Sunday, June 1, 2008

Lakers & Celtics to battle for NBA Supremecy

On Thursday night, Kobe Bryant stood on centre court at Staples Centre, his arms raised in the air, his fists clenched. Though his stance was a triumphant one, his facial expression told a slightly different story and somewhat betrayed that stance. Yes, he looked content and seemed happy, but his eyes remained focused & steely, suggesting that while he was satisfied with his team’s progress to that point, he hadn’t lost sight of the fact that the job wasn’t complete.
Kobe’s team, the LA Lakers, had just defeated the San Antonio Spurs 100-92, and eliminated them from the playoffs, 4 games to 1. The reward for LA now is a trip to the NBA finals for the first time in four years, while San Antonio once again fails in their bid to repeat as NBA Champions.
In game one of this series, San Antonio led LA by 20 points at one stage before losing. It was a similar story in game five as they were unable to convert a large lead into a win. This time, the Spurs were up by as many as 17 in the first half, before the Lakers mounted their comeback. LA did most of the hard work to erase that deficit in quarters two and three and entered the final period and leading by one, 64-63. The Lakers then looked to their leader, Kobe, to guide them home and he responded by scoring 17 of his team high 39 points in the fourth quarter to shut the door on the Spurs for good.
Bryant received good support from Pau Gasol (12pts, 19rebs) & Lamar Odom (13pts, 8rebs) and bench players Sasha Vujacic and Jordan Farmer also continued their good series form.
San Antonio was led by Tim Duncan who had a triple double with 19pts, 15rebs & 10 asts and Tony Parker who had 23 points. It looked as though the Spurs grueling seven game conference semi finals series with the New Orleans Hornets might have taken its toll as San Antonio looked worn out at times during this series with the Lakers. After the game, Spurs coach Gregg Popovich was quick to dispel age being an excuse for the loss or that his team was perhaps on the decline, pointing out that they have always made changes in the off season whether they’ve won or not and this summer figures to be no different.

The Boston Celtics booked their place in the finals by winning game six of their Eastern Conference series against the Detroit Pistons, 89-81, in Detroit and won the series four games to two.
Paul Pierce led Boston with 27 points & 8 rebounds and was ably supported by Kevin Garnett 16pts, 6 rebs and Ray Allen, 17pts & 6rebs.
For Detroit, Chauncy Billups had 29 points, 6 rebounds and 6 assists but the Pistons will be disappointed to have lost this game after they blew a 10 point lead in the fourth quarter. For the third straight season, Detroit has been eliminated from the playoffs at the Conference Finals stage.
Boston, who had been struggling on the road in the playoffs prior to this series, won two of the three games played in Detroit. The Celtics did lose on their home court for the first time in the playoffs when they dropped game two of the series, but from there, they regained their focus and won three of the next four games.
Detroit coach Flip Saunders, has probably coached the Pistons for the last time. Once again, he appeared to run out of ideas in the playoffs, as has been the criticism of him in the past. In his three seasons as Detroit’s head coach, he has guided the team to more than 50 wins during each regular season, however he inherited a very good team but has proved to be inept and unable to even once take the talented squad to the NBA finals.
The match up now between LA and Boston promises to be a classic.
The leagues most potent & versatile offensive weapon versus the leagues toughest defense.
The Lakers are a young team whose undisputed leader is of course Kobe Bryant. As MVP of the league this year, Kobe has led the Lakers back to the finals for the first time since the team traded away Shaquille O’Neal.
It’s been quite a transformation for Kobe and the Lakers this season. Sick of not contending for the championship, Kobe demanded to be traded to a team with ambitions which matched his own. He’d grumbled about the lack of talent surrounding him in the past, but this time he was for real.
Lakers management took Kobe seriously this time and it took them a while, but in January, they made a trade which finally added some quality talent to support Bryant. The Lakers grabbed Pau Gasol from the Memphis Grizzlies for not much in return. When Gasol joined the Lakers, the team almost immediately became the bookies favorites to win the Western Conference.
Gasol has given the Lakers a big man who is a genuine offensive threat and a reliable defender, taking much of the big-man defensive heat off Lamar Odom. Odom is more a combination forward but often had to guard opposing teams’ centers, and was outplayed. Gasol also arrived just in time to help soften the blow from when the Lakers lost promising big man Andrew Bynum to a nasty knee injury in January of this year.
The Lakers are a team with a good mix of youth and experience and a deep, talented bench. Sasha Vujacic, Luke Walton and Jordan Farmar have the confidence of the coaching staff and have each played an important role off the bench in helping to return the Lakers to the NBA finals. Vujacic especially has become a reliable shooter and a surprisingly good defender.

After enduring a horrid 2006-07 season, Celtics GM, Danny Ainge and the Boston Celtics brains trust acted swiftly in trying to return the Celtics to become a winning franchise again. The Celtics gambled away a large chunk of their future for a shot at the title immediately.
Ainge did at least back up his large wager with some of the best talent in the NBA. He traded away almost everybody on that current Celtics roster and some future draft picks for Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen. Those two had won many individual accolades between them throughout their careers, but neither had tasted the ultimate team success.
In addition to Paul Pierce, the Celtics now boasted a team with All-Stars and Olympians but no NBA champions. Ainge then knew, by signing Allen & Garnett, it would be easier for him to entice other veteran role players who would be interested in sacrificing bigger dollars elsewhere for a legitimate shot at the NBA crown.
Ainge added James Posey, who had won the title in 2006 with the Miami Heat and journeyman sharp shooter Eddie House. Both players had bounced around the league with several different teams but they were veterans entering the twilights' of the careers and would want to join a team ready to win.
The gamble has paid off so far for Boston. This season, they had the leagues best record at 66-16. Anchored by Kevin Garnett, they also had the leagues stingiest defense. They have shooters and scorers and can be a nightmare to match up against.
The Celtics were brought together by a 'win now - pay later' mentality. Anything less than the championship will likely be considered a failure.
They started off these playoffs slowly and showed vulnerability on the road. They couldn’t beat Atlanta or Cleveland on the road, but by winning two out of three games in Detroit, it appears as though they might have worked out their road blues just in time.
The last time these two teams met in the finals was 1987, and the Lakers won 4-2. In an year when two of our favorite action hero's are making their return to the screen after an almost 20 year absence in Indiana Jones and Rambo, it seems only fitting that the Los Angeles Lakers and arch rival Boston Celtics are to decide this seasons’ NBA champion.
Kobe has been waiting for this opportunity for four long years. He is focused and determined. Boston are undoubtedly worthy opponents, but this is Kobe’s year……LA in 6.

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