At long last, we've come to the final installment of what I like to call "making the pundits eat crow." The earlier installments can be found here.
At the end of the day, however, there's no stopping Kobe and friends. The Lakers are simply better. Much, much better. The Lakers offense is supremely versatile. And their defense is dangerously intense, filled with a rage that can boil an ocean.With nine championships rings as a coach, Jackson has once again put together the right pieces necessary to win it all: Derek Fisher, Sasha Vujacic, Vladimir Radmonovic, Luke Walton, Jordan Farmar, Ron Turiaf, etc. With the risk of sounding immodest, Ive covered the NBA Finals on-site as a credentialed journalist for seven consecutive years since 2001.
Lakers in six.
--PHILIPPINE DAILY INQUIRER
It's almost like Acie Earl never existed. But unfortunately for the green people, the Lakers are going to win the series. The Lakers are deeper and more talented, and they have a vastly superior coach. Kobe Bryant is the best player in the game. He has become Jordan-like, with the ability to involve all of his teammates or take over a game all by himself, almost on a whim. He will be too much. The Celtics are unsettled in their rotation and maddeningly inconsistent. Boston is a jump-shooting team with a halting offense. Garnett still passes up big shots. Pierce can be too demurring, which doesn't fit his DNA. Allen recently disappeared for a month. Someday, the Celtics might again rule the world. Someday, the green people might have a championship-caliber trio of stars. This is not the year.
Lakers in six.
--Michael Arace, Columbus Dispatch
So who suffers this time? The Celtics swept their two games against the Lakers in the regular season. However both wins came before Pau Gasol joined the Los Angeles. Given that, my head says Lakers in five.
The Boston Celtics will again reign supreme over the Los Angeles Lakers in seven games, causing poor Mazzczech to shed a tear in his Tom Benson coffee cup.
Kobe Bryant is one of the NBA's premier scorers. There's no denying that. But Kobe is a one-man show.
Don't tell me that Pau Gasol (and Jimmy probably spelled it Paul Gasol) and Lamar Odom constitute a solid wingman tandem to Kobe. Now if we're talking Wilt Chamberlain, we all know he needed no wingman. But since we're talking actually on-the-court activities, the Celtics will stymie Kobe.
They've already done it once when they made LeBron James look like a prince rather than King James as LeBron struggled in at least five games in the Eastern Conference semifinals.
Boston at least claims two legitimate threats with Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce.
The talk of Odom and Gasol switching back and forth to guard KG is laughable.
Garnett will hand either one of those two a beatdown comparable to Foreman-Frazier.
Kobe, Phil Jackson, Magic Johnson and whatever other "B" Hollywood starlet sitting courtside will mysteriously disappear. And it ain't from that Bermuda Triangle nonsense Jackson calls an offense.
The rippling waves from a tomahawk dunk dropped by LSU's own Glen "Big Baby" Davis will swallow the Staples Center, the Forum, the Hollywood sign, the Governator's crib, Rodeo Drive, Reggie Bush's Heisman Trophy and maybe even Britney Spears' problems.
I can see it now. Poor Jack Nicholson and Jimmy Mashek sobbing and weeping will jump on Nicholson's "Easy Rider" motorcycle after the Lakers lose Game 7.
They'll ride off into the sunset dejected, scouring through Chamberlain's little black book for answers.
And as easy as it is to find comfort through those pages, even Jack and Jim will strike out there, too.
--Sun Herald (Biloxi, MS)
10 reasons why the Celtics will win their 17th world championship:
1. Paul Pierce
I wouldn't suggest he is better than Kobe Bryant, but for this series he will eliminate the Kobe Advantage. Pierce has the most to gain or lose in this series. This is his day to shine, on the biggest stage, and finally get something he's always craved -- his due.
That will come not only with a championship but an MVP performance.
Los Angeles is where he grew up as a youth. Boston is where he grew up as an adult.
You couldn't write a better script. Only a leading man, like Pierce, could make it happen.
Kobe will have average more points, probably in the high 20s maybe even the low 30s. But Pierce will be around the mid-20s, which will offset the MVP.
2. West Coast bias
I can't say I blame them. In the National Football League, the AFC is the big league and the NFC the junior circuit. The same in baseball, with the American League being the daddy to the National League.
The Lakers and Spurs have combined to win seven of the last nine titles. Only the Miami Heat (2006) and Detroit Pistons (2004) have won it from east of the Mississippi.
The problem is the West was better from 1 through 10, but not 1 through 2.
