The NBA’s 2010 Final Four: Superstars vs. Balanced Attacks

On Thursday, May 13, I watched the Boston Celtics eliminate the Cleveland Cavaliers. Then I watched it again.

While the basketball world buzzed about LeBron James, free agency, the Cavaliers’ let down, and the future of head Cleveland’s head coach Mike Brown… I wondered, “Why isn’t anyone talking about Boston?”

Blame Cleveland for collapsing if you want, but from what I saw, Boston is back.

The Celtics injuries may have caused the world to sleep on them.

It reminds me of the 2001-2002 NBA season when everyone thought it was the Sacramento Kings year. The Kings had the best record in the NBA (61-21), and many people counted the Lakers out of the championship race. However, in the regular season Shaq missed 8 games, Kobe missed 14 games, Horace Grant missed 5, and starting point guard Ron Harper missed 47 games to injuries, so most didn’t understand how good the Lakers would be come playoff time when everyone was healthy again.

I wrote it elsewhere, but didn’t post it here because I wanted my Carlos Boozer article to stay on top longer, but Boston looks good enough to be NBA champions again. In fact, any of the NBA’s final four, the Magic, the Celtics, the Lakers or the Suns, have a legitimate chance at an NBA championship.

And since defense wins championships, I really like the East’s chances.

Here are the 2010 playoffs defensive rankings for the NBA’s final four teams:

(1) Orlando Magic
(2) Boston Celtics
(6) Phoenix Suns
(8) Los Angeles Lakers

One of the remarkable things about the NBA’s Final Four this year, is both the East and the West feature match ups between

(1) a team with a dominate player surrounded by a “supporting cast,” (Dwight Howard, Kobe Bryant) and

(2) a team with solid players all around, including the bench.

Boston’s balanced approach, especially on defense and including the play of their reliable bench, dispatched the NBA’s Unanimous MVP, Le Bron James with his supporting cast.

And Sunday dominate big man Dwight Howard and his supporting cast went from undefeated in the playoffs, to losing their home court advantage as they fell to another team effort by the Celtics.

If the Celtics can bring down LeBron and his “supporting cast,” and can likewise bring down Dwight Howard and his “supporting cast,” who is to say Kobe and his “supporting cast” would prevail?

That’s if the Lakers survive the Phoenix Suns, who, like the Celtics, are peaking in the playoffs, but that’s the subject of another blog.

What should be interesting for analysts and fans to watch is how teams built with differing philosophies fare.

In the Eastern Conference…

Orlando was built to support superstar Dwight Howard. Howard has been surrounded with outside shooters. If you double on Dwight, the shooters kill you. If you shut down the supporting cast, Dwight Howard goes nuts. With Orlando it is “pick your poison.”

By contrast, Boston has a deep bench, even ball distribution, and solid players all over the floor makes Boston a bit hard to stop — but its Boston’s defense that makes the Celtics so hard to outscore. Rondo, in my opinion is the best point guard in the NBA right now because he is so effective on both sides of the court. With Boston it is “everyone is poison.”

Nash and Bryant

In the Western Conference…

The Lakers theoretically have two threats: Kobe Bryant and Pao Gasol, but in reality the Lakers struggle to get Gasol adequate shots. Gasol gets 12.6 shots per 36 minutes of playing time. For perspective, Jordan Farmar shoots 12.6 shots per 36 minutes as well, and Shannon Brown shoots 12.5. When you take into consideration Kobe Bryant’s 20 shots per 36 minutes, you can see the the Lakers really don’t take advantage of their oft touted size advantage. This is still Kobe’s team.

By contrast, the Suns have SIX PLAYERS who get more shots per 36 minutes than Pao Gasol!

Also, the Suns defensive rating for the playoffs is better than the Lakers, and the Suns have a bench that shows up to every game. That means the Suns could give the Lakers more of a fight that many people think.

Regardless, the playoffs from this point on promise to be fascinating, and I’m looking forward to each and every game.

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