***UPDATE -- I will be hosting a sports talk radio show on KSCR 1560 and KSCR.org on Saturday from noon to 2 PM. I will host the show every Saturday throughout the summer. This week, the NBA Finals will be the main topic of conversation.***
The Boston Celtics showed this is going to be a tight series, winning Game 1 of the NBA Finals 98-88 over the Lakers. Here are a few observations for the game:
--These two teams are more evenly matched than I realized. Both teams' "Big 3" are equally formidable and they match up well against each other.
--The Celtics are a fantastic defensive team. We knew this going in, as Boston was rated as the best defensive team in the NBA. But I guess we discounted this fact too much, perhaps because they played in the East. With the exception of a few well-executed pick-and-rolls in the middle of the game, the Lakers never seemed to get into an offensive rhythm. LA's 88 points was its second-lowest in the playoffs this year, and a far cry from the 110+ point games that we saw against Denver and Utah.
--Boston completely took Kobe Bryant out of the game. I don't think Bryant was a selfish player at all. He had six assists and seemed to be trying to work his teammates in regularly. But he shot 9-for-26 from the field, and it seemed like he was constantly double-teamed and forced into taking horrible shots with few passing lanes in his sights. He never seemed to be able to penetrate the Celtics defense and get into the lane. Bryant only scored four points in the fourth quarter, when he was needed the most. I expect him to come out and get revenge in Game 2. Kobe isn't the type of player who can stand getting beat.
--Paul Pierce's return from his 3rd quarter sprained knee was the clear turning point in the game. The Lakers were unable to hit a few shots when Pierce was briefly in the locker room, and when Pierce returned, the momentum had clearly shifted to the home team. His two quick three pointers punctuated the change in tone. The Lakers shot 5-for-20 in the fourth quarter, and it just seemed as though every bounce when the Celtics way.
--Derek Fisher is a fantastic finals player. But if he's the Lakers No. 2 offensive option, then the team is in trouble. Lamar Odom got into foul trouble and didn't have the impact that the Lakers needed from him. Pau Gasol did play well, scoring 15 points and grabbing 8 rebounds, but the Lakers needed more out of him down the stretch. Gasol missed some key shots in the fourth quarter, and while some seemingly just went in and out, the Lakers needed those to go in.
--The Celtics bench outplayed the Lakers bench. PJ Brown got some substantial minutes off the bench and had some rebounds that reminded one of the PJ Brown from ten years ago. Sam Cassell was a nuisance for the Lakers offensively, although he did commit his own share of mistakes. James Posey did a very good job away from the ball and covering Bryant at times. Leon Powe was also somewhat effective on the boards. As for the Lakers, Jordan Farmar didn't do much. Luke Walton never seemed comfortable with the ball and I certainly didn't feel confident when he was involved in any play. And while he wasn't a bench player, Vladimir Radmanovic reverted to the absentee player that he's been known to be sometimes. Trevor Ariza didn't play at all, raising doubts about his health, fitness, and conditioning in this series.
--The Celtics out-rebounded the Lakers 46-33. The Lakers need to get tougher on the boards.
--Laker fans shouldn't be too discouraged. They've lost Game 1 of the NBA Finals before, and won the series. Remember they lost to the Sixers in Game 1 of the 2001 NBA Finals. They also lost to the Celtics in Game 1 of the 1985 NBA Finals. And heck, remember that the Miami Heat dropped both games 1 and 2 in Dallas in the 2006 NBA Finals, and went onto win the series. Phil Jackson can make the appropriate adjustments to the triangle for the Lakers to improve offensively in Game 2. Kobe will find ways to get through the Boston defense, and I expect Lamar Odom to be more of a force with the ball. This is going to be a knock-down drag-'em out series. It's going to be fun. Game 2 is Sunday night.