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2011 NBA Finals Primer

The face-off between the Dallas Mavericks and Miami Heat take on a new meaning when you begin to break down their contrast, similarities and other pertinent statistics. Of course, all these figure are only as good as they are on paper. When they take on each other on Wednesday, none of these stats would matter anymore. Nonetheless, it helps to paint for us a picture of what to expect when the Finals officially tip off in Miami.

Let’s take a look first at their intangible factors coming into the Finals, after which we will tackle their statistical factors:

Hunger

As far as tasting the championship is concerned, it has to be Dallas. They still have yet to exorcise the ghost of their epic meltdown in Game 3 of their 2006 match, which eventually opened up the door for the Heat to win the championship. Since then, the Mavs have not lost to Heat in any of their regular season match-ups in the last five years. That’s a considerable 10-0 streak for Dallas over Miami. But their square-off in the NBA’s grandest stage makes that figure insignificant, as far as their chances of winning in the series are concerned. Still, it tells a lot about Dallas’ hunger to finally win it all. Advantage: Dallas

Talent

Dallas’ system is built on a solid core of veteran starters. They’ve got one of the most serious offensive threats in Dirk Nowitzki, surrounded by a host of skilled offensive options in Jason Terry, Shawn Marion, JJ Barea and Peja Stojakovic. Jason Kidd, at 38, can still break ankles and drop dimes as if he was a decade younger. But whatever advantage they gain with experience, age takes away. This is where Miami’s younger, more athletic line-up overtakes them. Open court, Miami’s Big Three is virtually unstoppable. Their victories over Boston and Chicago in the playoffs have proven they can tackle any defensive ploy set up against them. Give them a small crack in the driving lanes and you’ll see either a slashing LeBron or a Wade crashing into the paint for an understab, lay-up or posterizing dunk. Bosh in the middle gives them a favorable option in the post. And on the defensive end, the return of Udonis Haslem provides Miami a stronger front line of stoppers. Advantage: Miami

Bench

Dallas has tried 22 starting line-ups this season. Their most potent first five was Rodrique Beaubois, Tyson Chandler, Kidd, Nowitzki and Stojakovic. With Caron Butler still out of the season, Dallas can go to Marion, Terry, Barea, Brendan Haywood and DeShawn Stevenson as the first options off the bench. This second unit has proven to be one of the most potent offensive options in the league. Terry had just tied a three-point shooting record during the playoffs in their series against Dallas, while Marion helped Dirk put up scores during their series against OKC.

With Wade, LeBron and Bosh front lining for Miami, the task of subbing for their roles is a challenge indeed. The other two starters for their best first five are Zydrunas Ilgauskas and Mario Chalmers. This gives Miami options like Haslem, Mike Bibby, Erick Dampier, Joel Anthony, James Jones, and Mike Miller. This bench roster features a good offense-defense balance for the Heat, but observing Heat coach Erik Spoelstra’s rotation habits, only Haslem and Bibby spend a considerable amount of time on the floor. However, Miller and Anthony are more efficient in points-to-minutes played ratio, making viable first options off the bench.

Since both teams’ bench roster cancels out each other in their defensive capabilities, we turn to their offensive firepower. Advantage: Dallas

Crunchtime

Both Dallas and Miami prevailed over their opponents through their end-game playing efficiency. They’ve both managed out of big deficits coming into the final five minutes of the fourth quarter and emerged as winners. Dallas overcame a 15-point deficit against OKC during Game Four of their conference finals, while Miami caught up and overtook a 12-point lead by Chicago during their series-winning game. It will be interesting to watch the Finals right up to the very last millisecond. Advantage: Tie.

Clutch

As always, Dallas has Dirk. And that’s seems to be all there is for Dallas when the game’s stakes go higher in the last five seconds of the game. Miami, on the other hand, has three guys to go to when the clock hits zero. Advantage: Miami.

Prediction:

Miami’s athleticism and talent will be their main weapon to winning this series. Dallas, on the other hand, will have to put up a clinical display of offensive firepower, much like what they showed in their series with LA, if they wish to finally win a championship. Let me go against majority of the predictions. Dallas in 6.

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The Los Angeles Lakers: 2010 NBA Finals Champions

Phil Jackson’s side of history is that he has never lost a series where he won game one. Boston’s side of history is that they have never been beaten by the Lakers in a game seven of a finals series.

After 48 tight minutes, history favored Phil Jackson.

In what will go down as one of basketball’s most epic match-ups, the defending champion Los Angeles Lakers emerged as the rightful winners of the 2010 NBA Finals, triumphing over their greatest rivals, the Boston Celtics, 79-83.

