronger than Kobe, and he bothered Kobe during the ’08 Finals. Pierce’s request to guard Kobe in the 2nd half of Game 4 is already the stuff of Celtics legend.
But Pierce isn’t going to guard Kobe for five or six or seven games. He doesn’t have the stamina or the quicks to do that anymore, and, even if he did, there is no Vladimir Radmanovic around to serve as a hiding place for Ray Allen.
Yes, I’ve cherry-picked three differences here that all bode poorly for Boston. The fact is, you could go on and on pointing out differences between 2008 and 2010. Rajon Rondo is a much more polished player, James Posey is gone, Glen Davis is ready to be a big factor, Sasha Vujacic won’t play 22 minutes per game (as he did in the ’08 series), and so forth.
All of those things are true. I went with these three because I see far too many Celtics fans making the argument that, hey, we won in ’08 because we were tougher than LA, and we’re tougher now, so we’ll win again.
It doesn’t work that way, folks. These are different teams, and this is a different year. The Celtics can absolutely beat the Lakers four times in seven games, but they’ll have to do it differently this time around.