Instead of dedicating a column to just the finals, as I’m sure one of my colleagues will, I’ve decided to talk about a few things.

First, I just want to bask in the glory of the Celtics winning it all.  I believe my analysis was One-Hundred Percent correct, and Paul Pierce as my Finals MVP was a no-brainer.  Thank You very much. 

The two things I did not expect was to Ray Allen find his shooting stroke and become the most consistent player on either team offensively and then for Ray Allen and Paul Pierce to effectively render the Lakers useless because Kobe was taking 25 shots and only scoring 25 points.  By keeping him from the line, it forced Kobe to take more shots than he wanted, limiting the touches for the other players around him.  There is a reason that the Lakers did not score as much in this series than they did in any other.  Everybody’s scoring was down and that is the great team defense that the Celtics played.  The same as Football, Defense Wins.  Period.

I also have to give props to Doc Rivers on a masterful coaching job (did I just really say that?).  He stuck to what he knows, and that is motivation.  I don’t believe I saw the Celtics run an offense except for the high screen and roll (that the Lakers could not defend) and Ray Allen running around 50 screens.  I think he showed that he is not as bad of a coach as I and others make him out to be, but actually a middling coach who can rise up to the occasion and outcoach lucky bastards who have the two greatest players of their generation playing for them (Shaq and MJ, there is a reason that Kobe has not won without Shaq and Shaq has won without Kobe.  Why doesn’t anyone give Shaq the props he deserves and proclaim him the player of the period of time after MJ?  Kobe just isn’t good enough to win it without him, and he never will, the same with Phil…he is never going to win another championship with Kobe).  Doc just flat out bent Phil over and said, “I am your daddy!”  Memo to Phil: it’s ok to make in-game adjustments like taking out Lamar Odom because he can’t stretch the floor and playing a line-up that consists of Fisher, Vujacic/Radmonovic, Kobe, Farmar/Walton, and Gasol/Turiaf.  That is what I would’ve done.

Yet, the real reason that the Celtics won (last point about this game, I promise) was not because of the play on the court, but the comraderie off the court.  The difference in the desire can be seen in the bench players and those in street clothes.  Every possession, the Celtics bench was standing, cheering, and into the game, as if they were playing.  I can’t count the times I saw Brian Scalabrine or Eddie House jumping up and down and cheering on their teammates.  The same goes for Sam Cassel.  Everybody bled for each other and represented what it truly means to be a team.  I can only hope this continues because it was a treat to see it and all high-school and younger kids should take notice.

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In addition to the Celtics taking the NBA Championship, the second team in New York fired its coach.  By second team, I mean the Mets.  And I just gotta say I think this is one of the biggest mistakes that the Mets could have made.  I can understand maybe firing Rick Peterson because the pitching staff, mainly the bullpen is not performing up to par, but the Mets were just beginning to get on a roll by winning 3 out of 4 and get some positive momentum.  They had something to play for (Randolph’s Job) and were motivated to make sure that he kept it.  Now they have nothing to play for and if last nights game was any indication of things to come, it does not look good.  I was actually discussing this with my father the other day and we both came to the conclusion that Mets are going to struggle to finish .500.  I just don’t seem them being competitive unless they turn the switch on now.  I can only hope I am dead wrong.

Also, what a classless way to handle the entire situation.  Sometimes, I wish it were possible to fire an ownership group.  The Wilpons seem to be just as clueless as Jimmy Dolan over at MSG on the correct tact and timing to fire coaches.  The Wilpons jumped the gun way too early and have a history of leaking things to the press.  This became such a bad situation that I feel happy for Willie that he finally has this monkey off his back and can now focus on getting a job with an organization that will value his class and great baseball mind.  I only hope he does not land in the NL East.