This win puts the Lakers one championship banner behind their vanquished foes with 16, while Boston is still on top with 17. But more than what it means to the team is a whole, this victory becomes personal when the perspective is shifted to the individuals that comprise the club.

For this special occasion, Ron Artest deserves to be put up on stage first.

In his years as an NBA player, he has not only failed miserably in winning a championship, but he has been looked down as a brawling baller whose only shot to fame was mugging a viewer at the Palace of Auburn Hills a couple of years ago. Before and after his trade to LA in exchange for Trevor Ariza, Artest was never taken seriously, especially that he was struggling to make his niche in LA, while Ariza had quickly rose from the ranks to becoming the top go-to guy for the Rockets. Entering the playoffs, he had flashes of greatness, but none were significant to make his name ring.

Tonight, with 20 points and five crucial steals in the game, Artest has earned for himself respect, appreciation, and of course his first NBA Championship.

Going back to Phil Jackson, LA’s coach now sports a new record of 48-0 in every series that they took the first game. While this was the first time for him to play in a game seven of the finals, Jackson never showed any shift in calm or composure. He sat, stood up, conducted, and drafted the Lakers’ play in the same stealthy but stern fashion that he has been known for. Today with 11 rings as a coach, and twelve all in all, with one courtesy of his stint with the Knicks, he now has more championship rings than any living soul. Last year, he surpassed Red Auerbach with his tenth ring. Today, he surpassed Bill Russell’s 11 rings as a Boston Celtic.

With plenty of time still left for him to draw the course of his future, Phil will surely take this one victory into serious consideration.

And together with Jackson thinking about what’s next is big time veteran Derek Fisher.

Fish predicted that there will be one particular moment in this game seven when he will be given the leather for him to decide how to put it up. That moment came not only in one, but in two occasions. And on both, he delivered. For Fish, he never asked for ten touches on the ball for him to strike from behind the line. He just gave his utmost commitment that at that moment he will be asked to throw up that ball into the air, he will make sure it will count and matter. And it did… twice.

Pau Gasol’s performance tonight was another additional proof of his new found domination under the ring. With 18 rebounds and 19 points for his team, the Big Spaniard helped power his team by having more control of the ball, as well as having more chances of hitting a shot.

And as for Kobe Bryant, well, he’s now got one of his palms all wearing a championship ring. This fifth title, more than just an added jewel in his hot hands, is the culmination of a two-year journey that started with a humiliating loss at the hands of the Boston Celtics themselves two seasons ago. Coming into the series with less than 40% average in his field goals, Kobe proved that he can help lift his team to a back-to-back title without the blazing barrels of his offense. As the final buzzer of the season sounded at the Staples Center, everyone, fans and critics, all saw what kind of leadership a player like Kobe Bryant can bring.

As for the Boston Celtics, they walk away from this series as a worthy opponent, one that brought out the best in their foe, and who gave us all an exciting series that will be one for the ages. In fact, they owned the first 36 minutes of the game, and coming into the final frame, they were still enjoying the lead until after four minutes of the quarter. What happened, however, in the next 8 minutes was a reversal of fortunes. Boston lost their grip on the game, allowed their lead to slip away from them, and at the final eleven seconds of the game, they were trailing by two possessions to LA. That lead was in fact more than enough for LA to seal the deal and win all the marbles.

If there is anything as praiseworthy as the Los Angeles Lakers, it is definitely the series as a whole. Every NBA fan was given a special treat when the two most storied franchises in history met and faced off for the 13th time in their rivalry. And as if couldn’t get any better, they pushed the series to the edge. The game was as tight as it could get, and it was not until the final eleven ticks of the clock that there was a clear winner. We were all pushed to the edges of whatever is left of our seats. After the game, I never heard any Laker fan scorn the defeated Celtics (except for one young student from UE… shame on you… =)). I never saw a follower of Boston sigh in disbelief with their loss. But from one avid Laker fan I received his appreciation for the competition that Boston helped happen. From a pro-Boston, I received a text saying how deserving the winning team was.

Among so many things that this series proved, one thing is for sure: the better team won.

The Los Angeles Lakers: the 2010 NBA Back-to-Back Champions!


For All The Marbles: What’s Up In Game Seven of the NBA Finals

It was 26 years ago when the Boston Celtics and the Los Angeles Lakers last squared off in a game seven in a Finals series. Boston won that series, as well as the three other game sevens that they met as rivals. LA has never won against Boston in a finals game seven.

