The NBA Finals start tonight, featuring one of the greatest sports rivalries of all time, Lakers vs. Celtics. If you’re my age, you grew up watching these two teams duke it out in the 80’s. And just two years ago, they faced off in the NBA Finals, with the Celtics coming out on top. But it should be noted that the Lakers are the defending champions (they beat the Magic last year), so it should be an interesting series to say the least. I’m excited, so I called on my Westcheddar hoops analysts who previewed the season back in ’09 (all White Plains guys), Tommy Dee of The Knicks Blog, coach Johnny Halas from Amherst College, and coach Brian Duignan from Mamaroneck, to take a look back at this year’s playoffs and give us the inside scoop on what to expect in the Finals. These are the guys you want sitting next to you at the bar watching the game.
IP: So boys, what did you think of the playoffs thus far? Amazing? Boring? Fun to watch?
JH: There have been some great games so far. But a few teams have mailed in some games (Hawks-Magic). At the beginning of the season, I picked a Hawks-Nuggets final, so I was glad to see them both in the playoffs. Watching Kobe close out the Suns last night was pretty good too. Hopefully all the kids that were watching the game before will realize how important boxing out is!!
TD: The early rounds were pretty exciting, while both Conference Finals were snore-fests. Let’s hope the Lakers-Celtics series has the cache of the one 2 years ago and a fraction of the ones from the 80s.
BD: Boring. Only good game so far was Game 5 Suns vs. Lakers. 1st game I watched that I didn’t shut off in under 5 minutes.
IP: There were a bunch of sweeps, especially in the second round. What do you attribute to that?
TD: The Spurs weren’t healthy and the Suns benefited from that. They made shots, got momentum on their side and cruised. Ginobili getting hurt was a key part of that series. If he doesn’t break his nose the Spurs win game 3 and who knows what happens. The Hawks just could guard D-12 in the paint. Al Horford should have been allowed to guard him by himself, no double teams, exactly what the Celtics did to them the next series. I’m shocked the Jazz got swept. Deron Williams and Boozer played tremendously in the first round against the Nuggets, but didn’t have the same energy against Lakers. Hard to figure, frankly.
BD: I think there is a lack of heart in a number of teams. Players are very quick to pack up and want to go home. The Cavs looked like they couldn’t wait to be on the couch watching the rest of the playoffs.
JH: Basketball players are a funny breed. There is no telling what motivates them every day and night. Some guys take their match-ups personally and forget the game plan and it can hinder their teams performance. Other times, the alpha-dogs of the league just take over for a week and get it done. The teams that were swept all had tough 1st round series and I think were exhausted.
IP: What happened with Lebron and the Cavs? Were the Celtics just too good, or did Lebron and Co. not play their game?
BD: Lebron was preoccupied packing his bags. The rest of those guys played like the Tin Man. Did you hear about DeLonte West knockin boots with LeBron’s mom???? Bingo bango. If LBJ winds up in Orange & Blue, West gets my MVP vote next season.
JH: Yeah, there’s been a pretty wild rumor going around that LeBron quit on his team because he found one of his teammates in his mom’s hotel room. Not sure if there’s any truth to it, but he seem a little disinterested. Let’s keep in mind that he put up unbelievable numbers, but his teammates didn’t do a whole lot. The Celts played well, their credit is due. Personally I thought game two was a fluke, but they proved me wrong a few more times. Good for them, I’ll be pulling for them.
TD: Lebron just seemed very distant to me. As if he looked at his teammates and thought “this is it, the Celtics are better.” Right or wrong, that’s how I feel. I don’t think he quit, it was just a sense of reality checking in. The Celtics took away the paint and they contest jump shots. The Cavs couldn’t post up Shaq and get easy baskets, but in a nutshell the Cavs were build by Danny Ferry this year to beat the Magic, but they clearly overlooked the Celtics in the process.
