Thursday, June 5, 2008

Celtics-Lakers, Version 11

For the 11th time this evening, the Celtics and Lakers will meet for the NBA title. A few thoughts.

1. Perhaps only Yankees-Dodgers has the same history and, within that history, definition of distinct eras (Russell-Havlicek/West-Baylor and Bird/Magic). The new era, defined by Kobe and KG will start tonight.

2. The Series could be defined fairly quickly: Can the Celtics control Kobe? Ray Allen (probably briefly), Paul Pierce, and James Posey (probably at crunch time) will all play Kobe for periods of time. The question is whether he can be neutralized, and whether KG (who will be probably chasing Lamar Odom on the perimeter) will be available -- and able -- to give help.

3. Another point-to-watch: do the Lakers try to post-up Rondo? In the Detroit series, a (seemingly injured) Chauncey Billups did not take Rondo down in the post, where he was very effective, at least during the regular season; in the playoffs, Billups ventured down there rarely, if at all. Perhaps Flip Saunders can think about that decision next year.

4. Watching the films from the Bird-Magic era on ESPN Classic over the past few days once again is a reminder of the changes in the NBA since the 1980s. The length of the shorts, the physical size (bulk) of the players), and the pace of the game are all significantly different. On the last point the game was much quicker and end-to-end, although the athleticism of the individuals is obviously (and demonstrably) greater today. But 1980s NBA action ("It's Fannnnn-tasitic"); almost like hockey in comparision to today's over-coached, slow-it-down-and-grind-it-out game.

5. Another significant change: the shape of the stadium. The old Garden was a vertical box where the fans in the front row of the balcony could practically block a high shot. The fan noise and cheers created its own atmosphere, especially when coupled with the lack of air conditioning. In today's Garden (which, like the Staples Center, is a shallow bowl built to maximize the luxury boxes), fan noise disappears into the air; no wonder the Cs have added the video screens and Celtic Dancers.

6. Finally, another difference in the 1980s game: thanks to the NFL-ization of the refs, which has removed seemingly all personality or other discretion from the refs' calls, you won't see another Earl Strom, who 'sold' his calls -- good, bad, or otherwise, with body language.

(Note: Skip to the 1:30 mark of the tape where you can see a rare mental lapse by Larry Bird, failing to identify his man (James Worthy) after a miss down at the other end; commentator Tommy Heinsohn said that it was the only time he had seen such a mental mistake from Bird.)

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