The 6th and final game of the NBA Finals ended sluggishly with the Boston Celtics' 39 point thrashing of the Los Angeles Lakers Tuesday night in Boston. I had originally planned on waiting a couple days before expressing my thoughts about the game, the series, and the season, but to my surprise, I recovered from the loss rather quickly. During the middle of the third quarter, it began to hit me that the season was over. The most tumultuous season in Lakers history was over. I had been preparing myself for this inevitable end since after Game 4. That night was far more emotionally draining than tonight.
The blowout helped. There was no doubt. The Celtics were the better team and that got me thinking. Why were the Lakers so heavily picked by the ‘experts’ to win the series? I found that the reason is the same reason why Kobe Bryant is compared to and then not compared to Michael Jordan. The reason is the same reason why Phil Jackson is the best coach ever and then needs to be fired (in the eyes of some Lakers fans)? Most fans, media, and the world are extremely short-sighted. It can be termed the bandwagon syndrome. The ‘What Have You Done For Me Lately’ disease. When people form their opinions, they very often fail to grasp all the knowledge available to make that decision. They simply form their opinion based on the latest thing that they read, saw, or heard. That was the case here. The Celtics had been taken to 7 games by the below .500 Hawks and the average Cavaliers. The Lakers had somewhat coasted to the Finals by defeating the talented Utah Jazz and the defending champ Spurs, therefore, they should be favored right? All the experts thought so. But the so-called experts failed to see the big picture. The Celtics were the NBA’s best team all season. They won 66 games. They had the NBA’s largest point differential, which ESPN’s John Hollinger has shown to be the best indicator of playoff success in the past. They are, in my opinion, the NBA’s best team since the 2002 Lakers. They were by far the NBA’s best defense throughout the season and simply put, defense wins championships. I hold firmly by my previous statement that a great offense always beats a great defense. The one problem is that a great offense is much more difficult to execute on a consistent basis than a great defense. Offense is more skill than defense. Defense is more effort than offense. When a great defensive team struggles offensively, they are able to sustain great effort on the defensive end in order to stay in a game. The opposite is not true for a great offensive team. It was nice to hear in the post-game news conference from Kobe Bryant that the Lakers need to focus more on the defensive end to win a championship. Their 2009 title run starts right there.
Another symptom of the bandwagon syndrome is the immediate need to call for wholesale changes. There are numerous threads already on the Lakers forums calling for trades acquiring other players (Artest, Redd, Iguodala, Brand) while shipping out some of the disappointments and inconsistencies from the Finals (Odom, Gasol, Radmanovic, Walton). Major changes to the Lakers roster are not necessary. They could use some minor tweaks, but the fact is that the Lakers have the #1 pick in the 2008 draft and they have selected Andrew Bynum. Bynum would be a junior coming out of college this season and he would undoubtedly be the first pick. Bynum will bring what most critics claim the Lakers lacked in this years’ playoffs: defense, toughness, and rebounding. It remains to be seen if a trio of Bynum, Odom, and Gasol can co-exist; the lack of enough three-point shooters around them could be an issue. Additionally, the Lakers are one of the NBA’s youngest teams. They will certainly improve. If each player improves even close to as much as they did last offseason, a championship is likely.
To give a quick overview of Game 6, I still love Rajon Rondo as a player. As I said earlier, he has the potential to become an NBA All-Star if he can develop a jumper. He destroyed the Lakers on both sides of the floor with his quickness and effort all over the floor. I actually thought the Lakers defense was better in this game. They made the adjustment to switch the pick-n-roll and it worked well. The problem was that the Celtics had their best shooting game and best complete defensive effort of the series. If that pick-n-roll adjustment had been made earlier in the series, the series could have turned out differently. Pau Gasol’s softness hurt the Lakers as well. He is simply not a true center; he must be dreaming about playing alongside Bynum more than anyone. Bynum will allow Gasol to play against physically weaker guys. I do not think I have ever seen Gasol sky up and grab a rebound. It always seems as if he barely gets a fingertip on it before he grabs it. His four early turnovers also hurt. But, I still believe he is an amazing fit for the triangle offense and now that his flaws have been exposed on a grand stage, he has an immense amount of room to still improve. He also has the hardest working man in the game pushing him to strive to get better. I have further things to say about Kobe and his performance this season but I am saving that material for a future article. One other thing you have to remember is that this Lakers team has only been together for a few months. The Celtics team was established before training camp and they have had far more time to mesh as a team. Lastly, the season was far from a disappointment. When the Lakers first acquired Pau Gasol, fans were arguing about whether or not the Lakers could win the title once Andrew Bynum returned. Well, Bynum never returned and the Lakers still came within two games of a championship.
120 days until 2008-2009 NBA Training Camp, let’s go!
Before that occurs, it is time for American Basketball to move onto the Olympics. The squad went undefeated last year at FIBA Americas and they hope to continue that streak onto the USA’s first gold medal since 2000. I will give a preview of the team after the final 12 man squad is announced Monday. I will say one thing though, they will win Gold. The team is not only stacked but they have a new-found commitment to defense and defense wins gold medals too.