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The other major sports event of the past week or so was the PGA US Open that was an instant classic.  I’m gonna be honest, I’ve become so inundated with Tiger Woods that I hope he loses every tournament, but I know he is going to win if he is within one or two strokes on the last nine holes.  Yet, while I enjoyed watching Rocco Mediate, Tiger Woods, Lee Westwood, and a few others battle it out over the five days, I almost wanted to punch my computer screen on Monday while I watched the playoff at work (by the way…kudos to IBM, NBC, and ESPN for putting the stream up for free and in wonderful quality.  Why can’t all sports do that?  Was that so hard?).  The reason: the fabulous announcers that NBC employed kept telling me how much of a classic this was, how great Rocco Mediate was, and how even greater Tiger Woods was (in addition to how mentally tough he was…give me a break.  Yeah I’m sure he learned mental toughness on the links as a child.  I think that was dumbest thing I have ever heard…even if it was said by his dead father – no disrespect to Earl Woods).  Broadcasters, and this happens in every sport, please learn to shut up and stop ramming the same 3 talking points down my throat.  SILENCE IS GOLDEN!  Learn from that proverb.  Its not awkward unless you make it that way.

By the way…Rocco Mediate, where have you been all my life and why isn’t mic’d up all the time when he is playing.  He was so funny and insightful…much more so than those so called “expert” broadcasters.

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And finally, some things to watch this week now that the Never Ending Basketball Playoffs are over:

Euro 2008: Jump on the Netherlands Train and watch them take the tourament by storm.  They are so dominant offensively that it doesn’t matter that there goalkeeper is really old and that their defense is middling.  I see them beating Portugal in the finals (really, I just want to make fun of Ronaldo again)Watch them and the rest of the tournament this week on the ESPN Channels and ABC.

NBA Draft: On June 26th, the world will finally have the answer to Beasley vs. Rose.  Watch the NBA draft…if you havn’t had enough yet.  Hopefully our draft expert J-Fense will come out with a final mock draft with the correct pick of Michael Beasley going to Bulls. 

MLB:  Interleague play is heating up.  This weekend features marquee match-ups like Philadelphia vs Texas (the two best offenses in Baseball) and the three best inter-city rivalries in Baseball: The Cubs vs the White Sox, the Angels vs the Dodgers, and the Subway Series aka the Mets vs the Yankees. 

Should be a great week or so of sports.  Enjoy!

Also, I’m going on vacation for the next two weeks so unfortunately this massive column is going to have to tide you over until I get back from relaxing.  Until then…

BEARD

 

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So I was one for two in my predictions but I still feel very about both analyses. Before we get to the Finals preview, a few thoughts about some goings on in the NBA.

1- The officials really screwed the Spurs in the Western Conference. That no-call on Derek Fisher in Game 4 doomed the Spurs to lose Game 5. I believe the Spurs go on to win that game if Barry goes to the line and the Spurs, with the series tied at two, go into LA feeling pretty good and probably taking Game 5. That game alone gave the conspiracy theorists more than enough amunition to last them the year.

2- The draft is coming up and my man J-Fense just wrote an interesting article about what the Bulls should do with the first pick. However, I could not disagree more with him. Hinrich has shown that he can be all-star caliber point guard and Tyrus Thomas and Joakim Noah have shown to be nothing more than athletic, defense orientied power fowards. I believe the Bulls must draft Beasley. He instantly upgrades their presence in the post which helps a jump-shooting team more than a point guard. If the Bulls think it through, a player who commands a double team in the post to open up outside shots for Gordon, Hinrich, Noicioni, and Hughes is more valuable than a point guard who passes to players on the wing who can not create their own shot. John Paxson, please take Michael Beasley.

3- While the firing of Flip Saunders was not much of a surprise, it disappoints me that he is the one held accountable for the actions of Rasheed Wallace. Chris Sheridan of ESPN.com wrote an article claiming that Saunders did not have the respect of his players and only McDyess played hard consistently. Well I say that is a bunch of crap and the coach should not be to blame if his players are unprofessional cry-babies. And Rasheed Wallace is the ringleader and the one to blame. Wallace has a tendency to be a malcontent and let his emotions get the better of him. I actually think Saunders did a good job of coaching in the series, it was just his most important player (sorry Chauncey and Rip) played like he didn’t care.

Now, onto the preview…

GUARDS: ADVANTAGE LAKERS

The point guard matchup here is the most important one in the series and the most intriguing. You have young Rajon Rondo who has become more important to his team than Ray Allen and the wily veteran Derek FIsher. If Rondo can play solid defense on Fisher (something he was not able to do in the Pistons series [did anybody see the way Billups abused him in Game 6?]), then I feel like the Celtics can call it a day because there is no way they are stopping Kobe. Rondo needs to keep grabbing boards, leading the break, dishing the rock, and making smart decisions (seems easy right?).

