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NBA Finals Preview: Seven Things To Keep An Eye On

The NBA Finals are almost upon us.  While very few people (myself included) expected to see a Boston Celtics-LA Lakers Final for the second time in three years, I haven’t heard many people groaning about it.  The rivalry between these two teams is unquestionably one of the most exciting in professional sports.  The players don’t seem to like each other.  The fans certainly don’t like each other.  Celtic fans see Jack Nicholson sitting court-side and view him not as an incredible actor, but an obnoxious Laker fan.  Laker fans see Donnie Wahlberg court-side and still don’t know who he is.  LA wants revenge and the Big Three are facing their last real shot at a title.  It should be fun to watch. 

With all the buzz surrounding the series, there are plenty of story lines and themes to keep tabs on going forward.  I’ve come up with a little list of what I think are the most important.  Feel free to chime in if you think I missed something.

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LA Times Goes Too Far, Pokes Fun at Paul Pierce for Being Stabbed

There’s nothing wrong with hating a team or a team’s players.  Laker fans have grown to despise Celtic fans over the years and vice-versa.  That will happen when two teams face each other in the NBA Finals 12 times in 40 years.  For the most part, the hatred that accompanies a rivalry like this one brings fun and excitement to the game.  However, an LA Times blog post that was published briefly on Monday morning represented an example of how even writers can get caught up in a heated rivalry and forget that at the end of the day it’s just a game.

LA Times columnist Ted Green got completely carried away in a blog post he wrote on Monday morning.  In his thorough compilation of reasons to hate the Celtics, Green slipped in a comment that poked fun at Paul Pierce for having been stabbed at a night club back in 2000.  Here is what Green said about Pierce, courtesy of The Big Lead:

“By the way, Pierce’s idea of a fun night is going clubbing and getting stabbed. Good times!”

I don’t know if Ted Green forgot his morning coffee or what, but I can’t figure out how he would think that publishing a comment like that is appropriate or funny in any way.  Even if he thinks it’s funny — and that would be pretty disturbing — you’d think he’d have enough common sense to realize that he’s taking things too far by saying something like that. The LA Times certainly realized it was out of line; they edited that line out of the article.  There are plenty of things to make fun of the Celtics’ captain for, and Green hit on a couple when he criticized Pierce for taking flops and being a drama queen.  He could have even taken a shot at his arrogance, which was on display two years ago when he claimed to be the best player in the world.

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Lakers Have a Good Game Plan for Celtics: Revenge

No one likes to lose. There isn’t a feeling that is quite as horrible as losing. You can’t forget losing — it stays with you. You wait for that chance to get your revenge and do everything in your power to make that happen. Well, the basketball gods have heard the wishes of Kobe Bryant and the Los Angeles Lakers — they are going to get their chance at revenge against the Boston Celtics in the NBA Finals.

The last time the Lakers and Celtics met in the NBA Finals was two years ago. Celtics fans made it hard for the Lakers to forget that they had lost. As the team sat on its bus, Celtics fans started shaking it and throwing rocks at it. There’s no question the rowdy Celtics fans are on the minds of the Lakers — just look at what Lamar Odom said:

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This Magic Johnson Guy Might Know a Thing or Two

Teams who trail 0-3 after the first three games in an NBA playoff series have still won the series 0% of the time.  When the Boston Celtics put a beating on the Orlando Magic Friday night in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Finals — securing their spot in the NBA Finals for the second time in three seasons — Orlando became the 94th team to go on to lose a series after losing the first three games, making teams 0-for-94 in NBA history in a seven-game series.

The Celtics success in dominating the Magic throughout Game 6 was due in large part to an enormous spark off the bench in the form of Nate Robinson.  During the regular season, after the Celtics traded with the Knicks to acquire Robinson, the player we watched last night is the one they thought they were getting.  However, Doc Rivers quickly lost faith in Robinson and it got to the point where he didn’t see the court unless Boston was either up a ton or losing by a ton.  With that in mind, who would’ve thought the three-time Slam Dunk Contest champion would provide the Celtics with 13 points off the bench in their biggest game of the season to date — all of them coming in the second quarter while Rajon Rondo watched from the sidelines with an ice pack resting on his lower back and hip area?

