NBA Finals: Easy as ABC
June 4, 2008 by Scott Shepherd • Print Story •
There is so much that goes into winning an NBA title. It isn't as simple as just X's and O's. In fact, X and O are just two of the 26 letters that you must conquer to win a title.
Here are all 26, and who has the advantage as we prepare for the most TV-friendly NBA Finals in over a decade.
A — Athleticism. The Lakers have the advantage here. They have a big man who runs the floor better than any other big in the game (Pau Gasol), a power forward who can stretch the floor and plays better from 30 feet than from 10 (Lamar Odom), and a player who can use his athleticism to get any shot at any time (Kobe Bryant). The Celtics have a bunch of 30-somethings and bruisers. If the Lakers get out and run, the C's won't be able to keep up and the series could end quickly.
B — Bench. The edge goes to the Lakers again here. In every series thus far, the Lakers have had at least one game where the bench game in at the start of the second quarter and made a huge run. The Celtics have already played 20 playoff games this year compared to the Lakers' 15. If this series goes long, both teams are going to need their benches to play quality minutes. Whose would you bet on in a pinch?
C — Coaching. Nine rings to zero. Let's move on.
D — Defense. The Celtics are on the board. They play great defense, no doubt about it. They can, and will, lock-down the Lakers for long stretches at a time in this series. The big question is will they be able to handle whatever counter the Lakers have? Against Cleveland, they took LeBron completely out of rhythm for six of the seven games because he had no one he could defer to. If they take Kobe away, he has lots of weapons around him that he can go to, and has shown willingness these playoffs to get them the ball. Against the Pistons, they locked down and the Piston droughts were prolonged because they didn't have a go-to guy that could break the slump; the Lakers certainly have a go-to guy. If the Celtics can play the best of both worlds, they are unbeatable. But if Doc is a step slow reacting to any adjustments that the Lakers make (and he will be), the Laker offense will be too much.
E — Efficiency. The Lakers are shooting 47.5% this postseason, while turning the ball over 12.5 times per game. The Celtics turn the ball over slightly less times per game (12.1), but shoot much lower from the field (44.8). Factor in that the Celtics and Cavs played at a snail's pace for seven games, while the Lakers were involved in shootouts for the first two series, and I'd say that the Lakers have been far more efficient this postseason.
F — Foul Trouble. This one is impossible to predict. Like holding in football, a foul could be called on just about every trip down the floor. The big thing here is that neither team can afford to lose a starter to two early fouls. I don't think it'll happen too often. If the league can no-call Derek Fisher in Game 4 of the Conference Finals, they can certainly let a few slide in the first quarter and let this series be decided by the stars. (Except in Joey Crawford's mind, he is the star of the series, so who knows?)
G — Game planning. I would refer to the letter "C" on this one and move on, except that Doc and Co. have had pretty solid plans so far. They came out and completely handcuffed LeBron James for two straight games on one day of practice. As bizarre as it feels to type this, the Celtics might be better prepared in game one of this series. Making adjustments between games is a whole other story, but I'm giving the advantage to the Celtics here.
H — History. In my opinion, history is big part of what makes a team unbeatable at home. Think about it. Is the garden going to be any more or less rowdy than New Orleans or Utah's home crowds were this postseason? Probably not. What sets them apart is the history. New Orleans didn't have Red Auerbach's name on the floor or 16 banners in the rafters. They didn't have Bill Russell sitting courtside. You can believe it doesn't matter, but it does. As storied as the Lakers franchise is, they ain't the Celtics.
I — Intensity. Advantage Celtics.
J — Jump shooting. It's hard to imagine that a team with Ray Allen isn't the best jump shooting team in the series, but that is the case here. The Lakers are the second best three-point shooting team these playoffs. The Celtics rank 11th out of 16. As lights-out as Allen can be, surrounding a slasher like Kobe with shooters like Sasha Vujacic, Derek Fisher, Vladimir Radmonovic, and Jordan Farmar and the edge clearly goes to the Lakers.
K — Killer instinct. I could probably write 1,000 words here on Kobe's ability to take over a game in the fourth quarter, but I'd be wasting my time because anyone who has watched the playoffs knows it. When the game is on the line, not just a final shot, but the final stretch, Kobe is a lock to turn it up. The Celtics don't have anyone like that, because frankly, there has only been one player in the last 20 or so years whose killer instinct can match Kobe's.
L — Legacy. The NBA Finals are about carving your legacy in the history books. M.J. is M.J. because he was six-for-six in the NBA Finals, not because of his 10 scoring titles or five MVPs. Kobe is going for No. 4, and Phil Jackson No. 10. They started to grow as legends years ago because they were good enough to get here before. None of the Boston Big Three have a legacy to speak of because none of them have been here. Advantage Lakers.
M — Maturity. This deep in the playoffs, you can't lose your cool. Both teams have done a good job of staying poised pretty much all throughout this playoff run. But if I had to bet on one team that was more likely to break down mentally, it would be the Lakers. Already, Sasha Vujacic has come close a few times to blowing the game with bonehead plays and Ronny Turiaf has been ejected. Those guys had better grow up fast, because one mistake could be it in the finals.
