On Tuesday, I asked a leading NBA scout to break down the Finals. Here is his analysis.
With the time off Rondo's had this week, I would give this matchup to him because, if he's healthy, he has the advantage over Fisher, obviously. I will say that going into the Phoenix series I thought Steve Nash would have a clear advantage over Fisher, but Fisher played great in that series. As fast as Nash is, he doesn't create the same problems that Rondo will with his quickness.
If Rondo continues to make shots, that's obviously going to help him; but even if he doesn't, he's still going to put a lot of pressure on Fisher. They're going to need Jordan Farmar to give them some good time off the bench against Rondo, and I guess if he gives the Lakers too much trouble then they'll put Kobe Bryant on him for awhile.
Rondo needs to have the ball in his hands. I don't think he shoots it well enough to be a real threat. If he runs pick and roll on the wing, he needs to have ball in his hands. But I can see why they sometimes initiate the offense through RayAllen or Paul Pierce, because if they're bringing the ball up then they don't have to work so hard in the half-court to get it. So that's the benefit -- that it makes it easier on them.
I know Rondo came out and said he's the best point guard in the league. It's important that he feels that way at this stage of the season.
Rondo has a [wingspan] advantage over most point guards, but that won't help him against Kobe. If they're cross-matched and Rondo finds himself having to guard Kobe in the post, he'll wind up committing a quick foul because Kobe's so good at drawing fouls in that way. The best situation for the Lakers against Rondo will be to put Kobe on him to take away Rondo's scoring, and they could do it for short stretches in the game.
Kobe played as good a series scoring-wise against Phoenix as I've ever seen him play. Some of those shots he was taking were guarded threes against double-teams and he was knocking them down, and it wasn't just one night -- it was four of the six games they played. He wasn't shooting volume shots, but he just had that deal going where he's going to win the game and there's nothing you can do about it.
Here's the scary thing: You've got LeBron James telling everybody how his elbow is messed up, and meanwhile Kobe is playing with a broken finger all year long and nobody is say anything about that.
The other difference between LeBron and Dwyane Wade and Kobe is that I don't think Kobe gets the benefit of a lot of calls. Those guys get to the line 10-plus times a game, but there are a lot of games when Kobe only gets three or four attempts. I've seen a lot of games when those other two guys get to the line if you breathe on them. When Kobe gets to the free-throw line he deserves it. He doesn't get a lot of fakes -- I mean, he has his move where he breaks through your arms when your arms are down, or he'll shot-fake and jump into you. But he gets a lot fewer calls than he gets the benefit of calls that are 50-50.
Kobe had a lot of assists [43 over a four-game stretch in the conference finals] and they coincided with the zone Phoenix was playing, which meant greater opportunities for him to create scores. More often than not, he facilitates, but he's not usually making passes for scores. I think his teammates are deserving of his trust, and with Fisher making shots that means two or three assists right there from Kobe. He's obviously down on Andrew Bynum, and he's not real high on Ron [Artest] right now either.
Kobe having to chase Ray Allen is going to be a problem. If they're depending on him to guard Rondo a while, and then guard Ray while running through screens all day, that's going to take away from some of his offense. But he'll also go to the post against Ray and utilize his strength. He's a pretty good post-up player, and we'll see a lot more of that out of him in this series.
Ray is playing at a high level these playoffs. I was surprised in one of the games they lost to Orlando that Paul Pierce took the last three shots -- they were critical shots, but after Ray had been on fire he wasn't able to touch the ball.
When Tony Allen comes off bench he'll be aggressive; he's not going to back down against Kobe. Ray is not a great defender but he's a pretty smart defender, and then Tony gives a different look off the bench.
When Kobe is on Rondo, Fisher will be physical enough to get through the screens against Ray. He's guarded taller guys before, so it's not going to be as big a problem for him.
This one is going to be a wash. A lot of what Paul does is he leans into you, drives into you, hits your body and spins, and posts up. That makes Ron the right guy to guard Pierce because he can handle all of that stuff. I think Pierce has to make threes to win the matchup. If Ron keeps Pierce to 15 or fewer points a game, then he's doing his job, and whatever he's able to score is a bonus for L.A.
