Seven "Truths" Learned From The Lakers-Celtics 2010 NBA Finals

June 21, 2010

In a classic Game 7 war of wills, the Los Angeles Lakers hustled and scrapped their way past a determined Boston Celtics squad for an 83-79 victory at Staples Center in Los Angeles. The win provided the Lakers with their second consecutive championship and 16th overall, evening the score in this current era of the Celtics-Lakers rivalry at one series apiece.

The Lakers had to fight through numerous Game 7 hurdles to claim their title, including a poor shooting night from Kobe Bryant and a tough Celtics defense. Meanwhile, the Celtics had several problems of their own to handle, including a hostile road environment and an injury to starting center Kendrick Perkins.

Looking back at what turned out to be an excellent series and a thrilling Game 7, we can now reflect on what was learned from this latest clash between the Lakers and the Celtics.

Here are 7 truths revealed during the 2010 NBA Finals:

7. There was No Referee Conspiracy, Only Referee Incompetence

Although some would like to believe that Tim Donaghy is a trustworthy whistleblower and David Stern a crafty puppeteer bent on extending the Finals to seven games, the rational people who live on this planet know that such referee conspiracy theories border on the absurd.

Quite simply, any deliberate plans to alter the outcome of a series would be far too complex to carry out because certain random game events - missed free throws, careless turnovers, Doc Rivers sprinting to call a time out - are beyond the refs' control and clairvoyance, and would undermine whatever preconceived "plans" they might have.

Still, for at least two games in this series, the officiating was a problem.

In Games 1 and 2, the referees appeared to indeed have a set agenda: control the level of physical play in the series and prevent any violence from occurring.

As a result, the first two games devolved into an embarrassing ticky-tack whistle-fest that threatened to take the fun out of the Finals.

Not only did the refs appear to be anticipating fouls in advance, they often made incorrect calls. Moreover, that incompetence negatively affected both teams.

In Game 1, Boston's Ray Allen played limited minutes after he picked up 5 quick fouls, many of which were questionable.

In Game 2, Kobe Bryant also was charged with 5 personals, including a phantom offensive foul on a fallaway J, an incorrect charging call after Big Baby rotated late, and a loose ball foul after a Celtic flop. To make matters worse, the refs inexcusably blew an out-of-bounds call after reviewing the replay.

Thankfully, the NBA powers-that-be told the zebras to tone it down, and suddenly basketball games began to emerge. After having the first two games produce over 50 fouls per contest, Game 7 only had 44 total fouls. No coincidence it was the best game of the series.

6. "No Rebounds, No Rings"

Never were Pat Riley's words of wisdom more true than in this series, as the team which won the rebound battle prevailed in every game.

No greater indicator of this was seen than in Game 7, as the Lakers shot a woeful 32%, but were able to win due to a 53-40 edge on the boards. In that game the Lakers had a whopping 23-8 advantage on the offensive glass, providing much-needed second looks to their struggling offense.

5. Artest Earned His Money

After months of second-guessing from a short-sighted press corps convinced that Trevor Ariza was a better fit, Ron Artest managed to silence the LA Times' Bill Plaschke and other critics with a clutch Game 7 performance.

Although Artest might not have been as effective a three-point shooter as Ariza, the reality is that Artest was an excellent fit, as his defense, toughness, and unselfishness proved to be assets all year.

Offensively, Artest was unselfish to a fault, often passing up good shots of his own just to make sure he did not disrupt the offensive flow too often. More importantly, he demonstrated the maturity to not let his statistical scoring dip affect his defensive intensity.

Defensively, Artest's physical on-ball defense caused Paul Pierce fits, especially in Game 7 when Pierce shot 5-15 for the game.

Finally, Artest's toughness made a difference in this series, as he set the tone in the first 30 seconds of Game 1 by wrestling Paul Pierce to the floor. That tough edge was later revealed in Game 7, as Artest scrapped in the paint for rebounds, fought for loose balls and steals, and produced a clutch scoring performance in a contest where many succumbed to the pressure.