IP: Lots of talk as to where Lebron is gonna go next year. Of course, we’re all rooting for him to come to the Knicks. Dee, I know you’ve been on the case over at TKB, and we’ve all seen the media purposely disregarding New York as a major option. But are they right? Or do we have a real shot at getting him. What’s really gonna bring him to the Big Apple?
TD: I’ve always believed he was coming because he has the chance to be the best player in franchise history in the biggest city in the world. Whatever comes with that is gravy. Bird-Boston, MJ-Chicago, the Lakers are a fraternity but West/Kobe and Magic, Detroit had Isiah. Who do the Knicks have? Those 1970s teams were exactly that…teams. I love Clyde and Willis and Barnett and Bradley, but that was 40 years ago. Ewing never won. There is a vacancy in NY from a brand standpoint and to win here would be revitalizing a basketball city the way Mark Messier slayed the dragon after 54 years for the Rangers and the way Jeter has become a God. Who’s a better player Albert Pujols or Jeter? Pujols. Who is more popular world wide? Jeter. Some star is going to take the opportunity, and I’d be shocked if Lebron passed on it. Don’t listen to the media when they tell you he won’t come to NY because the team is bad and he can’t win a championship next year. This is about the next 5 years and the Knicks with their flexibility can surround him with enough pieces to win mulitple titles in that time period.
JH: I don’t think he’s figured out where he wants to play yet. Given the current situation, I think he’s going to get out of Ohio. I read the other day that LBJ, Dwyane Wade and Joe Johnson are all trying to meet up to talk about their free agent strategies. Not sure if that’s collusion or not but I think they’re trying to do something big. I’m no capologist, but I’m pretty sure there isn’t a team that can afford to bring in 3 max contracts this summer (maybe the Clippers), the Knicks have room for 2 big contracts. If LeBron doesn’t make it, I’d like to take Joe Johnson (good fit for a run and gun offense) and Amare’ Stoudemire. Both played for D’Antoni in Phoenix and are young enough to play well together for some years.
If LeBron does come, Tracy McGrady said he’d re-sign for the veteran minimum. I’m not sure they keep David Lee, I love the guy but that doesn’t seem to matter, so they’d need to bring in another big guy. I wouldn’t mind if they signed 1 big name this off-season then went after Carmelo or Durant in the next off-season.
BD: I’ve heard Scores has offered to give him unlimited complimentary access to the their club. That’s a start. As Alicia Keys would say “let’s hear it for New York!”
IP: Were there any teams you thought would go farther than they did during the playoffs, like, other than the Cavs? Any surprises? Teams that stepped up?
BD: I thought the Suns were going to beat the Lakers. I had a feeling after they beat the Spurs the way they did, they would carry it into the Laker series. It was a great game 5 and the Suns stepped up in an amazing comeback, just didn’t happen. Heads up play by Artest. (Did I just say that out loud?)
TD: Phoenix is a bit of a surprise to me, but Nash and Amar’e on the pick and roll is something else. And J-Rich (Golden State) had a great playoff run. The team that I thought would be better was the Nuggets, but with George Karl being sick, it was impossible for Adrian Dantley to captain that ship.
JH: I thought the Nuggets would get out of the first round. Everybody seemed to think the Mavs would beat the Spurs also. Oklahoma City put up a good fight, Durant is on his way to being a mega-star. If Andrew Bogut didn’t destroy his elbow the week before the playoffs, the Bucks get past the Hawks and give the Magic a good series.
IP: So now it’s Lakers vs. Celtics in the finals, a classic NBA rivalry revisited. Who’s gonna win and why?
JH: I like the way the Celtics are playing. They handled Kobe the last time they matched up in the finals. Rondo needs to continue his dominance for them to win. Fisher, Farmar and Shannon Brown can’t stop him. Pierce and Allen look good and of course they have Nate ready to go whenever they need him. I like the Celts. A couple of my buddies in my grad program made a “pact” that they would fly out to LA if it went to a game 7. I’d like to see that.