N — Next. The Finals are where new stars emerge. As recently as 2006, Dwyane Wade took center stage as one of the up-and-coming stars in the league. Will anyone be "next" this year? The only obvious answer is possibly Rajon Rondo. Everyone else on either team has pretty much established who they are as a player. Only Rondo remains as the one player who could possibly break out in the Finals.
O — Offense. The Lakers' offense is a machine. When they are clicking, there is no stopping them. They have the triangle down to a science, getting open looks at will in the first quarter of games while getting everyone involved. Then Kobe does his thing late, and defenses, like the Spurs defense that this time last year contained LeBron, don't know what hit them. The Celtics have been great on D, but they haven't played an offense like this. Advantage Lakers.
P — Pressure. As in handling pressure. The pressure of every possession in the Finals is so intense that it has the potential to make or break careers (ask Nick Anderson). Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, and Ray Allen have all done plenty to shred their reputations of folding under the pressure so far in the playoffs, but the most pressure-packed situations are yet to come. You want the ball in the player's hands that you are most confident can handle the pressure.
Q — Quality shots. Both teams have a weakness in this area. The Lakers rely too much on Kobe hitting tough shots; the Celtics are so lethargic on offense sometimes that they never get the ball in scoring position for an entire possession. The responsibility then falls on the point guard to get the team settled and have quality sets. In the battle of the point guards, I'll take Derek Fisher, his ability to shoot threes, his experience, and his knack of knowing when to feed Kobe and when to ignore him, over Rondo and is "hero" shots all day.
R — Rebounding. Rebounding numbers for each team are nearly identical. The Lakers grab 40.5 boards per game, while the Celtics get 39.4. The advantage goes back to something I mentioned earlier, pace. The Celtics are getting as many rebounds as the Lakers on far fewer possessions. In fact, the Lakers are being out-rebounded by over 3 rebounds per game in the playoffs, while the Celtics are out-rebounding their opponents by nearly the same margin. If the Celtics defense is as good as advertised and can get stops, they certainly have the rebounding advantage that could cause the Lakers to play uphill all series.
S — Showtime. Let's face it, the Finals are a spectacle. The over exaggerated intros, the Larry O'Brien trophy painted on the floor, the 9 PM primetime start. It is a big show. And big time players like to put on big time shows. Certain players crave the attention, certain players don't. Since we've never seen any of the C's on this stage before, we don't know how they'll react to it. But we do know this: no one loves the big stage like Kobe. Until the others prove they are better equipped, advantage Lakers.
T — Talent. As much as intangibles can play a role, the fact is the better team will win a seven game series more often than not. In the 2008 NBA Finals, the Lakers just have more talent. The Celtics pride themselves on their Big Three, but even that is a stretch. All three very rarely show up to play in the same game, and that doesn't even guarantee a win (see: Game 2 conference finals). How come no one is mentioning that Bryant, Gasol, and Odom are probably close to as good as Garnett, Allen, and Pierce, if not better? Players 4-12 on the Lakers roster are far more talented than what Boston has to offer. Advantage Lakers.
U — Ubuntu. You try finding a relevant "U." Advantage Celtics for adopting this principle.
V — Versatility. At this point, you need to have guys who can do multiple things. Again, the Lakers have the advantage here because they have plenty of players on their roster that can play multiple positions. With the Celtics, you have several guys that have such a niche carved out that they don't have the ability to excel at other positions. The versatility of the Lakers bench gives them more flexibility with their lineups, and the potential for more matchup problems.
W — Want. You have to want it. It shouldn't be good enough to just get to this point; you have to want a title. As much as Kobe looks like he is on a mission right now, the Celtics have been building up to this series all year. They want it bad. We'll see if the Lakers want it just as bad. Advantage Celtics.
X-X factor. The x-factor in every playoff series is usually home court advantage. And the Celtics have the best home court advantage around right now. Sure, the Lakers play great at home, but you can't really compare the two crowds. Boston fans are annoying as hell about 95% of the time in all sports, but I give them a lot of credit, they support their teams better than anyone.
Y — Youth. Just like "next," youth can play a huge role in an NBA finals. "Next" is all about who is taking the leap, but youth can be about what young player finally pops up and shows his team he is ready to play. Think Tayshaun Prince, Josh Howard, or Stephen Jackson-type performances in recent NBA Finals. Those guys may not have been ready to carry a team, but they were able to step up and make big plays in big games and force their way into the forefront for their respective teams. With guys like Farmar and Vujacic getting bigger roles than anyone on the Boston bench, the Lakers' youth has the potential to alter this series more than the Celtics' young players (namely since they don't have any aside from Kendrick Perkins and Rondo).
Z — Zen. Everything needs to align just right to win a title. The Lakers have the Zen Master. Enough said.
Lakers in five.