The Celtics dominated the regular season over the Western Conference (25-5) and they were an impressive 12-4 against their eight playoff teams.
Too many people remember the Celts' struggles against Atlanta and Cleveland and not their dominance from opening day.
The East wasn't great, but it wasn't as bad as it's been for much of the last decade. The Pistons were every bit as good as San Antonio.
3. Kevin Garnett
He is not Mr. Clutch, just yet, but trust me, this guy is taking this run to the finals very, very seriously.
Garnett has been good for most of the playoffs, but it says here he is great for the finals. While I believe Pierce's matchup with Kobe Bryant is the key to the series, Garnett is the wild card.
The Lakers big men can't match Garnett's intensity.
He came to Boston for one reason and that was to win these four games. He's dying to beat the rap of can't win the big one, which came from losing his first seven playoff series in Minnesota.
At practice on Monday, it was like talking to someone in search of his lost child. There was no joy in just getting this far.
4. Celtics defense
The Lakers just played one of the best defensive teams in the league in San Antonio (90.6), which trailed only Detroit (90.1) and Boston (90.3) in points allowed.
They beat them pretty good, winning the series 4-1 while averaging 93.4 points a game.
There will be a difference beginning tonight at the Garden. With regrets to the Pistons, the Celtics defense is the best in the league.
The Celtics defense has been even better in their playoff slump. They've allowed only 87.3 points per game in 20 playoff games.
5. Lakers defense
What defense? Exactly.
The Celtics playoff struggles have been on offense. Cleveland and Detroit were their equal on defense.
It meant very few open looks for anybody not named Rajon Rondo. And Paul Pierce is really the only Celtic consistently able to create his own shot.
That will be less of an issue against the Lakers, who allowed 101.3 points per game this past season, a 10-spot more than the Celtics did.
The plays right into the Celtics weakness, which has been generating offense, particularly on the road.
This might be the key to the series.
6. Ray Allen
I said it before and I'll say it again: Everything changed Game 5 in Boston. It changed because Allen, for the first time since the playoffs began, decided he was going to "really" look for his shot.
Maybe it was playing against Richard Hamilton, who would use every ounce of energy to get open on the other end.
Whatever the case, Allen's 29- and 17-point efforts the last two games against Detroit, included five 3-pointers in Game 5 and three more in Game 6, gave the Celtics an offensive lift.
7. Garnett-Allen vs. Gasol-Odom
Let's just say Paul Pierce plays Kobe Bryant to a near draw, which is highly probable.
That means the secondary matchups could be the difference.
For the Celtics it is Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen and for the Lakers it is Pau Gasol and Lamar Odom.
Is this a fair fight? I don't think so.
Mind you, Gasol (18.8 points, 7.8 rebounds in the regular season) and Odom (14.2, 10.6) are deserving players. But are they up to snuff with Garnett (18.8, 9.2) and Allen (17.4 points per game)?
This means Kobe has to beat Pierce every night. I don't see it happening.
8. Homecourt advantage
This is not about simply winning at home, as the Lakers are 8-0 at the Staples Center in the postseason.
This is about a city, Boston, awakening it basketball roots.
The TD Banknorth Garden will be like the old Boston Garden. It will be louder than we have ever, and I mean ever, heard it before.
Celtics fans are not going to be nice to the Lakers or the referees.
Lakers coach Phil Jackson, who had public squabbles with Red Auerbach in his later years, will hear it too.
If the Lakers can overcome playing here, particularly secondary players like Odom and Gasol, they will win. I don't think they will.
9. Let's get physical
Remember the famous Kevin McHale clothesline which sent Kurt Rambis flying out of bounds?
That probably won't occur in this series, but neither will easy layups.
The Celtics will need to be physical and they have widebodies -- Kendrick Perkins, Leon Powe, P.J. Brown -- and feisty James Posey to do it.
The Celtics will try to slow the pace when the Lakers have the ball and that's where the physical play will begin.
10. A perfect storm
Is this a fairy tale or a perfect ending?
Teams don't make wholesale changes like the Celtics did (bringing in nine new players!) and win a championship. It just doesn't happen. In fact, it's never happened.
Danny Ainge found two superstars, Garnett and Allen, with Hall of Fame statistics, and added them to Pierce. All of sudden, the Celtics and Celtics pride had returned.
The Celtics luckily survived their growing pains with Atlanta and Cleveland. I believe what happened against Detroit was the rule rather than the exception.
Thirty-somethings Garnett (32), Pierce (30) and Allen (32), with their combined zero championship rings, have too much at stake here. This might be their only chance.