Let me begin by stating for the record, that I am a Lakers fan, and have been since the summer of 1979 and my Father let me know that the Lakers drafted Magic Johnson from Michigan State. I had watched Magic that spring roll through the NCAA tournament, and as a 9 year old, I was enthralled with “everything Magic”. So, I became a Lakers fan that day, on the spot.
So I remember vividly the battles of the 1980’s. The Bird and Magic rivalry was everything you could want. Between the two of them, they won 8 titles in 10 years, and faced off against each other 3 times (Magic winning two of the three).
As the rivalry has been renewed with this second meeting in the last three years. It has become apparent to me that there are some certain “myths” out there regarding both the current teams, and the teams of the 80’s. I wish to tackle the top two of these.
Myth 1: The Lakers aren’t tough.
This is an absolute media fallacy that needs to end now. Both sets of Lakers teams, current and the 80’s version are much tougher than given credit for. Looking at the current crop: Kobe Bryant is playing through three different injuries right now (ankle, knee, and finger) and has still averaged nearly 30 points a game in this year’s playoffs. Pau Gasol has played so much basketball the past few years(the Lakers making 3 finals, and playing on the Spanish National team in the off season), that team doctors have told him to take the Summer off to let his body recuperate. Andrew Bynum has played pretty much the entire playoffs with a torn meniscus. To put it simply, you don’t make the finals three straight years without being tough, both physically and mentally. It’s ridiculous idea that needs to be stopped.
Myth 2: The Celtics are a blue collar, hard working team, and succeed based on that, not talent.
This is even more ridiculous than the idea that the Lakers are soft. Paul Pierce, Ray Allen, and Kevin Garnett aren’t talented? Each of the three will probably be in the Hall of Fame. Garnett is arguable one of the top 20 players in the history of the league. And yes, he is on the downside of his career, but wasn’t Kareem also on the downside of his career when the Lakers won their last two titles? He is still a great player, and the development of Rajon Rondo into one of the top point guards in the league make this point just reinforces the idea of how talented this Celtics team is. They are very talented and very deep.
When I look at the series, I think we have the makings of an absolute classic. We have the team that plays great defense (the Celtics) who have enough size and power on the interior to give the Lakers problems. Keep in mind that this was the Lakers top advantage over all three of their playoff opponents so far: the Thunder, Jazz, and Suns were simply outmanned in the post, even with a limited Andrew Bynum. You have a young, dynamic point guard in Rondo, who is precisely the type of player that the Lakers have struggled to handle. On the other side of things, can the Celtics score enough to keep up with the Lakers? We know that their defense will limit the Lakers offensively, but will it limit them enough?
The key player for the Lakers in this series is Lamar Odom. Ask any Lakers fan and you will know that when Odom plays well, the Lakers are tough to beat. He is going to bring his defense on Garnett and Wallace, and he is going to have to use his mobility and play making ability on the offensive end. If Odom continues to play inconsistent like he did in the Phoenix series the Lakers are in trouble. However if he plays well consistently, he’s a tough matchup for the Celtics as their bigs are older(Garnett/Wallace), or don’t move nearly as well(Perkins/Davis).
The Celtics key player is Garnett. If he’s the guy like he was in the Cleveland series the Lakers are in big trouble. He will always bring the defensive intensity and rebound, he is going to need to be an offensive weapon. If he is hitting his jump shots(always an underrated part of his game) and playing strong in the post, forcing Gasol and Odom to play physical defense inside, he gives the Celts four reliable scoring options.
Here’s my prediction: Celtics take one of the first two games in LA, and the Lakers respond by winning one of the next 3 in Boston. The series goes back to LA, with the Celtics leading the series 3-2. It’s going 6 or 7 games. And as a Lakers fan, it kills me to say this, but I have to give the advantage to the Celtics. Bynum’s knee is just too bothersome, the resurgence of Rasheed Wallace is too scary (giving the Celtics another reliable big body). Put simply, the Celtics are deeper than the Lakers at the key positions, and depth always plays an issue in a 7 game series, at some point reserves and role players are going to need to step up and make key contributions and the Celtics seem to have more players capable of doing so.