The Celtics took the hard route to the NBA Finals, needing twenty out of a possible twenty-one games to square off against the Lakers. With Boston now up 3-2 and heading back to Beantown, it's suddenly very hard to foresee anything but the Celtics hoisting the Larry O'Brien Championship Trophy later this week.
Through the first three playoff rounds the C's struggled on the road and their celebrated defense, headed by Defensive Player of the Year Kevin Garnett, wore down under the physical play of big men like the Hawks' Al Horford and the Pistons' Antonio McDyess. But now the Celtics are the bigger and badder team and they've dominated the Lakers front court of Lamar Odom and Pau Gasol, players who are more finesse than physical. Even the expected loss of center Kendric Perkins shouldn't slow down the Celtics too much when the rest of the squad is playing exemplary team defense.
Anybody in doubt of Boston's defensive prowess need only look at Lakers guard and league MVP Kobe Bryant's numbers, which are down across the board. Bryant shot 51% from the field during the first three rounds of the playoffs. But against KG and Co.? A dismal 42% thanks to stifling individual D from Ray Allen and Paul Pierce and timely help defense. The Lakers offense is a finely tuned machine and the Celtics managed to rip out the ignition when they shut down KB24.
The Lakers did gut out two close victories and almost squeaked by with a third win on their own home court, but they'll find their work cut out for them when they head back to the TD Banknorth Garden for Game 6 and, if they're very lucky, Game 7. The Boston crowd will be loud and obnoxious and young teams like the Lakers are notoriously inconsistent on the road. The Lakers' bench has provided stellar play at times, most notably Sasha Vujacic's twenty-point outburst in Game 3, but they struggled in Games 1 and 2 -- both played in Boston -- and that was before the Lakers faced elimination.
This series will only go to a Game 7 if the Lakers can disrupt Ray Allen's newly-rediscovered shooting touch and plant themselves in front of Paul Pierce's newly-healed body. If Kobe and friends can get some stops on the defensive end then they'll have chances to run, which is the true strength of the Lakers offense. Shutting down L.A. will be hard work, but the Celtics have had plenty of practice this post-season and they know exactly what to do.