Defense wins championships, or so I've heard. This is the number one reason why the Celtics will beat the Lakers in the NBA Finals. And then there's the Big 3. Throughout the playoffs, the C's have proven they can win with 2 of the 3 playing well. If Kobe struggles, the Lakers lose. If Pierce struggles, the Celtics still have a great chance of winning. Get it?
Rajon Rondo vs Derek Fisher: This matchup scares me. As Jeff Van Gundy has astutely pointed out, Rondo hasn't played great 1-on-1 defense. And while he has an impressive turnover-to-assist ratio, he remains unreliable on offense. Fisher has shot well in the playoffs. He also has a knack for knocking down crunch-time jumpers. And with the defense collapsing on Kobe, chances are he'll have some open looks Edge – Fisher.
Ray Allen vs Kobe Bryant: We're all glad the old Ray Allen is back and I'm confident he'll stick around for this series. When Ray's on his game, the Celtics can hang with any team offensively. Kobe is Kobe. How the Celtics attack him remains to be seen. Will they beat him up or force him to shoot from the perimeter? I don't think it matters because the dude is still going to average 30+ pts. Ray clearly can't stop Bryant but he can force him to work on the defensive end. If the point differential between these guys is 10 or so, we'll be alright. Edge – Kobe.
Paul Pierce vs Vladimir Radmanovic: Pierce dropped the hammer on both the Cavs and Pistons with clutch performances. He'll be able to do anything he wants with VladRad. I expect Phil Jackson to shuffle defenders. Radmanovic can do very little but spot up and hit jumpers. He's a super soft 6-10. Edge – Pierce.
Kevin Garnett vs Lamar Odom: He's been the Celtics most consistent scorer and rebounder throughout the playoffs. There isn't a single person on the Lakers roster who can guard him. Even though it's not his nature to force things, KG should be more aggressive. At the very least, get to the free throw line a bit more. (Sick of hearing this point?) Despite a few rough games, Odom's played pretty well. He'll need to continue rebounding well to keep the C's off the offensive glass. Edge – Garnett.
Kendrick Perkins vs Pau Gasol: For lack of an original phrase, Perk is a beast. At least in some games. The Lakers are not physical down low and if Perkins is smart about it, he should be able to push guys around and own the paint. Gasol is a damn good offensive player. He can score and pass. Depending on who's on the floor at the time, KG could cover him and most likely – shut him down. Edge: Gasol.
Benches: Now that Lindsey Hunter is gone, look for Eddie House to re-emerge. I have this feeling Doc will use Leon Powe to guard the Laker bigs who love to roam. Posey will get plenty of minutes on Kobe. PJ Brown will continue to see quality minutes. As for the Lakers, what's the big deal about Vujacic, Walton, Farmar and Turiaf? I don't see how the Lakers bench is decidely better than Boston's. Edge – Even
Doc Rivers vs Phil Jackson: Phil Jackson is the most overrated coach of all-time. But this is clearly the least-talented team he's ever brought to the Finals. Doc continues to rub people the wrong way with his lack of a consistent rotation – but it's working. And he never gets credit for the making the right moves (playing Posey instead of Ray for the 4th quarter of Game 6 against Detroit). While Jackson is the more experienced guy, I don't see coaching playing a major role in this series. We've all seen basketball players in the huddles during timeouts, half of them aren't even paying attention. Edge – Even.
The Lakers may have the best player, but the Celtics have more better players. That – along with defense, rebounding and home court advantage will be enough to win this series in 6 games.
Today's Links: Globe – Ray Doesn't Hate Kobe Anymore | Notebook – Tony Out, Ray Loves the Sleeve | Herald – Kobe Better Than Michael | Kobe Leads Lakers Production | Luke Walton Weaned in Green | Officiating Might Mar Finals | LA Times - Lakers Still Figuring Out Matchups