LAKERS V. CELTICS: 8 "Lessons" from Game 1 of the NBA Finals

June 5, 2010

The 102-89 victory by the Lakers over the Celtics in Game 1 of the NBA finals defied “conventional wisdom” in a host of ways. Here are a number of accepted truths that did not reflect what actually took place:

8.The play of Lamar Odom would be a key indicator of whether the Lakers would play well.

Numerous experts have pontificated, with some basis, that “as Lamar Odom goes, so go the Lakers.” However, in Game 1, Odom was plagued by foul trouble and never really got into the game. He finished with a meager 5 points and 4 rebounds to go along with his 5 fouls.

7. Andrew Bynum’s injury would limit his impact on this series, as his absence did in 2008.

Bynum played a solid 28 minutes of basketball, scoring 10 points and grabbing 6 boards. He also was a significant defensive presence against Kevin Garnett, Kendrick Perkins, and any Celtics player that came into the paint.

6. Kobe Bryant would have to put up huge numbers for the Lakers to win.

Kobe played solid and had 30 points, 7 rebounds and 6 assists. He was also the sparkplug behind the Lakers 3rd quarter run.

However, his 30 points came on 10 for 22 shooting and his overall offense was relatively mild compared with his other playoff performances to date. Additionally, his stats were boosted by hitting a meaningless 3-pointer with less than 5 seconds remaining. Of course he had an impact, but it was not the impact that many expected.

5. Ron Artest’s primary value was to shut down Paul Pierce, and if he did, the Lakers would win.

Artest did in fact play consistently great defense against Pierce, especially in the third quarter when Pierce was a non-factor. However, Pierce actually played well anyway. The 2008 Finals MVP went for 24 points, 9 rebounds, and 4 assists. He also hit 12 of 13 free throws. It mattered very little.

The other surprise was that Artest, despite some foul trouble, scored 15 points of his own. By hitting three 3-pointers, Artest helped spread the floor for the Lakers big men. His overall play made such an impact that the Lakers were an astounding +26 with him on the floor.

4.Rajon Rondo might be the second best player on the floor (next to Kobe Bryant.)

Rondo’s reputation has risen astronomically over the course of the playoffs. No less an authority than Magic Johnson made the comment earlier that the Celtics might now be the “Big 1 and the Little 3.” However in Game 1, Rondo was mediocre by those standards, scoring just 13 points and dishing out only 8 assists.

Rondo was not even the best player on his team Thursday, as Paul Pierce still proved to be the leader of the Celtics. However, if you want to know who really might be the second best player on the floor, read ahead.

3. Pau Gasol might struggle against the physical presence of Kevin Garnett and Kendrick Perkins.

Hardly. Gasol dominated the Celtics inside and made his presence felt on both ends of the court. Although he had several nice passes, gone was the “skilled but skinny man” mentality of the past. Gasol went for 23 points, 14 rebounds, and 3 blocks. His eight offensive rebounds were a tribute to sheer effort. Most revealing were two specific sequences.

One came when Gasol blocked Kevin Garnett’s fadeaway jumper (see above photo). The other when he tried a nifty “Kevin Mchale-type” post move and got his own shot blocked – only to fiercely grab the loose ball and pound inside to draw a foul. The old Gasol would have merely been discouraged by the block and slinked back down court to play defense.

2. A closely officiated game would benefit the Lakers.

Everyone was sure that the challenge would be whether the “finesse” Lakers could handle the “physical play” of the Celtics better than in 2008. To that end, even Phil Jackson seemed to be lobbying for a closely-officiated game when he referred to the Celtics as a “smackdown” team. Maybe we need to re-think that.

Ultimately, Celtics fans are sure to focus on Ray Allen’s foul trouble and the Derek Fisher flops. Lakers fans might complain about the quick fouls on Lamar Odom and Ron Artest as well the Paul Pierce flops. The final stats show that more personal fouls were called on the Celtics than the Lakers, 28-26. However, the Celtics received more free throw attempts than the Lakers (36-31) and made more free throws (30-24).

But while both teams can complain of some poor calls during Thursday’s foul-fest, the Celtics were the team most often looking to the officiating for help. In fact, Boston appeared so stifled offensively at times that without frequent trips to the line, it was highly unlikely they would have scored even close to the 89 points they did.

1. Defense wins championships.

Isn't that what everyone says? And indeed Game 1 featured great defense at both ends of the floor. Nothing from Game 1 suggested either that defense is unimportant or that a bad defensive team could win an NBA Championship.

But consider this. Many felt that the Lakers supposedly "easier" road to the Finals would hinder their ability to adjust to Boston's defensive style. However, while the Thunder, Jazz, and Suns may not have Boston's vaunted defense reputation, they all had something we didn't see from the Celtics in Game 1 - the ability to score fairly regularly. Scoring 102 Points in the Western Conference Playoffs can very easily result in a loss, but in these Finals it will likely lead to a comfortable win as it did in Game 1.

On the other hand, the enormity of the Cetlics' series victories against Orlando and Cleveland may have been misleading. Sure, they defeated two very talented teams - but both of those teams also relied on solid defensive play to win. The Celtics, playing defense like 2008, could feel confident they could win those defensive battles.

However, Boston has not played a truly great offensive team in these playoffs. The Lakers are just that. Maybe the question is not if the Celtics can figure out how to hold the Lakers well under 100 points (as they have every other team in these playoffs). Maybe the question is whether the Celtics offensively can get it together to exceed 100 points on a regular basis themselves.

Game 2 Prediction

Game 2 of course, might be an entirely different story and perhaps some of the "old truths" may actually play out on Sunday. But what is evident is that the Celtics "physical edge" appears more psychological than anything. Even if we assume the Celtics play with greater hustle, muscle, and intensity in Game 2, there is no clear reason to believe the Lakers won't be able to match them.

Prediction: Lakers 107 Celtics 99

By Manish Pandya
Staff Editor for


  1. I agree. Different LA team, different result this time.

  2. Any lessons to be learned from Game 2? Because the Lakers sure got worked (by the Celtics and the refs)!

  3. ...that a different Boston team (unhealthy kj & older peirce)is a factor in the different result.


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