sportstapas
A little dishing on sports

The Okey Doke

I know you are going to be surprised to read this, but I really didn’t see this Boston Celtics run to the brink of the NBA championship coming.  They were a .500 team for the last two-thirds of the regular season, Cleveland and the Lakers looked like the league’s dominant teams in a league where you can usually tell who the dominant teams are.  Kevin Garnett was inducted into the Law of 14 Hall of Fame in February. This run reminds me of two things all NBA fans know to be true:

  1. Never underestimate the heart of a champion.
  2. Rajon Rondo is a bad man!

What is particularly interesting about this Celtics team is the fact that they have had to beat the teams with, arguably, the four best players in the NBA in order to win the title.  And let’s get one thing straight at the outset – I am by no means counting the Lakers out of this series.  In fact, I would argue that they are more likely than not to still win.  Digression alert, digression alert, digression alert!!!!

Why, you ask?  Well, first, Boston has now won the last two games of this series.  What are the odds they can beat the Lakers three in a row?  Second, what are the odds Boston can win 2 out of 3 games in L.A., which is what would have to happen for Boston to win in 6.  What about Boston winning game 7?  Are you willing to bet that any team can go into L.A. and beat the Lakers in a game 7?  I’m not.

On the other hand, for those who believe Boston will win this series, it would have to be because their strategy, for not only this series, but for the whole playoffs, laid bare in game 5, turns out to be foolproof.

Back to those four superstars.  It appears in retrospect that Boston couldn’t have asked for a better scenario than to play four teams completely reliant on their superstars to win.  Boston’s strategy is to isolate that great player from the herd; get into his head that he has to do more for his team to win than he’s been doing, even as the best player on the team.  And then they pounce.  No superstar is good enough to beat a really good team committed to playing together.

Miami was an easy one because they lacked the talent to support D-Wade.  Cleveland was potentially the most challenging because its superstar’s game is entirely predicated on making his teammates better.  LeBron recognizes he can’t win alone and wouldn’t even try.  Once his teammates showed doubt, it was over.  Orlando’s superstar isn’t good enough offensively to dominate and centers are generally easier to swallow up anyway.  No offense, but Howard was never going to lead Orlando past Boston.

But Kobe and the Lakers present an entirely different challenge.  This is where the okey doke really comes in.  This is what we saw in game 5.  The Lakers are more than talented enough to win with a reasonably good Kobe, abetted by Gasol, Fisher, Odom and the rest of the supporting cast.  They are more talented than Boston, especially if Bynum gives them solid minutes.  Doc Rivers’s strategy for beating them had to be to dare Kobe to try and beat the Celtics on his own, rather than rely on a team approach and the Lakers’ superior talent.  That’s why Doc was quoted as saying that his team had to find a way eventually to win a game when Kobe just went off.  He was counting on Kobe having a game or games where he just went off and more than likely, when that happened, Kobe’s teammates would just be standing around watching him.  That’s what happened last night.  As great as Kobe was, his performance fit right into Doc’s grand plan.  In fairness to Kobe, since game 2, Kobe’s superstar sidekick, Pau Gasol, has looking pretty content to take home the silver and if Pau is playing well, then Kobe has no choice but to try and go off.

It’s a beautiful thing to watch, though, because it plays right into the strengths of the Boston defense.  They lock everything else up, make you rely on that one great player to score all your points and then in the 4th quarter they slow that guy down enough to win the game.

Do the Lakers understand this?  I think they do – especially Kobe and Phil.  But can Kobe help himself, even at this stage of his career.  I’m not so sure.

Stay tuned.

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