If there’s one lesson that I hope the Lakers learned from the loss to the C’s in 2008, it’s that we can’t expect to beat this team with our offense. The focus, more than ever, must be on the defensive end. Losing focus for a quarter or two every other game will not be an acceptable occurrence in this series. Like Artest, the rest of the squad must play defense with his same passion, heart and attitude. We may be eager to redeem ourselves, but Boston is hungry for another championship as their window to win is dwindling down to a close.
Aside from executing the proper rotations and protecting the paint, the key to defeating our hated rival will be on the glass. None of us have forgotten how badly our bigs, Pau and Lamar, were punked on the boards by Kevin Garnett, Kendrick Perkins, P.J. Brown and even Leon Powe. If you give up offensive rebounds to the Celtics, you may as well put the ball in the basket for them.
Despite the fact that Andrew Bynum is playing at rougly 80% or even lower, with his injured right knee that recently had over two ounces of fluid drained from it, he now has a chance to validate his value and silence his critics. It’s vital for him to realize that we do not necessarily need him to dominate the game with scoring, but rather, use his length to inhale rebounds and block shots. If Drew is able to embrace the role we truly need him to play, I don’t see how we can be beaten in four out of seven games.
The importance of Pau Gasol and Lamar Odom playing with vehement vigor goes without saying. Phil Jackson will more than likely go with the Gasol, Odom, Artest, Bryant, Fisher lineup to close out the games and as the only bigs on the floor, they can’t allow the Celtics big men to muscle them around. We can only hope that Pau and LO can harness the sting from being bullied two years ago to their advantage rather than getting too caught up in trying to prove their toughness, and failing to execute on both ends of the floor.
One of the greatest differences between Boston’s championship team of 2008 and this year’s squad is clearly the play of Rajon Rondo. Kobe’s defensive assignment has sky rocketed to superstardom and is widely considered now as one of the top three point guards in the NBA. Rondo is the Celtics’ Ferrari engine, overflowing with flair, speed, poise and championship experience. It will be very interesting to see how far his game has really expanded against the Mamba’s on-ball defense, but you can be certain that his jumpshot will be tested early and often.
The wild card matchup in my opinion, will be Derek Fisher against Ray Allen. Allen could have easily garnered Finals MVP honors instead of Paul Pierce as he averaged 20.3 ppg in the previous Finals against us. Jesus Shuttlesworth is connecting on a blistering 42% of his three-point attempts in this postseason unlike 2008 when he was stranded in the pit of a massive shooting slump. He’s actually been the most consistent player for the C’s during the playoffs and has an inclination for drilling dagger threes.
I honestly even like Sasha Vujacic against Allen because of his feisty attitude and relentless effort in chasing through multiple screens. At 6’7, Sasha also poses more length than Derek who is 6’1. When it comes down to it though, whomever is guarding Ray Ray better be prepared to fight hard through pick after pick, some of which will certainly be a tad on the illegal side – all he needs is an inch to kill you.
NEXT: Play with PRIDE