In fact, for this particular opponent, Artest likely was the better guy to have on the floor. Ariza's athletic, finesse-oriented game might get more style points, but the Celtics have a good track record of shutting such players down on defense.

In other words, LA needed an aggressive man-to-man defender at the three, capable of initially denying Paul Pierce the ball, physically holding his ground, and then tenaciously contesting shots after the catch. Ariza's flashy, shoot-the-passing lanes defense, would not have been nearly as effective against Pierce's raw strength.

4. Bynum Made A Difference

Since 2008, the Lakers had long believed that a healthy Andrew Bynum would have changed things in their prior encounter with the Celtics. Turns out they were correct.

Despite limping on a sore and injured knee, Bynum's interior presence had a major impact on this series. Not only did Bynum prove to be an effective weakside shotblocker and rebounder, he also was a decently effective scorer in the paint. As the largest, strongest player on the floor, Bynum's activity was crucial for a Lakers squad plagued by inconsistent play from Lamar Odom.

As for Laker fans, Bynum has provided them with some barstool bragging rights over their Beantown rivals. In other words, supporters of the purple and gold can always argue that they had the better team during this era, since the Lakers won in 2009, won again in 2010 when both squads were at full strength, and would have won in 2008 but for Bynum's injury.

3. Rondo Not Yet As Good As Hyped

After some monster postseason performances, Celtic Rajon Rondo entered the Finals to talk of possibly being the NBA's top point guard. The Finals proved otherwise.

Make no mistake, Rondo currently is a quality top 10 point guard and the creative, break-down-the-D force behind the Celtic offense. In addition, Rondo is a defensive ballhawk who is a potential triple-double threat on any given night.

He played outstanding in Game 2, and had his share of highlights throughout the series.

But he also is young, somewhat turnover prone, a sub-par outside shooter, and still learning the position. And in this series, some of those deficiencies rose to the surface.

With Kobe Bryant guarding him and playing free safety, Rondo at times reverted to his form from two years ago and became gun shy about shooting his mid-range jumper. Worse yet, he was in a horrible slump at the foul line, causing him to be a reluctant driver to the hole. As such, the Lakers prevented him from having a true "take over" game in the series.

In the end, this series proved that Rondo is on the cusp of true stardom, but still has some distance to go before he fully arrives. Unfortunately for Boston, he must arrive there sooner rather than later, as the rest of the Celtic nucleus is not getting any younger.

2. The Old Guys Can Still Play

It has long been proven that young teams do not win in the NBA. In this series however, there were several veterans who had been written off as being too old to be consistently effective. Such criticism proved premature.

Ray Allen set a Finals record in Game 2 with 8 three-point baskets, seven of which occurred in the first half. Allen was arguably the best player on the floor in that game, and might have had a better series had he not banged his thigh into Ron Artest in Game 3. Allen's stroke seemed to go south after that collision.

One could also reasonably contend that Kevin Garnett's matchup with a younger Pau Gasol was more or less a wash, as KG outplayed Gasol head-to-head in a couple of games. Not only was Garnett an effective help defender, but he also did a nice job of running the floor and getting opportunistic transition buckets. Moreover, KG gave Gasol trouble on offense, as he was able to face up and drive by Gasol consistently with a good first step.

Finally, Derek Fisher once again proved his worth in the playoffs by making several clutch baskets in key situations. His trey with about six minutes left knotted things up at 64 points apiece in Game 7, and he single-handedly won a crucial Game 3 on the road by taking over the fourth quarter with clutch shot after clutch shot.

Fisher had heard all year that he was too slow defensively on the ball - a valid charge that was true even seven years ago during his first LA tour (remember the reasons behind the Gary Payton signing?). Still, the Lakers can live with whatever defensive penetration he may allow because with Fisher the positive trade offs are so great.

Fisher is not only a crafty team defender and steady locker room leader, but also a clutch knockdown shooter. And at this point, it still does not appear that either Jordan Farmar, Shannon Brown, or Sasha Vujacic are ready to take over Fisher's crunch time, shot-making role.

Both teams would be wise to sign their grizzled vets for at least one more title run.

