The Student News Site of University of California - San Diego

The UCSD Guardian

The Student News Site of University of California - San Diego

The UCSD Guardian

The Student News Site of University of California - San Diego

The UCSD Guardian

    And in my Mind's Eye I See This Place

    Sometimes things just fall into place. It doesn’t happen
    often, but sometimes there is just a force in the universe, a cosmic tilt, and
    what was once fantasy becomes reality. For the NBA and many of its fans, the
    Los Angeles Lakers meeting the Boston Celtics in the NBA Finals is something
    falling into place: the biggest rivalry in NBA history, reborn on the league’s
    biggest stage. No, this is not as epic as Bird-Magic and there likely won’t
    emerge a dynasty as dominant as Bill Russell’s. Nonetheless, this is the match-up
    so many hoped for, and it is due in large part to Kwame Brown.

    It was Brown’s size and potential that led to Mitch Kupchak
    trading future All-Star Caron Butler for Brown in the hopes of finding a new
    low-post power source in the aftermath of Shaquille O’Neal’s departure. Brown
    was the hot girl with the annoying voice that deep down you think you can put
    up with for a while. It would be Brown’s lack of confidence and ability to have
    production and talent meet that caused Phil Jackson to give Andrew Bynum considerable
    playing time. Bynum would blossom, the Lakers would get off to a fast start,
    and a team that seemed in shambles during the pre-season appeared to at least
    be a stronger playoff team. Brown’s greatest contribution to the team would
    come in the form of his contract which, following Bynum’s injury, would become
    the centerpiece of a deal for Pau Gasol, an intelligent low-post player whom
    Tex Winter might have actually harvested, to one day play within the triangle

    The addition of Gasol was viewed by many at the time as a
    great move that would make for an amazing team, once Bynum returned. However,
    the Lakers proved that Los Angeles
    could be “where amazing happens” even without Bynum. They also showed that when
    injuries hit and Gasol was out of the lineup, they could be where above average
    happens to stay in the mix atop the Western Conference standings. Obviously,
    Gasol was the go-to guy, who feelt more comfortable in a secondary role, and
    didn’t clash with or challenge the Lakers’ leadership structure. Additionally,
    focus was taken away from Lamar Odom, who, despite his versatility and All-Star
    potential, was never comfortable having to be the second-most important player
    on the team.

    The Lakers’ strength further lies in this season’s newfound
    depth, second-unit energy, and the trust that Kobe Bryant has come to develop
    in the players surrounding him. Ronny Turiaf, Jordan Farmar, and even the
    self-proclaimed “Machine” Sasha Vujacic bring a different feel when they enter
    the game, and, even without the League MVP on the court, are often able to
    maintain and sometimes extend a Lakers lead. Kobe, for his part, has taken his
    game to a new level. He hasn’t improved what was already the league’s greatest
    offense, and as many clutch shots as he has made this year, he’s probably made
    more total in past years. However, the area where he jumped, and the area where
    everyone has been waiting for him to make that leap, was in leadership. At some
    point, it clicked that if he just led with a little more hopeful motivation,
    rather than just ignoring or berating everyone else, he’d have players that
    both liked him, wanted to play with him, and felt a little more comfortable
    trying to contribute to the team. A lot of credit also goes to Derek Fisher,
    who grew into that sort of leader long ago and returned to the Lakers as a
    calming and familiar presence — not a threat to the Lakers being Kobe’s team,
    but a product of past glory and a compliment both on and off the court.

