Why the Lakers Should Be Confident (and the Celtics Nervous)

Ignore the swank of people brandishing predictions. It’s all wishful thinking anyway. No one knows who might get injured, or who might step up for the game of his life. This series has been unpredictable and still is.

And ignore those who would have you believe the Lakers are lucky to be down 3 games to 2. The truth is, the Celtics are lucky as well.

Yes, it can be argued that the Lakers have not dominated the Celtics at home, but then again, the Celtics have not dominated the Lakers in Boston either.

With potentially 2 games left of the NBA season, here are 4 reasons for the Lakers to feel confident and the Celtics to perhaps feel a bit uneasy.

REASON 1 — The Celtics have struggled with the Lakers in Boston as well as in L.A.

Lest we forget…

Game 1:

– It was a 2 point game to start the 4th quarter.
– It was a 4 point game with 5:43 to go.
– It was a 5 point game with 1:49 to go.

With better defense and rebounding (35 to 51!), the Lakers could easily have stolen game 1.

Game 2:

– The Celtics had a 22 point lead to start the 4th quarter
– With 22 seconds left in the game, it was just a 2 point game.

Again, the Celtics barely won, despite the advantages of a HIGHLY suspect +28 free throw differential, and a 39 to 46 rebounding advantage.

Game 3:

Lakers won (by the way, for the first time, rebounds were almost even: 56 to 57).

Game 4:
– The Lakers led with 4:22 left to go.
– It was a 3 point game with 0:40 to go.

Game 5:
– Lakers won (rebounds exactly tied 51 to 51)

As you can see, this series could have easily already been won by the Lakers, had the younglings taken defense, rebounding, and ball movement seriously.

Yes, it can be argued that the Lakers have not dominated the Celtics at home, but then again, the Celtics have not dominated the Lakers in any of their victories over the Lakers, including the two in Boston.

Conclusion: Every game in any town is up for grabs.

REASON 2 — The Lakers have steadily been overcoming their deficiencies as the series progresses.

The Finals started with the Celtics overpowering the Lakers on the boards by 12 rebounds a game. Not any more. Rebounding went from a Celtics’ feast, to dead even.

The Lakers likewise improved their assists, from 20.5 per game as a team to 21.7, meaning they probably improved their ball movement.

Also, the Celtics used to own the Lakers in the 3rd quarter, to the tune of +10.8 points per game in games 1 through 4,. Not any more. The Celtics were -6 in game 5. That is a 16.8 point improvement for the Lakers’ 3rd quarter performance.

With 2:35 left in the disastrous 2nd quarter, Jordan Farmar launched an air ball 3-pointer, the Celtics got the long rebound, and 8 seconds later, Ray Allen buried a 3-pointer. The Lakers brought the ball down court, and struggled against the Celtics defense until Kobe broke them down with dribble penetration. Then with just a few seconds on the shot clock, Bryant passed the ball to Farmar at the arc, where Farmar had just shot an airball seconds earlier. Farmar had to shoot and Kobe knew it, but Kobe trusted Farmar and Farmar buried the 3-pointer as the shot clock expired. You could almost see Farmar’s confidence grow, and he became more productive and was on the floor to finish the game for the Lakers.

The Lakers are evolving. Whether it is rebounding, ball movement, 3rd quarter performance or teamwork, they’re improving.

By contrast, the Celtics are diminishing by attrition. Key players are out or hobbled. The longer the series goes, the more you have to believe the Lakers have the advantage.

The key to power is growth. A growing root can split a rock.

REASON 3 — Clutch plays at clutch time.

Celtics coach, Doc Rivers, calls on his players to not take hero shots. In game 5, they may have taken a good thing too far.

Garnett had a chance to tie the game in the critical closing moments, but missed back to back free throws. Pierce had two critical turnovers in clutch time.

When the chips are down, the Celtics are not making the big plays you need to in order to close out close games.

By contrast, the Lakers have the best closer in basketball, even if he’s been struggling. If game 6 or game 7 is close, the Lakers probably have an advantage.

REASON 4 — The Bigger They Are …

The Boston Celtics are the best team money can buy. They had the best record in the regular season. They have the best defense in the NBA. They hold the record for the biggest turnaround in the history of the NBA. They swept the Lakers in the regular season. The Celtics have 3 all stars who are probable hall of famers. They have an assistant coach, Tom Thibideau, who is a defense guru and the mastermind of the best defense in the NBA. They have a veteran bench that has outplayed the Lakers’ bench all series.

The Lakers have their starting center out for the season, their backup center’s been out for 2 seasons, and their power forward is now playing center. Their key players, Bryant and Gasol, hadn’t even played together for half the season prior to the playoffs. The Lakers defense ranked 19th in the NBA, meaning it’s closer to the bottom than to the top. They have just 1 all star.

The Celtics are the better team, and commentators Marc Jackson and Jeff Van Gundy said so during game 5.

So why can’t the mighty Celtics close out these upstart Lakers then?

The more you think about it, the more amazing it is.

The Celtics are a brilliant defensive team.

Just ask LeBron James. In his first 5 games against the Celtics, LeBron James shot 31%. LeBron also averaged 5.4 turnovers a game. Were it not for LeBron’s 11.2 free throws per game, he would barely be found in the scoring column. 🙂

Likewise, Kobe has been hampered by the Celtic wall.

In the 1st 3 rounds of the playoffs, Kobe shot 51%. However, against Boston’s defense, Kobe has shot 42.2%. Defensively, the Celtics are doing something right.

In fact, the Lakers abandoned the triangle altogether late in the game, game 5. With Kobe and the ball at the top and the floor completely spread, the Lakers simply dribbled down the shot clock and then attacked the rim, improvising shots then fighting hard for rebounds.

The Lakers bench has been a serious disappointment in the Finals. Ronny Turiaf has more fouls than points, and only 3 rebounds in 5 Finals games. In game 5, Chris Mihm had 0 points, 0 rebounds, 1 turnover and 2 fouls in just 2:46. Luke Walton had 5 fouls in 10 minutes, two of them being very dumb fouls in the 4th quarter which put the Celtics in the penalty early.

“We’d like to have our bench give us a better bump,” Jackson said. “Right now their bench is playing a little bit better than ours is. We’ve got some guys performing off the bench but not the unit.”

When you consider all this, there is no WAY the Finals should still be going, yet not only have the Celtics not been able to close out the pesky Lakers, but the Lakers have had a chance to win all the games they’ve lost. Even in Boston.

No, the Lakers are not in a great position. They are facing elimination, down 3 games to 2, and playing the final 2 games in the heart of hostile territory.

But then again, the Lakers have been at a SEVERE disadvantage the entire series, and yet they are still here!

Seriously, this series is still up for grabs. The only prediction I would listen to is the guess that from here on out, the games will probably be ugly and hard fought, as these two weary, battled-tested conference champions attempt to impose their will on the other.

So please, ignore the blathering fan-prattle and pompous prognostications. This series has not been decided either way, neither is it the low-ratings sweep the Spurs had over the Cavs. This is hoops drama at its highest: this is another chapter of the most storied rivalry in basketball. Both teams have earned respect, and it’s time we all gave it.

Leave a Reply