So we saw the Boston Celtics team we thought we’d see…in the Finals rather than the second round of the playoffs. Boston played so poorly that it was difficult to separate cause from effect: was their defense bad because their offense was bad or vice versa? Was it the fouls or the defense causing the fouls? Was Rondo really that bad? And we don’t know the answers to these questions, but I hope—as someone who wants a good series above all—that these answers prove to be favorable to the Celtics.
Because I just can’t see how Boston wins this series, or even makes it competitive, unless they bring (arbitrarily) two A games and four A- games the rest of the series. Bryant is just too good, and more importantly—given the result last time around—Gasol is just too good. People continue to rag on Gasol for being soft, rather mysteriously—he’s clearly an extraordinarily skilled and versatile big man, and a potential Hall of Fame player—in a triumph of stale prejudice over fresh thinking (these are the same people who believe all European players are floppers, soft, etc., or who believe LeBron James is a total and complete failure and choker—the moralist traditionalists of basketball). Gasol is the type of player destined to be underestimated until he’s gone, when people will say—probably when D.J. Mbenga is plodding around—why can’t you be as good as Pau? Suffice it to say he’s misunderstood.
But the game confirmed what I suspect at the outset: most of the matchups don’t look good for Boston. Garnett looks like he’s been dipped in embalming fluid and can’t even come close to testing Gasol when Garnett has the ball; Artest is too physical with Pierce—to beat Artest at this point, you need to be able to explode, quickly, baseline from the wing, and Pierce doesn’t have explosion in his game anymore. This leaves the Celtics hoping to replicate the Suns’ idea for winning a series: superlative point guard play plus a superior bench outweighs the Lakers’ advantage on the other parts of the court. Rondo extended his streak of “Unusual Basketball Plays” (defined here as “plays where Rajon Rondo executes a successful play where you think “That’s a very unusual basketball play! Where did he learn how to do that!”), but was not as dominant as he was in the two previous series. And he can’t be that: he has to be Boston’s best player, by far, and cause you to think—am I crazy, or is Rajon Rondo playing almost as well as Kobe Bryant?!? Suffice it to say that with Kobe guarding Rondo, this won’t happen—Kobe’s defense is great on-ball, but bad off-ball (another reason why Kobe on Jesus Shuttlesworth would be a bad idea. Speaking of Jesus, he needs to be smoking Derek Fisher for the Celtics to have a chance.)
If you watched the game, you’re probably aware of and more importantly sick of the Phil Jackson Game 1 streak: if Phil Jackson wins the first game of a series, HE WINS. Which is a little bit of a goofy stat—tangent: people who hate on people who use and rely on stats to explain have to realize that we don’t think these stats are particularly useful either--but I suspect will be extended this year: the fundamentals of the series favor the Lakers. (Just watch: Boston wins on Sunday and I look like an idiot. Second tangent: why the hell is the second game taking place on Sunday? Saturday, my friends, Saturday.)