Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Celtics-Lakers -- Finals Preview

The Celtics were 66-16 during the regular season. The Lakers were 22-5 with Pau Gasol in the lineup (67-15 pace). Never have two teams with this many victories squared off for the title.

Boston also turned in one of the greatest seasons ever at the defensive end of the floor, ranking first in field-goal defense, 3-point defense and efficiency (fewest points per 100 possessions).

The Celtics' main concern, however, is that their offense has become rather ordinary in the postseason. As a result, they are just 12-8 in the playoffs, struggling to close out the Hawks and Cavs in seven games each.

In short, Boston has not shown much of that 66-win form. A big reason why is the drop in production from Ray Allen, whose numbers are down across the board (17.4 points, 44.5 FG%, 39.8 3FG% to 14.2, 40.3, 34.0). Without an effective Allen, the Celtics struggle to score.

The Lakers, meanwhile, are rolling. In the 27 regular-season games with Gasol, LA outscored its foes by a bunch: +11.6 per game. In the playoffs, the Lakers are 12-3 overall (8-0 home, 4-3 road). The scoring margin is down a bit, but still impressive at +6.4. In order, they've dispatched of the Nuggets (a 50-win team and a formidable eight-seed), the Jazz (nearly unbeatable at home and a pick by many to win it all), and the defending champions, the Spurs.

LA's offense is clicking. Kobe is getting his numbers, but for the most part, he's doing it within the offense, which means Gasol, Lamar Odom, and Derek Fisher, etc., are more effective, too. Given the focus on the offense, the Lakers' defense has sailed under the radar, but it's better than advertised.

This series is LA's to lose. Boston's defense has been so tough all year, but the Celtics haven't seen an offense this dialed in with post options, shooters and the best player on the planet. Look for Fisher to lock in on Allen. As we've seen, a shutdown there makes Boston's offense predictable and stagnant. It would absolutely shock me if the Celtics beat LA four times in seven games.

Lakers in 6