The Boston Celtics take on the Los Angeles Lakers. The last time these two teams met, it was for all the marbles in Game 7 of the NBA Finals. That game saw the Lakers have a horrible shooting output, but end up stealing the victory with their free throw opportunities in the fourth quarter of the game on their way to an 83-79 victory, leaving the Celtics in shock. The rematch, takes place this Sunday, at the Staples Center where you know for a fact the Celtics will remember the last time they were there in that visitor’s locker room.
The Celtics are coming off a horrible performance in Phoenix losing to the Suns 88-71. The game had no good results as Rajon Rondo struggled, as did the rest of the team. It was described perfectly as the “Boston T Party” as well, as both Doc Rivers and Kevin Garnett were tossed from the game by referee Steve Javie. The team found a late spark though, as they found some aggression that the team could clearly use in Los Angeles as the team should just let go of this game overall, as it was the second game of a back-to-back (the team was also reported to arrive in Phoenix at 4 AM) so it was doomed to be sluggish. Glen Davis came out of the game with a strained hamstring as well, with no real word on his status.
The Lakers are also coming off a tough loss to an inferior team. After having three days off, and playing at home, the Lakers dropped their game to the lowly Sacramento Kings 100-95. The Lakers were down double digits early in the second half, and came back to within three before the game was decided and the Kings stole one in Los Angeles. One analyst said it perfectly, had they Lakers played against a better team, the score would have been way more lopsided. There really is no excuse for the Lakers loss either as they had time to prepare and had the home crowd as well, so the only explanation would be that the Lakers were looking forward to the Celtics game this Sunday.
The matchup between these two teams is usually an epic battle as they are two different teams. The Celtics rely on their team effort of distributing the ball around, and getting easy looks, while the Lakers rely on getting the ball to Kobe Bryant or Pau Gasol and working their offense around their primary scorers. The Celtics have added a lot of size at the center position as well, with the addition of Shaquille O’Neal and the rookie Semih Erden who can contribute at any point in the game, and with the return of Kendrick Perkins the Celtics can now go up against better front courts without having to worry about the lack of size. The Lakers have their twin towers in Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum who have worked well as a tandem in the paint, but besides those two players the Lakers do not have a ton of size in the paint as their back up post players are Lamar Odom, and Theo Ratliff (who is still out with an injury). Due to the lack of depth in the front court, the Lakers have had to play Pau Gasol a lot more than they would like to. Another key matchup is the battle between Pau Gasol and Kevin Garnett as these two have been going at it for the past few years since the Big Three were brought together. Whoever can get the better of the other could possibly help their team in a dramatic way.
Garnett emphasizes defense, and if he could limit Gasol’s points, he could greatly help the Celtics. With Gasol, the Lakers have their second primary scorer behind Kobe Bryant, so when Gasol struggles, it makes the burden on Bryant bigger as he needs to put up more shots to carry the load. The same goes for the Celtics, because if they can’t get Garnett going, then the team loses their post presence therefore making it more difficult to score in the paint against the Lakers. Both the Lakers and Celtics will make it a priority to get inside, and create a post presence early in the game, if one team can gain the advantage, it could be a long game for the opposition.
DEFENSE… it gets preached constantly to pro players. How these two teams play it though can be the difference maker, on Sunday. Boston is known for its stubborn defense, holding opponents to just under 92 points a game, while the Lakers have had an up and down season defensively. Most recently, Jerry West even called out the Lakers saying that their defense has suffered mainly due to the aging roster as a majority of the team is older the age of 30. Both defensives have tough task though, as each team can beat you in so many ways.
The Lakers have Ron Artest, who is known primarily for his defense. His matchup on Sunday is to cover Paul Pierce, who for the Celtics is what Kobe is to the Lakers. If Pierce has a bad outing, it causes the supporting cast to pick up the scoring, to keep up if the game turns into an offensive out burst. When Pierce has a good game, the rest of the team can play their games, and not try to force anything.
The Celtics have a tougher challenge in trying to contain Kobe Bryant, who even at the age of 32 is still getting it done for his team. While Bryant has gotten older, his game is still the same. He can take over the game at any point, and can bring his team back into the game just as well as he can take them out of it sometimes. Ray Allen did a good job of defending Bryant in Game 7, and if he can even impede Bryant the slightest bit, the game could flow easier for the Celtics. Defense is the answer though, because these two teams will not run up and down the whole game as their players have aged. Whoever can shut down the half court offense better, will win this game… unless the zebras start to take over, but that hopefully won’t happen.
The benches for these two teams will play a large role this game as well, as starters for both teams have played less as of late to keep their aging starters fresh. While the two benches are missing some players, they can not have any excuses come Sunday.
The Celtics have their bench filled with role players who fit their scheme well in Nate Robinson (who has been struggling tremendously as of late), Marquis Daniels, Glen Davis (who may not play), Semih Erden, Von Wafer, and for the moment, Kendrick Perkins. These role players do a good job of playing to the system, and although the bench usually has a starter out there with them, they could provide a spark if the starters come out slow. While Davis may not play, the bench is already missing Delonte West, and Jermaine O’Neal who could have caused even more matchup nightmares.
The Los Angeles Lakers bench isn’t the healthiest either. At the moment, the bench consists of Steve Blake, Shannon Brown, Luke Walton, Lamar Odom, and usually a starter rotating in with them. The team is missing forward Matt Barnes who is recovering from a knee injury, and Theo Ratliff who is also recovering from a knee injury. With these two missing, it causes the Lakers to force a starter into more playing time, which therefore causes a hamper on the rotations they would like to use. While both benches are banged up, the matchups are just as even, and could end up providing for some epic defensive struggles.
The Celtics have two players that matchup well though, in Rajon Rondo and Ray Allen. If Rondo were to get his game going and dish out assists and score like he is use to doing, the game could get even better. With Ray Allen, if his shots start to fall, then it could be a long game defensively for the Lakers as their primary defenders are Kobe Bryant and Ron Artest, and the odd man out would have to guard one of these difference makers. No disrespect to Derek Fisher, but he can not keep up with either Rondo or Allen as they are both constantly on the move. The Lakers have to keep tabs defensively, otherwise they may end up getting burned.
Hopefully the game stays between the players, and not the men in uniform. The referees as of late have been causing some problems in the NBA with most recently Steve Javie tossing both Doc Rivers and KG from the game in Phoenix. Most referees have been good about dishing out technicals this season, but with the added tension between these two teams, you have to think the referees will want to keep the game as clean as possible. If the referees try to take control of the game, it could turn into a one-sided affair, but if the referees let them play, then it could be enjoyable for all.
The Celtics are fired up for their return to Los Angeles, and have revenge on their mind. The last time they walked off this court, confetti fell from the rafters as their long time rivals came within one championship of tying their foes for the all time titles lead. Kevin Garnett wants to send a message though, as he would wear custom shoes depicting the Celtics all-time record against the Lakers… 152-120. By the end of the night, the shoes will be wrong, as the number will either be 153-120, or 152-121. Regardless of the outcome, the game is set to be a classic as these games never disappoint. The rivalry is renewed in Los Angeles, as the Celtics and Lakers square off Sunday on ABC at 3:30 Eastern Time.