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Thursday, June 5, 2008
Factor No. 1 in the NBA Finals: Kobe Bryant

ESPN.com

Kobe Bryant and Paul Pierce
Kobe's the Most Valuable Player for a reason. If the game is tight in the fourth quarter, he's your man.
We asked 10 of our experts to rate the most important factors leading into the NBA Finals.

Each expert had 100 points to apportion among five key factors. The rules stated no factor could be worth more than 50 points or less than 10 points. Each expert named a wild-card factor as well.

Surprise, surprise: NBA MVP Kobe Bryant was named on the most ballots and awarded the most points -- but he was not the unanimous choice as the main factor in the series, nor was he named on every ballot.

Some of our experts found other key factors that could trump KB24, including the Celtics' defense and the battle of the benches.

Click through the pages to see how the voting went.

Finals Factors: No. 1 | No. 2 | No. 3 | No. 4 | No. 5 | Others | Wild cards | Results


Factor No. 1: Kobe Bryant (297 points)

J.A. Adande (48 points): It's possible this entire postseason is being played inside Kobe's head, like the kid in (spoiler alert!) the "St. Elsewhere" TV show finale. That's how in control he appears to be.

If that's the case -- or anything close to it -- Factors 2 through 6 are moot.

(Lakers-Celtics has me feeling nostalgic, so I'm putting everything here in terms of 1980s TV shows.)

THE BALLOTS

Click below to see the ballots of our 10 writers:

Henry Abbott, TrueHoop
J.A. Adande, ESPN.com
Chris Broussard, ESPN The Mag
Ric Bucher, ESPN The Mag
John Hollinger, ESPN.com
Tim Legler, ESPN
Jalen Rose, ESPN
Chris Sheridan, ESPN.com
Marc Stein, ESPN.com
David Thorpe, Scouts Inc.

Chris Sheridan (40 points): I expect at least three of these games to come down to fourth-quarter shootouts that go down to the final minute, and I trust Kobe more than I trust anyone else in this series to make the right play or the big shot in those instances.

Marc Stein (40 points): This has been Kobe's season more than anyone else's, and I fully expect him to polish it off appropriately. The combination of No. 24's being this close to the finish line and the fact that Boston can't guard him like San Antonio did will be fatal for the Celts.

John Hollinger (35 points): Like it or not, these are the Kobe Finals, and not just for the prima-donna-finally-sees-the-light story line.

He's the go-to scorer for the favorites and the reigning MVP, and he'll have more touches than anyone else by far. How he fares against Boston's vaunted defense likely will be the greatest determining factor in which side prevails.

Jalen Rose (30 points): The Black Mamba and MVP of the league. This is a chance for him to win his fourth title and he does not plan to disappoint.

David Thorpe (30 points): The best player in these playoffs is a huge difference-maker in the fourth quarter. His ability to create points and open up shots for teammates might be the answer to Boston's defense. The Lakers can't win without great production from their MVP.

He also is capable of playing shut-down defense on Ray Allen -- and he can give Pierce problems on occasion.

Ric Bucher (28 points): He's the best player in the series, the element the Celtics have no easy answer for. And no one has more to lose or gain by the outcome.

Tim Legler (26 points): Kobe is the best player in the world and obviously will put his stamp on the game every night, but the Celts have taken pride in not letting their opponent's best player beat them.

He will be facing the best defensive team in the NBA, the most physical front line and the game's best defensive communicator, Kevin Garnett.

Henry Abbott (20 points): With Tony Allen slowed and possibly out due to injury, I'm quite certain the Celtics won't be using the "beat him up all series long" approach to Kobe-stopping.

That means they likely will do what they did successfully in the regular season: protect the rim like crazy, but leave Allen out there all alone to guard Kobe. In the regular season, they turned Bryant into a long-distance shooter, and he happened to be cold. For the Lakers' sake, he can't be cold again.

Next: Factor No. 2