For Phil Jackson, this is the first time that he will be playing a game seven in the finals. In all his championships with the Chicago Bulls, he always had the advantage of leading in the series before eventually clinching the championship. His first loss in a championship, to the Detroit Pistons in ’04, was the first championship series where he lost game one, and the first finals series that he and his team were the ones trailing. The second time, to Boston just two years ago, had a similar setting. While Jackson did win game one of the current series, he was never in a situation where his team was doing the catching up. Thus, Jackson is playing his first game seven in the finals.

The last time a game seven was played was five years ago, between the San Antonio Spurs and the Detroit Pistons. It was also a series that featured the last two champions of the previous two seasons, much like the one we have now. San Antonio won that series, and Rasheed Wallace, who is now with Boston, was standing on the other side of history, losing and being dethroned. He, among anyone else in the roster of players, know what it feels to lose in a game seven. This time he wants to know the feeling of winning.

Kobe Bryant calls the game on Thursday as “just another game seven.” Truth is, THIS game seven is anything but “just” another game seven. If Boston wins this series, Kobe would still be winless in a Finals series against Boston. But if he wins, the sweet revenge also brings him a championship ring closer to the man his destiny has been chasing. While he probably has five more years or so in the league, he is not taking his chances of doing the amazing some other time. If it’s now, then he will have to seize it.

While age is not much of a problem for Kobe, it is a glaring one for four people—one is wearing the same jersey like him, and the other three on the other side of the fence. Derek Fisher has been a veteran to Lakers championships in the post-Jordan era. He has authored some of his team’s game winning shots, hustle plays, and impossible situations, especially during the playoffs. And sooner or later, all that will be just a memory. For him, a sterling performance this Thursday could top all that, and forever cement his legacy as one of the best players who wore the purple and gold.

Paul Pierce said that one of the reasons why they lost the closing game for them last Tuesday is because some of them never felt the urgency of winning game six. But for him, Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen, it’s all about urgency, especially that age is catching up with them. They are nearing that stage that all of Boston’s Big Threes have stood on—retirement. When Bird, McHale and Parish retired, they gave Boston their last championship before the franchise went on hiatus until 2008, with the re-emergence of a new triumvirate. Hopefully, Pierce, Garnett, and Allen, as they near their retirement, can do the same for the little green leprechaun. After all, the only way for them to join the elite club of the Best Ballers of Boston is for them to win a second ring.

Boston will be one less starter in game seven: Kendrick Perkins’ knee situation could be career-ending unless he sits out the final game of the series. Doc Rivers will not risk a Willis Reed with Perkins against the possibility of keeping him stronger for the upcoming seasons where he can still be useful. But if there is anything that hurts Kendrick more than his knee, it is the frustrating fact that he can’t join the fray for his brothers in the clincher game.

Not that LA has no problems with one of their big men. But compared to Perkins, Andrew Bynum can still afford to play a couple of minutes, provide defense on the post, get some good shots, and stave off Garnett or Wallace, before sitting down. For Perkins, there’s no way he will be on the floor when game seven tips off.

The Larry O’Brien Trophy. Another championship banner. Championship rings on each of their fingers. A victory over their rival. And of course, the bragging rights.

Just so we will be reminded, all the marbles are on the line on Thursday.


Lakers Shoot Down Celtics, Push Series to Game Seven

The Los Angeles Lakers pushed the NBA Finals series to the ultimate do-or-die situation by crushing the Boston Celtics at the Staples Center, 89-67.

From the get-go all the way to the final buzzer, LA did not relinquish their grip on the game, as they got all the open shots, second chance points, rebounds and hustle plays that sealed the deal for them to stage a Game Seven fray against their fiercest rivals.

The last time there was a game seven in the NBA Finals was in 2005, also between the two champions of the two previous seasons. The San Antonio Spurs, champions of the 2003 season, was pitted against the Detroit Pistons, the champs of the 2004 season. The Spurs went on to win the series.

Between the Celtics and Lakers, they have met in a game seven three out of the 11 times they’ve squared off in the Finals. All three were won by Boston. The last time they went to the ultimate game was in 1969. The Lakers had the home court advantage also in that year, and was led by their three greatest players, Wilt Chamberlain, Elgin Baylor and Jerry West. The Celtics team for that season was being branded as “aging and ready to retire,” pretty much the same criticism being thrown against the Celtics team of this present season. But the Celtics went on to win that series, the last one during the Bill Russell era.

Minutes after Game Four concluded with a win by Boston, NBA TV analyst Kenny Smith predicted that the series will go to a game seven. His fearless prediction came true.

The Lakers sort of reminded everyone what can happen if a defending champion team is being threatened with the prospect of being dethroned by their greatest rival. In this case they showed it by a winning margin of 22 over their foe.

