32 combined championships.
52 combined NBA Finals appearances.
Needless to say, there's a lot of history even without mentioning the historic individual rivalries like Magic vs. Bird and Kareem vs. "The Chief". All the history and rivalries come back to the main stage on Thursday night when the Celtics and Lakers tip off to begin their 12th NBA Finals head-to-head meeting.
These days in the NBA, the more things change, the more they stay the same. Magic vs. Bird has now become Kobe vs. Paul Pierce, and the big man battle between Kevin Garnett and Pau Gasol is equally legendary. The Lakers, however, want to change what has happened nine times already in this Finals match-up: a Celtics championship.
A wise man once said, "It ain't easy being green." That phrase should be amended to say "It ain't easy BEATING green." Ask the Miami Heat who were beaten in five games, the Cleveland Cavaliers -- still in shock -- in six games and the Orlando Magic who got eliminated in six games as well. No one expected the Celtics to go this far (I admit, I had 'em getting roasted by Miami). Now that they're here, I can't bring myself to believe the Lakers can do what not even the best team in the NBA could do.
Well, let's just start with a phrase that has been beaten to submission more times than the Washington Generals:
"Defense wins championships."
I really (REALLY) hate to use that cliche, but it keeps ringing true. Since the Celtics have the second best defense in playoffs (allowing 91 PPG and 42% FG), I have to wonder if 2008 will repeat itself. Has anyone noticed what the Celtics have been doing to certain players who are supposed to be the second fiddles? Miami's Michael Beasley (10.2 PPG after 14.8 PPG regular season). Okay, that's not saying much, but allow me to bring up Antawn Jamison, who was supposedly the last piece of the puzzle: 15.8 PPG in the regular season, 11.8 vs. Boston in the semi-finals. Last but not least, Vince Carter AND Rashard Lewis: 16.6 and 14.1 PPG in the regular season, 13.6 and 8.2 in the conference finals. Kobe will get his 29 PPG, and Gasol may get his 18-20 PPG, but will Artest, Fisher and Odom get their 10-12 PPG?
Speaking of defense, the big question ringing in my ear is: "Who guards Kobe? Who's gonna stop Kobe? How will the Celtics contain Kobe?" Variations of that question are beginning to annoy me so I'll simply answer with the name Ray Allen. He did it in 2008 -- some games better than others -- and if he can't do it, then Paul Pierce has and can do it. Granted, Kobe is having a great playoff run (29.4 PPG), but that's against the Thunder, Jazz and Suns ... all relatively soft defenses.
Lakers supporters need to ask themselves a more important defense question: who guards Rajon Rondo? You know, the guy who's averaging 16.7 PPG and 10 APG this playoffs. Derek Fisher?!? Folks, if Goran Dragic can do this to Fisher, what's Rondo gonna do? The over/under on times Fisher's knees spontaneously combust is 4 1/2 in case you were wondering. This could be the series where the Lakers regret not having Trevor Ariza because you could theoretically stick him on Rondo and use Ariza's quickness -- an asset used to guard Nuggets point guard Chauncey Billups in the '08 Western Conference Finals.
Okay. For the sake of argument, let's say Phil Jackson just says, "Screw this. Kobe, you guard Rondo." That means that Ron Artest will likely guard Paul Pierce leaving Derek Fisher to guard -- GASP! -- Ray Allen! No problem. Ray Ray's only making 42% of his three pointers in the playoffs. Lakers fans have no reasons to start soiling themselves at all. (My quota for sarcastic comments has been filled.)
Lest we forget these are also the same fans who are telling me that the Lakers are more physical with the additions of Ron Artest and Andrew Bynum. Are we're talking about the same team whose players have to be bribed to take offensive fouls? If it takes a cool, crisp Ulysses S. Grant for your players to take a charge, the level of physicality of your team may just get called into question. Face it. The Lakers just aren't a physical team. They're a finesse team. Both the team and their fans have to accept it. By the way... since Bynum's knee is filling with more unwanted fluid than the Gulf of Mexico, I don't think he's going to be too much of a help against Kevin Garnett, Kendrick Perkins, Rasheed Wallace or any other big man Boston throws in the paint.
No matter your reasons for picking Los Angeles, or in my case emphatically choosing Boston, there's no secret this Finals will be greatly contested. Both games in the regular season were exciting games that were won by one point. In each of those games, the road team won bringing me to another point on my belief of another Boston sports parade (You greedy sons of *&!%$). The Celtics won two games in Cleveland where the Cavs were an NBA best 35-6 and won two games in Orlando. The Lakers were the best home court team in the Western Conference, but Boston has proven they can win on the road. If Boston wins game one or two, it's not farfetched to think this series could be over in five or six games.
When it comes to NBA history, no two franchises epitomize the league better than the Boston Celtics and the Los Angeles Lakers. Both franchises brought me a lot of entertainment in the 80s and 90s, and it's good to see both teams back in the spotlight after brief sabbaticals. As great of a win it would be for the Lakers to get payback for 2008 and get that third win in 12 tries against the Celtics, Lakers fans are gonna be seeing more green acres of confetti littered near the TD Waterhouse Garden.
Celtics in 6.