There’s not much that’s more heart-wrenching than a post-game embrace shared by Phoenix Suns coach Alvin Gentry and a teary-eyed Steve Nash. It was an inspired effort from the 36-year-old point guard for a team that wasn’t supposed to go anywhere but almost managed to uproot last year’s champions.
You have to give the Lakers some credit, though. They beat the Suns in six games after finally managing to figure out the Suns’ somehow-befuddling zone, and Phil Jackson even managed to get Sasha Vujacic some minutes in the process.
Little did one of the best coaches of all-time know that his Slovenian bench rider would nearly blow the clinching game for the Lakers after elbowing his national companion in the face, invigorating a slumping Suns team in the fourth quarter.
At any rate, the Lakers will be in the finals for the third consecutive season against the Boston Celtics, who surprised everyone so much that experts began to question whether the players dogged it during the regular season before turning it on during the playoffs.
It won’t be such an easy matchup for the defending champs. After looking foolish against a rag-tag zone defense in the Western Conference Finals, in which Pau Gasol’s numbers were down and Andrew Bynum was a nonfactor, they won’t get off so easy. Boston boasts one of the most ferocious powerful front lines in the NBA, going four deep in the post.
The same quartet that stymied Dwight Howard’s offense in the Eastern Conference finals will be motivated to stop the Lakers and may very well do an excellent job. The most evident concern in that regard is the status of Kendrick Perkins, Boston’s starting center. In Game 5 against the Magic, Perkins incurred two technical fouls, running his total to seven for the playoffs. After the game, one was rescinded, so his sum stands at six going into the finals. That said, if he does pick up a seventh, he will be suspended a game. His absence takes a lot of toughness out of the front court for the Celtics.
Moving to the perimeter, it’s basically a one-man show for the Lakers. Derek Fisher and Ron Artest have their moments, but they also have their moments (e.g., Artest’s constant wide-open bricks from three-point range). Kobe Bryant, if his jump shot is on, will run rampant. Ray Allen can’t guard him. Paul Pierce can’t guard him. The only perimeter player who really can is Tony Allen, and he doesn’t play that many minutes, especially against opponents’ first units.
On the other side, Allen will drain Kobe’s energy as he scrambles around looking for the open three-point shot. Pierce’s low-post game will be largely negated by Artest’s strength and post defense, so he will continue to rely on his improved three-point shooting in this series.
Then there’s Rajon Rondo. If we say that Fisher had no chance to guard Nash, his chances of guarding Rondo are, well, negative. Rondo is much too quick for Fisher to keep up with him, so he has to be active on the offensive end at the Lakers’ weak point.
Each team has its respective wildcard in this series. For the Celtics, it’s definitely Nate Robinson. Now in Doc Rivers’s good graces after some solid play against Orlando, he will make his way into the rotation in relief of Rondo. His perimeter shooting is always a threat, and his athleticism will be a factor on the defensive end.
For the Lakers, it’s Lamar Odom. He’ll see his share of minutes against the Celtics’ second unit in the post of Rasheed Wallace and Glen Davis. Most of the time, he should draw Davis as the assignment. Fortunately for Odom, he has the mobility, height, and shooting advantage over the Ticket Stub. He needs to take advantage of that and put up some points while Gasol is on the bench.