1. Kobe's Laker Legacy Has Been Rescued

On the morning of Game 7, ESPN writer Chris Sheridan was on a Los Angeles sports radio show discussing whether Kobe's legacy would be affected by the outcome of the game.

Sheridan said that he and the boys at Bristol had debated the notion, and that his opinion was that a loss would be a harmless "blip" on Kobe's resume.

Sheridan astutely pointed out that Kobe's 2008 gold medal, four rings, defensive talents, and countless array of game-winning baskets had already cemented him in the Hall of Fame as an all-time great. And from his broad, national, across-the-board perspective, he was correct.

From the viewpoint of the Lakers organization and its fanbase however, Sheridan was embarrassingly clueless and ill-informed about the situation.

Had the Lakers lost Game 7, Kobe's Laker legacy would have been forever tainted, and there could have been nothing he could have done to repair it.

The reason? From the Los Angeles perspective, nothing is as important as beating the Celtics. Victories over Boston help erase the past suffering caused by the Green. Victories even the score in the "bragging rights" war. Outsiders like Sheridan simply don't get it.

To the organization and its fans, last year's domination over Orlando was their "blip" on the radar screen - a cute victory, another trophy for the case, but perhaps worth only 15% of the satisfaction that any championship over Boston would have provided. Good for a nice pat on the back for Kobe, but still an incomplete answer to his 2008 loss to Boston.

So for Kobe this Game 7 would be his defining Laker moment. A loss to Boston - at home no less - and his Laker career would forever have an asterisk. Four rings? That's wonderful. But in Los Angeles everything ultimately comes down to this: what have you done against Boston when given the chance?

Simply stated, no amount of future titles could have made up for such a loss.

Rings 5, 6, and 7? Irrelevant. It still would not make up for the losses in 2008 and 2010.

Perhaps a 2011 win next year against these same Celtics? Not good enough because they would be older, weaker, and nothing more than a hollow, watered-down conquest. Moreover, the Celtics would still retain a 2-1 edge during this era.

So without exaggeration, Kobe's entire Laker legacy was at stake in this series. And as a true student and historian of the game, Bryant knew it.

Bryant played throughout the Finals like a guy fully aware and feeling the immense pressure of the rivalry, as he was engaged, locked in, and giving max effort every step of the way. Unfortunately for Bryant, the results often were hit or miss.

In Game 1, he was the best player on the floor, dictating and orchestrating the LA attack and putting up 30 points in the process. He later produced a similar performance in a Game 6 blowout win, rallying the troops after being down 3-2 in the series.

In Game 5, Kobe had 19 spectacular third-quarter points, on his way to a dominant 38-point effort in a losing cause. For Kobe, his most impressive individual performance of the series was undone by a shoddy Lakers defense that could not get stops, and by several teammates who failed to show.

Then there were those other occasions when Kobe would give his best, but simply was not good enough to impact the game like a Magic, Bird, or other all-time great.

Throwing out his foul-plagued Game 2, Kobe was a ghost during the fourth-quarter of the Lakers' pivotal Game 3 win, as he threw up several crunch-time bricks, but fortunately was rescued by Fisher. Similarly in Game 4, he failed to close the fourth quarter and the Celtics were able to even the series.

In Game 7 - the most important of his life - Kobe was at his worst, shooting a miserable 6-24, missing four free throws, jacking up forced bricks from the perimeter, and carelessly fumbling the ball away at times.

And while he was admirably playing with a finger so busted retired great Kevin McHale was astonished that he could even dress for games, Kobe nevertheless was on the verge of permanently tarnishing his Laker legacy.

So with his shot in ruins, he made up for it in other ways, crashing the glass for 15 vital rebounds, many of which came during the fourth quarter. As such, he performed well enough to win the series and deservedly earn MVP honors.

Now armed with a fifth ring, the national media probably is convinced that Bryant strongly improved his career resume as an all-time great winner.

In truth, however, his real accomplishment was preventing the permanent deterioration of his status in Laker history. That finally has been rescued from 2008.

By Mike Elliott
Staff Editor for

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