    The Celtics are defined by the Boston Three Party (also
    known as the Can’t-Win-On-Their-Own All-Stars) of Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce
    and Ray Allen. As much as other players, such as Rajon Rondo, Kendrick Perkins,
    and Leon Powe, have shown flashes of great play this season, the Celtics’
    rebirth is mostly a result of Garnett’s arrival. Always a strong defensive
    player with the ability to play anywhere on the court — though he hates being
    called a center — Garnett transformed the team. The focus on defense was
    important in allowing the core of the team to mesh early without fighting for
    shots. Furthermore, with Ray Allen’s arrival preceding Garnett’s, the Big
    Ticket’s greatest weakness — lack of asserting himself in the final moments —
    was off-set by one of Allen, and Paul Pierce’s, strengths. The fact that the
    team boasted three 20-points-per-game scorers meant that if they could all find
    a strong rhythm defensively, there would be enough easy shots to feed each

    The addition of a versatile player like James Posey — also a
    young, fast point-guard who was a constant threat to steal the ball — further
    helped compliment the solid Celtic core. Indeed, once it was proven that the
    new Celtics would not replicate the same chemistry issues as the
    Shaq-Kobe-Malone-Payton Lakers or the Olajuwon-Barkley-Pippen Rockets, the team
    seemed a legitimate threat to win 70 games. After missing out on Greg Oden and
    Kevin Durant in the draft, the Celtics somehow seemed better off. If you
    compare the past two seasons to the television series “Lost,” then last year
    was everyone getting stuck on the island, lots of crazy stuff happening, nobody
    getting any answers, and everyone just feeling really pissed off and this year
    was everybody walking to that other corner of the island and finding an Indian
    Casino, water park, and free jet rides home.

    As good as the Celtics stars are, Kobe is better than all
    three and is a tougher match-up for any Celtic than even Garnett will be for
    the Lakers. The Lakers have enough effective ball handlers to keep the Celtics
    defense constantly moving and, depending on how deep Doc Rivers dips into the
    Celtics bench, possibly tiring them out. The Celtics should’ve entered as the
    favorite, but they’ve struggled far more and played six more games during the
    playoffs than the Lakers. The Lakers, meanwhile, have surpassed expectations
    during each series so far. The Celtics were never close, Utah’s series took a
    game longer than it should have due to location, and the Spurs made as weak of
    a defending champion exit since, well, the Miami Heat last season. In the book
    of “what have you done for me lately,” the Lakers are entering this series
    heating up like Weezer’s newest album, while the Celtics seem primed for a
    “Make Believe”-level disappointment.

    Yet, before making the pick, it’s worth going back to
    Staples Center on December 30, 2007. Having bought tickets to see Garnett and
    what might be a historic Celtics team, hope remained that no matter how good
    the Celtics were, maybe these newly revitalized Lakers had a chance. This was
    pre-Pau, but the team was still strong, and the short shorts that came out in
    the first half seemed to possibly ease some of the tension. Of course, the
    Lakers were killed in the game — they changed shorts at halftime hoping it
    would help, Lamar Odom tried to shank Ray Allen at some point, and Boston
    Bandwagon fans all over the arena were going crazy. With Celtics fans cheering
    and taunting in the final moments, I had a flash of a Celtics championship
    victory. I saw Garnett hunched over crying, Paul Pierce jumping up right in
    front of Tommy Heinsohn and pointing to the Boston fans, and Brian Scalabrine
    being all gingery and awkward. In this moment, all I had left in the face of
    intense mockery was one, final, inarguable comment. And so, as the transplanted
    Bostonians took a slight pause from their shenanigans, I turned to these
    newly-minted Celtic fans around me and said, “Yeah, but your head coach is
    still Doc Rivers.” The response was silence. Nods of agreement. Resignation to
    fate. Awesome.

    The Celtics dominated that game, and the fact they get a
    break before the finals and then play the first two and last two games at home
    means that they will have a good chance at upsetting the favored Lakers. And
    yet, maybe it is that gap between Phil Jackson and Doc Rivers that proves large
    enough that no amount of fake Irish people can overcome it. Like the
    Brown-for-Gasol trade, the Big Ticket and Jesus Shuttlesworth coming to Boston,
    or one well-timed insult, sometimes things just fall into place.

    Joe Goes With: Lakers in 7.

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