The Celtics and Lakers are two teams that are playing to their full potential right now. They owe most of that success to the starters. So it follows logically that the match-up of starters would likely determine the outcome of the series. However, it would appear at least on paper that these two teams match up rather evenly up top.
Consider this analysis by fellow SBN blogger Chris Clark (no relation) of the Lakers blog Silver Screen & Roll:
Here's how they match-up: Evenly. Seriously, what kind of advantage can possibly exist? The Lakers usually win with overwhelming size, but the Celtics have the front line to match. Kendrick Perkins vs. (limited) Andrew Bynum? Pau Gasol vs. Kevin Garnett? Lamar Odom vs. Rasheed Wallace/Big Baby? Might as well put two 5 pound weights on a see saw and watch which way it tips. Paul Pierce vs. Ron Artest? Clearly Pierce is the greater offensive threat, but Artest is also the greater defensive force. Kobe vs. Ray Allen? Clear advantage Lakers, but anymore clear than Rajon Rondo vs. Derek Fisher is in the other direction?
Obviously "on paper" doesn't mean much when the teams actually step on the court. Odd things happen when you actually play the games. But you have to admit, many of these match-ups would seem to cancel each other out in the end.
So it is very possible that this series could come down to the play of the benches. Consider the 2008 Finals where we got a 20 point performance from Leon Powe. We also got some key shots from Eddie House and a lot of good defense from James Posey, PJ Brown, and Tony Allen.
So who do we need to step up from the Celtics to add another banner to the rafters? (continued after the jump)
This bench has a different look about them but we'll need a lot of the same from them. Big Baby has a knack for stepping up in the biggest games of his life and he's more than capable of the occasional 20 point outburst. He'll have to do it against a very long frontline but if he can stay aggressive and pick his spots he can take advantage of his low center of gravity to carve out some space for rebounds and loose balls. Justin Poulin of Celtics Stuff Live likes to call him the "Fat Anderson Varajeao," and for good reason. He makes his money on effort and hustle plays and that gets on opposing players' nerves. We'll need that this series.
This is oversimplifying, but Rasheed Wallace is essentially the frontcourt version of James Posey. He's going to be counted on for his defense and occasional outside shooting. If he can post up and get some of their bigs into foul trouble, even better. He's already proven us all wrong for doubting his ability to flip the switch for the postseason. Now is his chance to prove it to shine on the biggest stage. At his best he could give Bynum and Gasol fits while giving Perkins and Garnett a breather. Don't forget also that Perkins is one angry glare away from suspension. So Sheed might end up being thrown into a starters role at some point.
Nate Robinson finally won that game that Doc was promising us he would win for us. It couldn't have come at a better time. Nate is streaky at best and unreliable at worst, so it helps that he had a game to remind everyone (including the coaching staff) that he could be a weapon. Clearly we'll ride the Rondo train as far as it will take us, but if he gets winded or hurt, we might need that KryptoNate spark off the bench.
That would be a lot of help because I'd like to keep Tony Allen fresh to come in and help guard Kobe Bryant. As unlikely as this might have seemed a year ago, Tony might be our most important sub. He's still got his "bad Tony" moments from time to time, but for the most part he's earned the extra playing time he's gotten with solid play and smart decisions. He's finally focused on being a defender and penetrating guard, so he's reaping the rewards of accentuating his positives. Nobody is expecting him to "stop" Kobe, but if he is enough of a pest to make him work for it on both ends of the floor, then he'll be a major factor.
We're going to need these guys to show up and contribute in these Finals. You can't count on them every night (otherwise they'd likely be starters somewhere) but on any given game each one of them could be the weight that tips the scales in our favor.