Thursday, June 05, 2008

Celtics v Lakers

OK, so the NBA got the finals that ABC has been wishing for. This could be the most-watched NBA finals since Jordan retired in '98. A lot of the conventional wisdom is that the Lakers should be favored. This seems curious to me, since

a) the Celtics had a lot more wins this season
b) the Celtics were 2-0 against the Lakers this season
c) the Celtics have home court advantage

I think people are judging the Cs poorly in light of their less-than-impressive performances against the Cavs and especially against the Hawks.

The Celtics are an older team. They do not match up well against young, athletic teams like the Hawks and Wizards. But...the Lakers are not a young, athletic team like the Hawks and Wizards.

As for the Cavs series, it is true that, if the Cs play as poorly against the Lakers as they did against the Cavs, they will lose. Kobe is at least as good as LeBron, and the rest of the Lakers are far better than the rest of the Cavs.

But with that in mind, we should note that the Cs played considerably better against the Pistons than they did in the first two rounds. I think that for Pierce, Allen, and Garnett, the big pressure on them was to actually make the Finals. All three had made the conference finals before, only to come up short.

It is hard to foresee how this will play out, because it's hard to figure out exactly how well various players will play. I think we can pencil in Kobe and KG for excellent performances. My gut feeling is that Pierce will have a solid series, and be dominant in at least two games. So it may come down to the less predictable players: Ray Allen, Lamar Odom, and Pau Gasol.

A lot has been written about how good Gasol is, but though he is smooth and quick, he is not a particularly physical center. I think Kendrick Perkins can hold his own, if he uses physical play to keep Gasol in check. As for Odom, I don't think that the Cs have to do much - whether he plays well or not seems to be random. And whether Ray Allen has shaken off his shooting slump remains to be seen, though his shooting in the last two games against the Pistons was excellent.

Bottom line: there appears to be a conventional wisdom that the NBA is an individual game, and whichever team has the best player is going to be the team that wins. This is at best a facile explanation. The Pistons never had the "best player", but they won twice in 89-90 and once a few years back. Michael Jordan never won a Finals by himself, nor did Magic, Bird, Shaq, or Dr. J. And really, if you want this theory debunked as thoroughly as possible, consider Wilt's career.

Consider the 1986 Celtics-Bulls series, when MJ lit up the Cs for 62 points, and the Bulls still lost. Bird described MJ as "God" at that point. MJ was clearly the best player in the series, and, again, the Bulls still lost.

I would give a slight edge to Kobe over KG as "the best player", but it's not a big advantage by any means.

I feel pretty sure the Celtics will win Game 1. We'll go from there. The odds are really stacked against the Lakers in the 2-3-2 format. They either have to win two games in Boston or win three in a row at home and at least one in Boston.

I would put the Cs as slight favorites here. Incredibly, considering they won 66 games, they are generally being underrated by the media.

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