Talk about which team feels more pressure is not as significant as it is if it were a game five or six. That there is a game seven means all odds have evened out. The ultimate test is to know who really gets to take it all home with them. Even history has to be silent for the moment in telling who will win. Phil Jackson has never lost a series where he took the first game, but the Celtics have never ever lost in a game seven against the Lakers.

Which means this series has become more exciting.


Boston Takes Series Lead Over LA

The previously downplayed Big Four has finally emerged from hiatus to power the Boston Celtics past the Los Angeles Lakers in their Game Five square-off last Sunday, 92-86. The Men in Green are just a game away from clinching their second title in three years.

Celtics veteran Paul Pierce gave the much needed boost with 27 points to lead his team to a crucial win that puts the Lakers to the brink of elimination. Kevin Garnett added 18 points and  controlled the boards with 18 rebounds. Rajon Rondo had 18 points as well, while Ray Allen chipped in 12, though none came from beyond the arc.

While Kobe Bryant kept his team within striking distance against Boston, it was the lackadaisical showing of Pau Gasol that hurt the team’s efforts in catching up with Boston. Kobe was 38 points strong in game five, but Gasol was only 12. The other starters were not as much as significant in their contributions on the floor that night as well. And while their bench gave off 14 compared to Boston’s reserves with 13, it was the combined force of Pierce, Garnett, Allen and Rondo that made it possible for Boston to close their final game of the season in Boston with a crucial victory.

Game Six will be played in LA, and so will Game Seven if Boston fails to close out in 6.

Here’s where conflicts in history come in. While Phil Jackson has never lost a series where he won Game One, Boston has never lost a Game Seven against LA in all of their 9 championship wins against them. Obviously, LA will come out strong and focused for Game Six. A win for them sends the series to the ultimate do-or-die situation–a Game Seven. As it turns out, Jackson’s history will have to face Boston’s.

LA’s chances of catching up Boston and pushing the series to the last game is big. They have the last two games happening in their floor. Winning Game Six, however, doesn’t mean more pressure is on Boston. LA will feel the pressure of a game seven as well, especially the prospect that Boston might spoil the fun for LA right in their own backyard. This was the very same thing that Bill Russell did against Wilt Chamberlain during their Finals Series way back, when Boston, the underrated, aging underdogs, snatched away from a Lakers team led by Chamberlain, Elgin Baylor and Jerry West, the championship, on a game seven right in LA’s home court.

If Boston wins, they get one more banner, at the expense of taking away from LA the championship crown. But a win for LA gets them one banner closer to tying Boston for the franchise with the most championships.

And as for Kobe, a win will make him one championship away from Michael Jordan, and hopefully silence his critics about the comparison between him and the man everyone hails as the greatest in the game ever.


Bench Boosts Boston, Ties Series at 2

The “Shrek and Donkey” tandem of Glen Davis and Nate Robinson gave the much needed boost for the Boston Celtics as they won Game Four of the NBA Finals Series, 96-89.

For whatever reason that he did not elaborate on, it was Nate who branded his team-up with Davis as such. But far from being a hilarious duo on the court or the press con table, these two reserves contributed the much-needed fire power whenever the Big Three or any of the starters were being relieved of their tasks. Combined, they were an efficient 61% in field goals, compared to the 41% mediocre output of Paul Pierce, Ray Allen, and Kevin Garnett.

Relatively, however, mediocre for the Big Three meant they had 44 points of Boston’s 96, which was nearly half of the total. The difference was that usually, these three were the only offensive certainties for Boston at any given night. Rondo, if put into the equation, has 10 points, making the total to 54–more than half of the total already.

But they need to sit some minutes out, don’t they?

Enter Shrek and Donkey.

Davis, who played half the minutes of Ray Allen, was 7-10 in field goals, led the team in offensive rebounds, and gave Boston the second chance points they needed to establish a safe buffer for their lead.

Thirteen times the lead changed between the two rivals, and ten times they were tied. This was certainly tighter than when Boston lost to LA in game three. In fact, stats for this series would reveal that on nights when there were not much lead changes and tied scores, LA went on to win. In Game One of their series, there was only one time that the lead changed from Boston to LA, and only twice that the score was tied. In Game Three, there were only three lead changes and two knotted scores, and the Lakers also won that. When Boston beat LA in Game Two at Staples, there were 22 lead changes and 11 tied scores.

It would seem Boston emerges the winner in close matches.

Percentages might fool a layman to thinking that LA was a better team. But despite being better in field goal percentage and beyond-the-arc shooting, LA had fewer attempts than Boston. In field goals, Boston had five more connections than LA, but obviously had to attempt more. In three point shooting, Ray Allen’s hot hands went frozen again, as he was 0-4 from behind the line.