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Celtics Are Playing ‘No Mas’ Defense

In sports, the question is often asked after a game whether one team won it or the other team lost it. The negative viewpoint through which we see the world often leads us to point out flaws and say teams lost games more frequently than they win them. Because there’s no right or wrong answer to this question, I’ve coined the term “sportadox” to explain the puzzling nature of the issue. This weeks sportadox concerns the Boston Celtics.

The Celtics knocked the Cavaliers out of the playoffs in six games, frustrating them to the point that the fans booed the poor effort in Game 5 and I criticized them for quitting in Game 6. Much of the focus was on the ways the Cavs screwed up. Here’s a sample of what people were saying bout the Cavs: they didn’t have enough heart, they played the wrong personnel, they quit, LeBron isn’t a winner — there were tons of proposals for why the Cavs lost to the Celtics. The last explanation for most people was that the Celtics were simply a better team that played stellar defense, making the Cavs look inept and confused. This is a point Stan Van Gundy noted and lamented because it was overlooked by most of the fans and media.

A week later and it’s Van Gundy’s Magic team getting the treatment from Boston’s suffocating defense. In Game 1, Orlando struggled mightily to get to the basket and the only player they could only rely on to get decent shots was Vince Carter. In Game 2, Dwight Howard played well but the Magic couldn’t make a shot from the outside. In Game 3, Orlando was embarrassed every bit as badly as Cleveland was by the Boston Celtics. The same things that were said about the Cavs after the Eastern Conference Semis are now being said about the Magic: they don’t have any heart, they’re not playing with passion, they’re not going with the right matchups, and they’re being out-coached. Before another breath or word is wasted on criticizing the Magic and trying to discover what’s wrong, allow me to clue you in: the Boston Celtics are that much better than both the Cavs and Magic.

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One Play Sums Up Magic-Celtics Series

Often times when things are going incredibly well for one team and painfully terrible for another in a playoff series, there are one or two defining moments that we’ll look back on as a microcosm for the entire series.  When the Celtics dominated the Magic last night in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Finals to take a 3-0 lead over Orlando, Rajon Rondo provided us with one of those moments.  Check out the video of Rajon Rondo beating Jason Williams to a loose ball and laying it in, courtesy of YouTube user NBARauf:

It’s pretty rare that you can declare a basketball game over at the beginning of the second quarter, but this play was one that showed everyone which team wanted it more.  Yes, Rajon Rondo is much faster than Jason Williams.  That doesn’t excuse a lack of hustle, and after getting a three-foot head start to chase down the loose ball Williams was completely blindsided by Rondo’s speed and determination. Not only did he not hit the floor to fight for the loose ball; he didn’t even try to contest the lay-up or commit a foul to prevent the easy two.  You would think after all the buzz surrounding Paul Pierce’s twitter and his post-game comments that Orlando would at least go down with a fight if they were going to lose again.  Aside from Matt Barnes’ cheap shot on Kevin Garnett that caused his own coach to get flattened, the Magic showed no sign of life for 48 minutes.  They’re on the verge of going home and they don’t even seem to care.

Video Credit: YouTube user NBARauf

How Great is the Boston/Chicago Series?

Can we be safe and say we’d all prefer if it were a best of 15 matchup? This series has been pretty darn incredible. Except for the Boston blowout in Chicago for Game 3, this has been one of the tightest and most exciting series to watch, especially considering that it’s a first round series. Let’s just examine what’s made it so much fun:

    Five of the six games have been determined by three or less points (tying an NBA record)

    It’s the first playoff series with four overtime games (seven total OTs)

    There have been 106 lead changes over the six games and 65 ties

You can’t help but get the feeling that the games are being played at a high level and going to overtimes because guys are stepping up, not screwing up. Rondo’s been a walking triple double, Big Baby’s been great, Ray Allen’s had some studly games including a 51 point effort (and calls this the best series he’s been a part of), and Paul Pierce has been his usual consistent self. For Chicago, Joakim Noah’s been a stud on defense and the boards, Derrick Rose has been great all-around, Ben Gordon’s been Mr. Clutch, and even Brad Miller and John Salmons have had excellent games. It’s like every player on the roster is stepping up in the series.

We’ve had drama, excitement, true hate — the series is definitely developing into a rivalry. Let’s just hope they give us another show in Game 7 to follow-up the three overtime thriller in Game 6. I don’t want it to end! (Thanks KG, with you in there none of this would be possible). Will either team have anything left in the tank for Orlando next round? I don’t think so.