Everyone seems to be picking the Lakers to win this series, including the (no longer Boston) Sports Guy. I can see the reasoning. It actually makes sense from a certain point of view. The Lakers have the best offensive player in the game, a Hall of Fame coach, and a prolific offense that is hitting on all cylinders right now. They had an easier time getting to the Finals and just dispatched the reining champs in just 5 games. On the flipside, the Celtics needed 7 games in each of the first two rounds and 6 to get past the Pistons. In a world of "what have you done for me lately," the Lakers are the fashionable pick. I don't blame anyone for picking the Lakers, I just think they're wrong. Here's why:
Say it with me: Defense wins Championships. The Lakers have a pretty good defense and the Celtics have a pretty good offense, but that's not what will decide the series. The Lakers have perhaps the best offense and the Celtics have hands-down the best defense. The great thing about that is that defense wins. Ask Wilt how things went with Russell. Ask the Lakers how things went against the Pistons in 2004 (when they were also heavily favored). Ask LeBron how frustrated he was for much of the series against Boston. They have the MVP, we have the Defensive Player of the Year. They have Tex Winter, we have Tom Thibodeau. It is going to be a heck of a battle, but in the end, defense wins.I can see why people try to match up teams position by position, but I think there's a bit of a flaw in that. Kobe may be better than Ray, but Kobe isn't going to be single covered by Ray Allen. There are fundamental flaws in the following comparisons, but I think they work as well as anything else. Just rank the top 3 players on each team and tell me who's better.
Kobe vs. KG - Kobe won the MVP but I would still argue that KG is more valuable. Kobe can score with anyone in the league and plays pretty good defense. KG can defend anyone in the league and plays pretty good offense. Call me a homer if you like, but to me this one is a wash.
Pau vs. Paul - Not even close. Pau can score and pass in the triangle offense seemingly built for him. Wonderful. He's still pushed around on the boards and a non-factor on defense. Paul Pierce creates his own shots, gets to the line, gets teammates involved, and oh by the way, has really dedicated himself to becoming a fantastic defensive player.
Odom vs. Ray - Sure, Ray Allen has had a streaky playoffs thus far, but Odom has been streaky his whole career. Odom is just as likely to go for 8 or 7 points (as he did in games 1 & 3 vs. the Spurs) as he is to go for 26 (his post season high against the Jazz). I will give you the fact that Odom also rebounds while Ray Allen doesn't have a lot of additional stat stuffing numbers. But the way Ray spaces the court and knows how to attack a defense have to count for something. At worst I'd call this a push because of the way the playoffs have gone thus far. However, at the end of the day Ray Allen is headed to the Hall of Fame someday and when his shot is falling, there's no stopping him. Can't say the same for Odom.
Ubuntu - From day one, the Celtics have all been on the same page. Back in Italy the three stars set the tone and sacrificed self for the greater good. Some teams will pretend to be unselfish for the cameras, but few can walk the walk throughout the regular season and playoffs like the Celtics do. Ubuntu isn't just a catch phrase for this team. It is the driving force that unites them and has fueled this run to the Finals. When things didn't go well, they didn't panic. They trusted each other and went back to what has worked all year.
Compare that to where the Lakers started off the year, with Kobe demanding a trade and throwing his teammates under the bus. Please tell me when Kobe has willingly sacrificed anything for the greater good of his team. It hasn't happened. He plays by his rules and demands that you fall in line. I guess you could say that's one way to create team unity. I wonder what will happen when things aren't going so well.
Urgency: I understand that Kobe has an unyielding, driving, obsessive determination to be like Mike,... er, I mean to win Championships. Still, I don't think you can say that he burns with emotion any more than Kevin Garnett does. Now add in Paul Pierce and Ray Allen; two stars who know that their legacy hangs in the balance. They all know how precious this opportunity is. They know the window is short and you never know what next year will bring. They want this now, and I think that will be that extra edge that pushes them over the top.
Conclusion: Don't get me wrong. The Lakers are an excellent team with a lot of fantastic pieces. I fully expect to see a hard fought series where every game leaves both sides exhausted and bruised. I also fully expect to see the Celtics emerge victorious.