Since we made the mistake of waiting until the Celts clinched a trip to the second round to pick the semis -- and thus wound up making late picks on three of the four series -- just wanted to throw a few quick thoughts down on the newly set conference finals match-ups.
Western Conference: (1) LA Lakers versus (3) San Antonio Spurs
Hate 'em or otherwise, this is a very, very good Lakers team. They do a bit of everything well, and they most certainly have that closer that every great team needs (see: James, LeBron, and Sunday's version of Pierce, Paul, for details).
But there is just that something about the Spurs that makes me wary of picking against them. This team looked like it was a year too old going into the Phoenix series and then steamrolled the Suns. Spurs fans themselves were adjusting their predictions to "Hornets in 5" after two games in New Orleans, and the Spurs fought off adversity and found a way to sweep their three home games and come up big in a Game 7 in New Orleans.
I don't have the stats for you on this one. What I have is the anecdotal evidence accumulated over the years that this team simply has it. That the guys in black and silver know what it takes to get the job done just a bit more than the rest of the conference does at this point. That at least for now, they are still the defending champs, and after these last two series, it's hard to ignore that (though we'll be able to if they get around to the green, I promise).
The pick: San Antonio in 7
Eastern Conference: (1) Boston Celtics versus (2) Detroit Pistons
It's the match-up we've waited for all year in the East, and if you thought the semis with Cleveland were grueling, this could be the sort of basketball that does an even better job of earning that title for itself.
The match-ups with this Detroit team are scary for the Celts. There is legitimate fear that Chauncey Billups could really be too much for Rajon Rondo, and the question has been asked time and time again on this site about how Ray Allen will be able to hang with Rip Hamilton if Wally Szczerbiak caused him so many problems all over the court against Cleveland. Further, Rasheed Wallace matches up physically with KG as well as anybody in the league, and if his head is in the game, he could certainly be a problem.
But these Celtics have earned their way here, too. Despite a host of troubles -- particularly on the road -- the C's have repeatedly come up big when it matters most, and they have shown that they are a true team, getting big contributions from different players up and down the roster. The Celts have yet to have everyone clicking offensively in these playoffs, and if they can even head in that direction, they will have more firepower than the Pistons do. The C's were also the league's most efficient defensive team and have this series' most dynamic defensive player, and they can hang right there with Detroit in that department.
We could go on here, but Jeff's done quite a bit on the front page, and really, when you get right down to it, there's only one way I'm going on this one...
The pick: Boston in 7