But as for Paul Pierce, he lead the way for Boston with 19 points, 6 rebounds and 5 assists, and gave Nate and Glen the chance to pick up from the game and seal the deal. He took over the rotating of the ball, and melted down LA’s defense, making key passes that allowed for more fluidity under the net and through the driving lanes.

There’s one more game at TD Bankworth on Sunday (Monday here in Manila). The series has finally gone to a six game duel, and if one or the either takes another win–either home or away–this classic match-up will go the distance.


Lakers Gains Back Home Court Edge over Boston

The Boston Celtics came home to a loud and rowdy crowd.

But the Los Angeles Lakers played to silence them all.

Edging the Celtics by seven points, the Lakers are now up 2-1 in their Finals rivalry courtesy of a 91-84 win on the road at the TD Garden. Kobe Bryant led all scorers with 29 points, while Kevin Garnett, making for two dismal nights of playing on the road, notched 25 points for the Celtics.

Derek Fisher was the key to LA’s win on the road, putting up 11 of his 16 points in the second half, not to mention the terrific defense he covered against Ray Allen. Fish’s performance not only snuffed out the life from Ray Allen’s shooting, but also helped the Lakers keep their seven-point margin from Boston until the final buzzer.

If Garnett had made up for his uncharacteristic outing in games one and two, it was Allen who was on the other side of things. Just two nights earlier he was 8-of-11 from beyond the arc. All of a sudden, he was 0-of-13 in their very own home floor. If only three of those thirteen went in, Boston would have kept the home court edge.

It was Boston’s bench that kept their team within striking distance down the stretch against the Lakers. Glen Davis and Tony Allen dared to bang bodies with Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol under the post, and they had more times successful in getting scores. But as the minutes ticked by, Fish flipped the switch on and gave LA enough cushion to steal one on the road. Add to that the many possessions they got as time was winding down, but their missed shots and infractions away from the ball cost them the game.

LA now has the home court edge back.

Boston will have to win both games at home and steal one on the road if they want to end the series in six. Otherwise, LA can win it all away from home and seal the deal in five. Phil Jackson, talking to his team at the dug-out minutes after they were trampled in Game Two, mentioned that he’d rather not go home to LA and win the championship there. After all, its sweeter to vanquish the foe right in their own ground.

As for Boston, this is far from over for them.


Celtics Rob One on the Road; Ties Series At 1

The 103-94 win by the Boston Celtics reminded everyone that home court advantages mean nothing to them.

And it had to be done in record-breaking fashion.

Ray Allen, after three nights of dismal shooting from behind the arc, notched eight three pointers of eleven attempts, surpassing the record of seven three pointers in a Finals game, that was set eight years ago by no less than Michael Jordan. 27 of Allen’s 32 points came from the first half, and it would have seemed he was out of gas for the next half of the fray.

Enter Rajon Rondo.

Rondo, who was disappointing in Game One as Allen was, stepped up big time with his in-the-paint assault, slick dishes to his teammates, and big-time rebounds, giving him a triple-double figure that night to keep the Celtics on top the charging Lakers, who waged on for the last 5 minutes of the quarter, until everything went south for them.

Pau Gasol has been dominant for the Lakers and over Kevin Garnett. In their first game meeting, age showed up and slowed down Garnett versus a more versatile Gasol, who’s 25 points dwarfed Garnett’s 6. Andrew Bynum and Kobe Bryant notched only 21 points (something we don’t see from Kobe usually in ANY game), and every one else who stepped on the floor were nondescript.

As for Boston, they had a total turn around from their lukewarm performance two nights ago. They outrebounded LA, 44-39, moved the ball better as reflected by their 28 assists, compared to LA’s 18, and they had lesser turnovers.

Allen’s barrage of three pointers gave Boston 66% accuracy beyond the arc, while LA had only 5 out of 22 tries, a dismal 22%. Boston also had better field goal percentage than LA, and was shooting better in the charity line than when any Laker was taking one.

The Lakers are now sporting a 4-4 record in wins and loses on the road. Boston, on the other hand, is 6-2.

Kobe Bryant, having been troubled with fouls early in the game, was limited in his production. While he came in with clutch shots to salvage the Lakers late in the game, it also happened that Rondo stepped up big for the C’s.

Game three will be played in Boston on Tuesday (Wednesday here in the Philippines). Either Boston guards well their advantage for the next three matches, or LA storms back and takes one on the road.

What happens next in Boston for the next three nights will be crucial in deciding who wins, or goes home.