In all reality though, it doesn’t really matter what the other Lakers do because it all revolves around Kobe Bryant. He averaged just under 30 points a game in the Spurs series and that was considered a masterful job by Bruce “Dirty Mo-Fo” Bowen. Are you kidding me? There is nobody on the Celtics who can matchup with Kobe like Bowen could and the only one who gets a look off the bench who could handle him is James Posey. Is Doc Rivers going to sacrifice offense for defense and sit Ray Allen like he did in the fourth quarter of Game 6? I don’t think so, he’s not that good of a coach. And that mini-resurgence we saw from Ray-Ray was just a mirage. I can’t see him really being a factor in this series with Kobe matching up against him (very different from Rip Hamilton).

FORWARDS: ADVANTAGE CELTICS

This is where the Celtics have a huge advantage. Paul Pierce vs. the useless European that is Vladimir Radmonovic. Phil Jackson, in an effort to limit Kobe’s minutes vs. Pierce, has decided the likes of Radmonovic, Luke Walton (who should be starting and another reason why Phil Jackson is one of the most overrated coaches in the history of basketball, but that is for another time), and Lamar Odom. Only one of those three has a chance at holding Pierce up and that man belongs on KG (can you guess who?). Maybe Coach Jackson is trying to coach down to Doc Rivers’ level, I just don’t know. But expect Pierce to have a monster series offensively and to struggle defensively on Kobe (at least I hope Doc doesn’t put Ray-Ray on him).

Power Forward is another position where the Celtics have a huge advantage. KG is the heart and soul of this team and plays with enough intensity to light up the entire city of Los Angeles for 2 weeks straight. Meanwhile, Lamar Odom plays with the intensity of a wet noodle, has a penchant for missing key free-throws down the stretch, and disappears from games for quarters at a time. I also believe he is going to struggle on KG or Perkins because one is too skilled and the other is just way too big for him to handle (and by big I mean fat).

CENTER: ADVANTAGE LAKERS

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, Pau Gasol is the most important Laker. This team revolves around Kobe but he is the moon to Kobe’s sun. He is perfect for this offense because he passes, shoots, and is foreign ( I don’t really know if that is important or not, I just wanted to say that). Kendrick Perkins on the other hand has the ability to be dominant for a half and then disappear for the next game and a half. He also has a tendency to let his emotions get the better of him and is susceptible to technical fouls. However, I’m higher on Perkins than most for the simple reason is that he does what he is asked of: rebound, defend, and clean up the garbage around the rim. He fits into the flow of his team and doesn’t mind being the fifth option. His humility is refreshing for a player drafted out of high school while his English skills are sort of scary (I don’t think he can handle words with more than three syllables, but who cares because neither can I).

COACHING: ADVANTAGE JACKSON

While I hate Phil Jackson and believed he has lucked into two of the greatest situations ever (MJ and Kobe + Shaq), Doc Rivers is still the worst coach in the NBA not named Isiah Thomas (can we still make fun of him? I think I still can because he is a moron and morons deserved to be ridiculed). The triangle offense is effective, even if nobody exactly knows what it is and he sticks to his rotation, which can’t be said for Mr. Rivers (does he run an offense?)

BENCH: ADVANTAGE EVEN

I truly believe the Celtics have a better bench, but you never know what Doc Rivers is going to do with his talent other than misuse them. The problem is the Celtics have too much talent on the bench, which could be confusing for a mere mortal. However, the rotation should consist of Eddie House, James Posey, Leon Powe, and PJ Brown. Sam Cassel can not handle being a backup and a bad one at that and Glen “Big Baby” Davis needs another year of seasoning to understand the nuances of playoff basketball. Each of those four adds energy and understands their roles on the team. PJ Brown also adds experience while Eddie House, at least from what I’ve seen, is just excited to be there.

Phil Jackson has the lesser talent, but gets more out of his players by sticking to a consistent rotation. Jordan Farmar has played inconsistently but is still getting minutes because he is a winner and Jackson does not want to mess with his confidence. Sasha Vujacic adds European toughness, as does Ronny Turiaf (is that possible?) while Luke Walton is the perfect player for this offense and should be playing 30 minutes a game but I’ll settle for him getting 20 and giving the Lakers a huge weapon off the bench.