BD: This Celtic Team fits the mold of great Celtic teams of the past. Everyone is always talking about how much better the Lakers are, and how old and slow the Celtics are. I wonder what Bill Russell thinks when he hears these “experts”. Or maybe he uses two of his eleven NBA championship rings as earplugs.
TD: Based on Kobe in the last series, I think the Lakers find a way to get revenge from 2 years ago. Lakers in 6- Kobe’s 5th.
IP: Can you think back to some memorable games or moments from past Laker vs. Celtics finals that stand out to you as historic?
JH: Magic hitting the running righty hook shook in the Boston Garden. Kevin McHale clotheslining Kurt Rambis in the forum. Two iconic plays that will forever be remembered.
TD: A million, but I’m with Halas, none stand out as much as Rambis falling on his head after being clotheslined by McHale.
BD: 1) Magic’s hook shot over McHale. 2) Russell’s last championship. I learned about this Game 7 in LA, from the documentary NBA at 50. Game sounds amazing, and if you go to the end of this clip the locker room scene is great. Russell’s speechless in his postgame interview (see video HERE 7:11 in). I also think Killer Kam (local WP x PU legend) has a little Red Auerbach in him.
IP: Give me your all playoff starting five team for 2010. Coach too. And who had the best fans, or toughest home court to play at?
TD: I’ll tell you the worst and nastiest fans are in Utah. You wouldn’t think so, but they are a step up from scumbags. Best fans in the playoffs, to me, were the Magic. All playoff team:
JH: Here’s mine:
PG- Rondo….took the leap this year. Nobody else you want more than him right now.
SG-LeBron/Kobe….too good not to have on the team, but not my favorites to coach.
SF-Durant….total phenom! Doesn’t have a ceiling, can play D on 3 positions too.
PF-Stoudemire….runs the pick and roll well, added a 15 footer and finishes everything.
C-Howard….by default. I’m not a huge fan of his, but he’s all the NBA has right now.
Coach-Alvin Gentry….he had some great game plans and line ups. I like some of his out-of-bounds plays too.
Fans-Bucks….Fear the Deer. Google it.
Home Court-Staples Center….I think some players get off their game when Jack starts heckling them.
BD: I’ll give you the guys I can’t stand to watch:
Worst Coach: Stan Van Gundy
Worst fans: Cleveland
Worst ?: Craig Sager
Can’t stand ’em: Mo Williams, JJ Redick, Verejua aka “Sideshow Bob”, Pau Gasol
IP: Quick thoughts on the NBA Draft. Who should we be watching for to make an impact this year? If you had the first pick, who are you going with?
JH: The Wizards are going with John Wall, have to replace the Arenas saga asap. Evan Turner is a great scorer and will be a star. I’m not a fan of young guys coming out early, but Wall is special and I’m pretty sure he can’t go back anyway. Derrick Favors out of Georgia Tech should be a star also.
TD: I like Evan Turner, but like with Oden and Durant a few years ago, the consensus is John Wall and you can’t take risks with the #1. Wall is special. Watch out for the Knicks at the end of the first round and two picks in the second. ****Quick Plug- TheKnicksBlog Draft Party Thursday Night June 24th and Sports Page Pub in White Plains. Come through.
BD: Wall will go 1. I think DeMarcus Cousins will be a good pro. Watch out for Grevias Vazquez next season. My Westcheddar NBA Preseason Rookie of the Year.
IP: Finally, what’s on Pau Gasol’s Ipod?
BD: Air Supply (click to listen)
JH: Sam Adams “Driving Me Crazy” (click to listen). Maybe some Justin Beiber, Kings of Leon. He seems like a lighter kind of guy before and after games. I bet he celebrates with listening to the Dos Equis commercials so he can pretend to be the most interesting man in the world.
TD: A ton of Enrique Iglesias I’m sure.