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Thursday, June 3, 2010
Celtics-Lakers Finals facts

By Scoop Jackson
ESPN.com

LOS ANGELES -- Twenty facts no one will admit about this Celtics-Lakers NBA Finals series:

1. Rajon Rondo will not be the deciding factor in whether the Celtics win. As great as he's been balling and as much as the matchup against Derek Fisher looks to be drastically in his favor -- although Fish looked almost all-world in the Suns series -- the Rondo factor is not the one that will get Boston the chip. Its bench is. All the Celtics need is for one player -- Glen "Big Baby" Davis, Rasheed Wallace, Nate Robinson or Tony Allen -- to have one good game each night of the series. If that happens, victory will be close to guaranteed. The Lakers have only one bench player, Lamar Odom, who has shown the capability to win a game. That is the biggest matchup problem in this series.

Kobe Bryant
Kobe Bryant is surely motivated by conversation about who's the greatest NBA player of all time.

2. Andrew Bynum in the Lakers' lineup will not be the difference between this year and 2008. Instead, whether Pau Gasol avoids being "punked" by Kevin Garnett will be. Gasol is not the same player he was two years ago. Since then, he has won an NBA ring and delivered a FIBA world championship to Spain. Furthermore, his mental fortitude is 100 percent better. The sequel should be much different.

3. Kobe Bryant won't average 30 points per game. As well as he's played since the Lakers escaped Oklahoma City in the first round, Kobe will not score 33 ppg against the Celtics the way he did against the Jazz and the Suns. Celtics assistant coach and defensive guru Tom Thibodeau won't allow it. Bryant will max out at 28 ppg.

4. Even in victory, Doc Rivers won't prove to be the Gregg Popovich of this era. Doc may rightfully put himself in the conversation about the greatest coaches of this generation. Phil Jackson will be the Robert De Niro of coaching as long as he stays in Los Angeles. Rivers remains coaching's Russell Crowe until he wins five rings (one more than Pop).

5. The Celtics are still old. True. But it won't cost them games.

6. Something will happen to make fans think the series is fixed. Inevitably, an official will become the NBA's version of Jim Joyce. But the league will rectify the mistake. Example: Game 5 in the Celtics-Magic series, which included a "phantom" technical foul on Kendrick Perkins that was later rescinded. The call had everyone from Bill Simmons to die-hard Lakers fans screaming. But the Celtics deadened the talk by taking care of business in Game 6.

7. If the Lakers lose, Mitch Kupchak will be fired for signing Ron Artest instead of Trevor Ariza. People will give the Lakers' GM the ill street blues for not re-signing last year's superstar-in-the-making Ariza and gambling on Queensbridge's finest, forgetting that part of the reason the Lakers acquired Artest was the anticipation of facing the Cavs in the Finals and needing someone who could "slow down" LeBron. Just when Kupchak was getting over what he got in return for trading Shaq.

8. If the Celtics lose, the media will blame Sheed. What else is new?

9. The Laker Girls aren't what they used to be. The dancers for the Miami Heat have become the new standard. Nothing against the new 2010 version, but there's more L.A.-type talent roaming the lobby of the new W Hotel in Hollywood.

10. The media will overanalyze every game to the point of nausea. That's just what we do.

11. The public (and the NBA) really, really, really wanted to see LeBron James in the Finals instead. The media keep talking about how this is a dream matchup for the NBA. Whatever. The truth on top of the truth is that the renewed rivalry talk is a cover-up for what the league wanted. People wanted to finally have something tangible to put an end to the much-more-important (and ongoing) argument of who's the best player in the game: LeBron or Kobe?

Joey Crawford
We hope Joey Crawford and the rest of the crew learn from what happened to the MLB umpires this week.

12. The Lakers will lose a game at the Staples Center. Just not Game 7.

13. More people probably will watch LeBron on "Larry King Live" than any game in the series outside of a Game 7. An audience looking for answers to what happened to him in Games 5 and 6 as well as hints about where he might be playing next season will watch Friday night. Afterward, that large audience will turn off its flat-screens disappointed.

14. As much as this is being pushed as a rivalry, the series doesn't really feel like it, and it doesn't compare to the real Celtics-Lakers rivalries of the past. As great as Boston is, the team doesn't have a polarizing figure large enough to match Bryant. In the historic series between the two teams, there always has been a counterpart to the other team's biggest star or best storyline. For Wilt Chamberlain, the Celts had Bill Russell; for Larry Bird, the Lakers had Magic Johnson. For James Worthy, the there was Kevin McHale; for Bob Cousy and John Havlicek, Jerry West and Elgin Baylor. There were rivalries inside of the rivalry itself that made it special.

15. If KG keeps lashing out (i.e., elbows to Quentin Richardson in the first round, hitting Dwight Howard's arm twice in the conference finals, etc.) as he has been, he will no longer be the face of the franchise. He needs to simply play ball, nothing else. He's on the verge of being looked at as someone he's really not: the NBA's new reigning jerk, a title once held by, you guessed it, Artest.

16. The World Cup may take away interest in the series. The hype. The reality. If the U.S. beats England on June 12, it would be the worst thing that could happen to the Finals. Stephen Strasburg's Major League Baseball debut on June 8, the day of Game 3, won't help, either.

17. Everyone outside the NBA wants a fight to break out in one of the games. Aside from the law offices of Stern, Jackson, Silver and Crawford (David, Stu, Adam and Joey, respectively), everyone wants to see blood. Not a brawl, just a good, old-fashioned fight. Something that'll get two or three inconsequential players fined and suspended for a game. Fans are fiending for the days of Kurt Rambis getting clotheslined by Kevin McHale. The league has gotten soft by way of rules and players. It needs something ugly to happen. Yes, it's irresponsible, but unfortunately a subplot -- albeit a somewhat violent one -- is necessary. Very necessary.

18. Paul Pierce is one dramatic acting foul away from getting a label that he'll never be able to escape. He can't have another wheelchair moment. Ever. Or else … he might get a another letter than the "C" for captain sewn onto his jersey.

19. The Celtics need to play the same zone defense that the Suns played to confuse the Lakers. Everyone knows this will never happen, but for Rivers and Thibodeau, it could be a stroke of genius (although that also could undermine their existing defensive genius).

20. Kobe has more to lose than anyone else in this series. More people want to see Bryant lose than want to see him win. Anything to keep him out of the Jordan conversation. If he loses, people (media included) will say about his place in history that he lost three times in the Finals (once with Shaq, twice without), and that will be inarguable justification for his never being considered as great as Jordan. The problem: Kobe knows this. And he's the type of player who will use that as personal motivation.

Scoop Jackson is a columnist for ESPN.com.

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