X-FACTOR: RAJON RONDO PG, CELTICS

This one was tough to pick, but if Rondo can supplant Ray Allen as the third most important Celtic for all the right reasons, then this series is the Celtics for the taking. However, if he is the third most important Celtic for the wrong reasons (poor shooting, bad defense, and turnovers), then consider the Celtics French Toast.

KEY MATCH-UP: KOBE VS. PAUL PIERCE

While they may not play many minutes against each other, the two best scorers in this series will go a long way towards determining which team wins. If Kobe can outscore Paul by ten or more points, Kobe will add another MVP trophy to his hardware.

PREDICTION: CELTICS IN SEVEN

While most experts are proclaiming the Lakers to be the best in all the land, I think the Celtics have way too much talent to lose. Throw in home court advantage with the 2-2-1-1-1 schedule that punishes the lower seed, I’d look for the Celtics to win and Paul Pierce to take home the MVP Finals with a spectacular performance that will remind people why he is the only remaining Celtic left from the last decent Celtic team.

BEARD

Before I get into dissecting this matchup, I just wanted to give some brief thoughts about last nights game between the Pistons and Celtics.

1- How bad did Chauncey Billups look? He was extremely tentative and was outclassed by Rajon Rondo, who Billups should own night in and night out. If he plays this in game two, I’m changing my prediction to Celtics in five. Likewise if Billups is healthy and Rondo is keeps outplaying him.

2- Where is Ray Allen’s shot? Why is he in this slump? Has he been hitting the gym and taking extra shooting practice? I believe something is going on in his head that is distracting him during the game. What it is , I can’t figure it out but I have an idea: He knows he can’t live up to the expectations set by the fans and teammates and is faltering when it matters. Pressure is something he can’t handle. Every year besides 2000-2001 and 2004-2005, none of his teams, when he was the first option, made it out of the first round (both of those years he made it to the Conference Finals). Even now as the third banana, he can not handle the expectations set upon himself and his team.

3- The Pistons need to get the ball into the paint. John Hollinger of ESPN wrote a great article explaining this (His article is point 8 on the Daily Dime). He can articulate this thought much better than I can.

Now, onto the Lakers and Spurs…

While this isn’t the matchup everyone wanted to see here, I believe that this is going to be the best series of the playoffs. All of the ingredients are there: The reigning MVP, a top-3 greatest Power Forward of all time, two of the greatest coaches, Los Angeles, and a heated rivalry that has been waiting to be reestablished.

Guards: Advantage Lakers

That should really say Advantage Kobe. Kobe Bryant is the best player in the world right now. Defenses can’t stop him, they can only hope to contain him to 30 points. So far he is averaging 33 points a game in the playoffs and has led the Lakers to an 8-2 record during that time as well (the best in the league). I wish I could say more but then I have to snap back into reality. Derek Fisher showed last year on the Jazz how valuable he is and he is proving it even more so this year. Its not that he is a stat stuffer, its more like he understands how to play the game correctly and will always put his team in a position to win. Couldn’t say that about the Laker’s starting point guard last year. Additionally, Fisher is a veteran of the Triangle Offense and runs it better than anyone else in the league.

This is not to say that Spurs back court is weak. Tony Parker has become a top-5 point guard this year and is only getting better. He can abuse opposing guards with his quickness or knock down the long range J. In my humble opinion, he is the toughest matchup for the Lakers. For the two-guard spot, its tough to say who starts. I’m putting Manu Ginobilli as the starter just for the simple reason that he was the Spurs leading scorer this year. And he plays too much to be a sixth man. He is just as quick as Parker, deadlier from long distance, and capable of handling the point guard duties. However, like most European players (Yes, I know he’s from Argentina), his defense is suspect and I don’t know who he is going to match up with defensively (Radmonovic I guess?).

Forwards: Advantage Spurs

This should really say Advantage Tim Duncan. As much as Kobe means to the Lakers, Timmy D means that much to the Spurs. He is their anchor on defense in the paint and he has the ability to take over games with out even touching the ball. Not to be forgotten is Bruce Bowen who is considered to be the best on ball defender in the league (I believe he is a dirty no good cheater, but thats just my opinion). He is going to have the glorious responsibility to shadow Kobe wherever he goes and attempt to stop him. While he does have little value on offense, he does have the ability to spread the floor for the Spurs and knock down the open three.

