Paul Pierce vs. Ron Artest. Kobe Bryant vs. Rajon Rondo. Doc Rivers vs. Phil Jackson. The 2010 NBA Finals have enough storylines to fill two newspapers. On the eve of the Game 1, let's take a closer look at the top 10.
This one's a biggie. The physical Perkins has left war wounds on Jermaine O'Neal, Shaquille O'Neal and Dwight Howard, and is Boston's last line of defense. But the fiery center also has six technical fouls on his 2010 playoff resume, one shy of an automatic one-game suspension. Boston's D needs Perkins banging bodies, so he will have to work hard to keep his cool. Especially with the Lakers Andrew Bynum likely doing anything he can to get under Perk's skin.
While Artest has struggled with quicker opponents -- Kevin Durant and LeBronJames come to mind -- he thrives on opponents who try to out-muscle (Carmelo Anthony) or out-maneuver (Paul Pierce) him. Artest's footwork is superb and he is often in excellent position to contest shots. In two games against the Lakers in the regular season, Pierce averaged 13.0 points (5.3 below his season average) on 40.0 percent shooting (7.2 below his average). Pierce will have to try and use Artest's aggressiveness against him -- Ron-Ron has been a bit of a gambler in the playoffs -- and avoid settling for jump shots.
K.G.'s troublesome joint has looked considerably healthier in the postseason. That's good, because Boston will need his defensive prowess against the crafty Pau Gasol. For all the rhetoric that Gasol is "tougher" than he was in '08, the tenacious (and outspoken) Garnett can still get in his head. If he does, L.A.'s vaunted inside-out game goes kaput.
The status of Bynum's knee is a little more uncertain. The Lakers' center had nearly 2 ½ ounces of fluid drained from his knee Tuesday, raising more questions about how much the 7-footer will be able to contribute. Ideally, the Lakers would like to get 15 to 20 quality minutes from Bynum. But if he is severely limited, L.A. will lose the only front-court player with the toughness to match the Celtics' bruising play.
Answer this: has any point guard run a tougher gauntlet than Fisher, who has been asked to check Russell Westbrook, Deron Williams and Steve Nash during the Lakers run through the west? The road doesn't get much easier against Rondo, whose slashing style is similar to Westbrooks. Fisher will get some help -- expect Bryant to see minutes on Rondo -- but he will bear the lion's share of the burden. Still, what Fisher lacks in speed and quickness he makes up for with strength and guile. Expect him to bump Rondo often when he comes into the lane and draw offensive fouls on Boston's screeners. Fisher is very demonstrative when he is hit with a screen, often drawing the attention of the officials. Boston's big men need to take care not to move on any screens, lest they pick up any careless fouls.
Ray Allen will open on Bryant, but defending the NBA's best postseason player will be a gang effort. Tony Allen has had a measure of success defending Dwyane Wade and LeBron, and Pierce and Rondo will also get turns on Bryant. Bryant has shot the ball exceptionally well this postseason (48.3 percent, 40.5 three-point percentage), meaning Boston will have to work hard to bring those numbers down. Bryant is going to get his 25-plus points, but if it takes him 24 shots to do so, the Celtics will live with the results.
Robinson was electrifying in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference finals, scoring 13 points in the first half to propel Boston to an insurmountable 13-point lead. If Rondo is playing well, Robinson likely won't lose his warmups. But if Rondo gets into foul trouble, don't be surprised to see Rivers turn to Robinson, who stands as the most explosive player on either teams bench.
Boston had a better road record (26-15) than home (24-17) during the regular season while L.A. tied for the second-best home mark (34-8) in the NBA and have closed out their last five postseason series's on the road. With the two teams splitting the regular season series with road victories, neither is afraid of playing in the others' gym.
The Lakers' bench looms as its biggest weakness, but Odom can singlehandedly turn it into a strength. Odom has steadily increased his production in each round of the playoffs, from 7.8 points per game against Oklahoma City, to 9.5 points against Utah, to 14.0 points against the Suns. With Bynum's status uncertain, Odom will need to continue that trend, as well as provide solid D against Garnett on the inside and Rasheed Wallace on the perimeter.
As painful as it was for Celtics fans to watch Phil Jackson surpass RedAuerbach with his 10th NBA title last season, it will be twice as excruciating to see the Lakers narrow the title gap between the two franchises. Boston takes immense pride in its 17 NBA Championship banners, but the Lakers can climb to within one trophy of Boston with a win in this series. That's a record no Bostonian is eager to give up.