Earlier this week, I phoned my buddy Cal, an avid Lakers fan out in LA. We spent about a half hour dissecting the series, discussing various scenarios ranging from, who guards Rondo, to what to expect out of Bynum, to the potential X factors of this series.
Inevitably, we got around to predictions. I had a bombshell to drop. Yes, I thought the Lakers were the best all-around team the C’s had faced all year. Still, my confidence in the C’s was unwavering. Cal was obviously expecting a Celtics pick, but I don’t think he was ready for this:
“Celtics in five,” I told him.
Silence ensued on the other end of the line.
“Really?” Cal uttered in disbelief.
And who could blame him for that kind of reaction? I know I couldn’t. This Lakers team is better, much better than 2008. It’s probably even better than last year’s title team. The problem is, they are running into a buzzsaw in these Boston Celtics. So without a further ado, let’s make the case for these C’s. Here’s eight reasons the Celtics will be bringing home banner 18, and won’t have to make a return trip to LA to do it.
Value Of Continuity
The Celtics starting five have played together for three years. They know the schemes, they know their roles, they know where each other will be all over the floor. That kind of experience is essential during any playoff run. Paul Pierce spoke to how key it was for the Green to stick with their core this year, where other contenders like the Cavs and Magic had major turnover both during the offseason and the regular season.
The Lakers have a strong core in place as well within their starting five, but added a new piece this year with Ron Artest being added to the fold. Now, he probably improves their chances in this matchup, but a new piece is a new piece and he’s as big as a wildcard you can get. Don’t discount how crucial this is.
The Celtics have been the best defensive rebounding team in these playoffs. The Lakers have reigned supreme on the offensive glass. Something has got to give. With the Lakers having so much length and size up front, the C’s big men will have their hands full. Andrew Bynum will be limited though with his mobility. This will help.
The C’s coaches know how crucial this will be, so look for them to employ Paul Pierce, Tony Allen, Ray Allen and Rajon Rondo to crash the defensive glass considerably and help limit the Lakers second chance points. It’s the factor that killed the Suns, Jazz and Thunder against the Lakers, all of whom were composed of weak or shorthanded front lines. The Celtics are neither and look for them to take care of business in this department.
The Lakers defense has dropped off this postseason.
I know a lot of this has to do with their competition thus far. They’ve had to play some elite offensive opponents. This has caused them to get into a lot of bad habits. Their defensive rating has dropped 8 points during the postseason, down to 111, good for only 10th out of the 16 NBA Playoff teams.
It’s also a pronounced drop from their last two postseasons, where they checked in with 103 and 107 defensive ratings respectively in 2009 and 2008. With points going to be coming at a premium on the offensive end for them in this series, I’m not sure they can ratchet up their defense enough to keep the plethora of C’s scoring options at bay.
Don’t let the playoff numbers fool you. The Lakers don’t shoot the 3 ball well.
The Lakers are shooting 34.8 percent from downtown this postseason, good for 9th out of the 16 postseason teams. Two of the teams they faced in Utah and Phoenix ranked in the bottom half of the league in 3 point defense during the regular season, with the Thunder being the only strong perimeter defensive team they’ve run into.
We all know how much trouble they had with OKC. The honest truth is the Lakers aren’t a good team shooting from downtown. They ranked 24th in the league in the regular season. In fact, Ron Artest was their 2nd best outside shooter, percentage wise. That’s never a good sign.
So here’s my question. What’s going to happen when they face a Celtic team who has held three elite shooting 3 point teams to 32.1% shooting from deep this postseason? The results won’t be pretty for the Lakers and given how much more the Lakers have been relying on the 3 ball this postseason, taking nearly 22 attempts/game, they better hope Kobe is playing out of his mind.
The Lakers lack depth, meaning foul trouble could be a big problem
Lamar Odom is a terrific 6th man and is clearly the best player coming off the bench in this series. Here’s my problem though, if I’m a Lakers fan. All I see on that bench besides Odom is three unreliable point guards. In Jordan Farmar, Shannon Brown and Sasha Vujacic, you have three guys that can get hot from the outside and give you some minutes in the backcourt, but they are really limited in who they can guard.
So here’s my question. What happens in this series if Bynum is ineffective and can’t go? Or if Odom or Artest get into foul trouble? It’s happened a lot with Odom this postseason, as he has fouled out of 2 games, and finished with 5 fouls in 3 others. Given the C’s ability to get to the free throw line, this could be a major issue.
Ron Artest isn’t as good defensively as you think he has been
Artest had a great 1st round guarding Kevin Durant, holding the youngster to 35 percent shooting. He deserves a lot of credit for that. Let’s be real though here. Durant was a 3rd year player, playing in his first postseason series against a smart and experienced defender. It was a tough matchup for Durant, against a defense that was centered on containing him.
Paul Pierce is a different animal. This isn’t his first rodeo with Artest. He knows what to expect coming in, knows Ron’s tricks and knows Artest has lost a couple steps over the years. It’s also worth noting Artest didn’t do a great job defending these past two series, especially on the perimeter. He allowed C.J. Miles to shot 39 percent from deep, and the combination of Grant Hill and Jared Dudley went off for 40 percent shooting from downtown against number 93.
Given how well Pierce has been shooting during the regular season (41%) and postseason (39%) from beyond the arc, I expect The Truth to get the better off Mr. Artest throughout this affair.
Kobe Will Come Back To Earth
He has been playing out of his mind during these past 10 games. During these playoffs, he is shooting 48 percent from the field, 40 percent from downtown. There’s a lot more than what meets the eye in those numbers. He hasn’t been working on the defensive end….at all. He hasn’t faced any strong perimeter defenders, a la Tony Allen, since the first round where he struggled, shooting 40.8% from the field. Kobe has also never shot above 44 percent in the past three seasons against the Celtics.
Did you also know Kobe is shooting 7 points above his season average from 3 point range during this postseason? There’s something called regression to the mean people. Expect to see it here.
The Celtics can win anywhere
It’s the one thing they have been consistent about all year long. These guys love competing on the road and their roster are seasoned well enough at this juncture in their career that no one is intimidated by a road environment anymore. That was a huge problem for the C’s during their run 2 years ago.
So there’s my case for the C’s. Am I being to optimistic? Probably. Do the Lakers have advantages on the C’s that I haven’t covered here. You betcha. That wasn’t my job here though. I’m here to convince you the Celtics will take care of business in this series against their toughest competitor yet.
Celtics in five. Book it.