The Laker’s front court presents difficult match-up problems for the Spurs. Both Vladimir Radmanovic and Lamar Odom are 6-10 and extremely athletic. This alone should cause nightmares for the Spurs. However, Radmanovic is the worst starting player left in the playoffs and is completely useless on the defensive end of the floor. His only use will be to shoot open jumpers and subsequently miss them. Lamar Odom on the other hand is perhaps one of the best third options in the league. He rebound, drive, defend, and handle the point guard duties. His only weakness is that he can not handle pressure situations. If I am the Spurs, I am fouling him at the end of the game and putting him on the line and force him to win the game for the Lakers.

Center: Advantage Lakers

Pau Gasol has made the Lakers into the best team in the NBA. He gives them the high post presence that they have lacked for awhile. Moreover, his passing ability affords the Lakers to run their offense through him. He can dominate games with his scoring, passing, and rebounding. He is a complete player and has made this team almost impossible to beat.

Whoever the Spurs put at center (whether its Kurt Thomas or Frabicio Oberto) won’t really matter because like Bowen, their main assignment will be to play hard defense, rebound, and score second chance points. Thats it.

Bench: Advantage Neither

Both of these teams have strong benches that are well coached and well used. The Lakers go four deep with Jordan Farmar (PG), Sasha Vujacic (SG), Luke Walton (F), and Ronny Turiaf (F/C). Each of these players has a specific role and fills it well. Farmar is going to be leading this team very soon and is doing an effective job running the second unit. Vujacic add toughness and a Eurotrash aspect that is fun. Turiaf provides the energy, defense, and rebounding off the bench. However, Walton is the real wildcard here. I believe he is the fourth best player on this team and should be starting. He is like a whiter, smaller Lamar Odom because they have the same skill set. He can pass, run the offense, and do the little things that teams need in order to win. I would look to him to making a difference in a couple of games.

The Spurs on the other hand utilize most of their bench players with Michael Finley (G), Jacque Vaughn (PG), Ime Udoka (SF), Robert Horry (PF), and Kurt Thomas (F/C) all seeing minutes. Finley, Horry, and Thomas all provide even more playoff tested veteran leadership and intangibles that always seem to put the Spurs on top. The real wild card here is Udoka though. He is a more athletic version of Bowen and will be relied upon to provide valuable minutes as the Kobe Bryant defender du jour. He is also dangerous as a three-point shooter.

Coaching: Advantage Neither

At least in the West, neither coach will make a mistake that will put the other team in position to win. We saw that multiple times out East with Flip Saunders and Doc Rivers. Both of these coaches have multiple rings and know what it takes to get the most out of their players. I think the mind games they play off the court will be just as entertaining to watch as what happens on the court.

FUN FACT: Dating back to 1999, the Lakers (2000-2002) and Spurs (1999, 03, 05, 07) have accounted for 7 of the 9 NBA Champions (Detroit won in 2004 and Miami won in 2006).

Key Match-Up: Spurs Forwards vs. Lakers Forwards

If the Lakers front court can keep the Spurs less athletic big men out of their comfort zone, this series will not be as close as I believe it will be. But, as much as Odom, Gasol, and Radmanovic provide trouble, Tim Duncan is just as tough to match-up with for the Lakers. Who do the Lakers put on him? Gasol and risk foul trouble for their best post guy? Odom and watch him get abused by Duncan? If Tim Duncan can get Odom and/or Gasol into early foul trouble, the Lakers will be up a certain creek without a paddle.

X-Factor: Vladimir Radmanovic, PF, LA Lakers

If he can force the Spurs to guard him on the three point line, this will open up the lane for KB24. If puts up a 1-6 stinker like he did in Game Four of the Jazz series, then the Spurs will be able to pack it in and allow his defender to sag into the middle of floor and help with Gasol or Kobe.

Prediction: Spurs in 7

I want to pick against the Spurs…but I can’t. The big three of Duncan, Ginobilli, and Parker will be too much for the Lakers to over come. Also, look for the Spurs to take two road games (Game 2 and Game 7). However, it would not surprise me either if the Lakers took this series in five as well. But, I’m going to stick with the Spurs.

BEARD