Offensively, Artest is their fourth option and possibly their fifth option. There's a good chance Boston will play him a lot like Phoenix did and encourage him to shoot threes by leaving him alone on the perimeter. He doesn't get involved in the flow of the triangle. He's a decoy more or less.
If the Lakers still had Trevor Ariza, Pierce would be winning that matchup all day long. Pierce has to try to attack and see if he can get Ron in foul trouble by driving the ball. He can't go straight post-up because Ron is stronger than him. Maybe they can run a 1-3 pick-and-roll to encourage a switch and get Fisher on Pierce. You have to put Ron in the pick-and-roll because you're not going to bully him.
The wildcard here: the Finals provide him a bigger stage to be a knucklehead.
I don't think Gasol is the same player he used to be. He's had that look about him like he's flailing, like he's crying after fouls and looking for calls, but I don't think he does that as much as he used to. I don't know if he's toughened up or matured, but I really don't think he's the same player people remember him being his first couple of years in the league.
This matchup can end up being a wash if K.G. rebounds the ball -- rebounding is going to be a big key for whichever team wins. The rebounding is an issue because a lot of Garnett's rebounds come when he's jumping straight up. He doesn't get a lot of traffic rebounds; he tends to get them when no one is around.
I don't expect Bynum to play a lot, which means Gasol will be playing with Lamar Odom, and that's going to mean K.G. will be matched up at times against Odom. K.G. is active, long and athletic, and he uses those things to his advantage when he's guarding post-up players; he can get around and front the post or get deflections and steal the ball in the post. But if a guy like Odom is dribbling out on the floor, that's when you see Garnett in his stance giving that K.G. verbal defense. But in reality, when the guy drives at K.G. with equal size and length, that's an issue for him. Especially when his knee is not 100 percent.
Think about when Lamar catches it in the high post: A lot of times in the triangle you'll see him being the trailer and he'll initiate the offense himself as if he's a big guard. If K.G. is in the situation where he has to guard a cutter, a post-up guy and the pick-and-roll -- and it's all coming from Lamar -- that may be asking lot of him at this stage in his career.
If Bynum plays like he's healthy, then L.A. has the advantage lengthwise in a lot of situations except for when Rasheed Wallace is playing. But let's say Gasol ends up playing a lot at center: Then you know instantly it's going to be an automatic two fouls on Perkins against him. You just know it.
Bynum against Perkins is another wash. Bynum doesn't have the explosiveness that he had early in the year when he was a force catching the ball and trying to dunk it; he isn't the kind of skilled player who can get by without his athleticism. Perkins doesn't score much. If he can stay out of foul trouble and stay on the court he can become another defender for them.
We've touched on some of these matchups already. How "Big Baby" [GlenDavis] fits in is going to be big thing for the Celtics. He usually doesn't do that well against longer guys, and this team makes it hard for him. When he's playing against Odom, I have to give the advantage to the Lakers there.
Two years ago I would have said the Lakers bench was better than it is now. But Odom is the main guy who can make the biggest impact. If you just look at the box scores, Odom looks like he's up and down. But I see him making a more consistent effort even though it doesn't always show in the box score. It seems like he's playing with a lot more maturity. He has got to rebound well because he's going to be on the floor a lot, and with Pau playing a little further from the basket, Lamar will have to come in and get the weak-side boards.
If he can be a 10-point, 10-rebound guy, I think that's going to get them the hardware.
Wallace has got to play well every game for them. He's had success against the Lakers over the years, and he knows the triangle as well as L.A. does. But I've also seen Gasol kick his butt once or twice, and so Wallace's respect for him has grown. It will be a bad thing for Boston if Gasol is shot-faking and putting the ball on the floor with an attacking spin move and drawing a quick one or two fouls on Wallace. The Celtics need Wallace to be engaged and play smart defense on Gasol before he catches the ball, because that could make a big difference. But if Rasheed finds himself having to guard Lamar, then that's going to be a problem for Boston.
Farmar has been playing better, but I think they still view him on a game-to-game basis of we'll see how long you can play based on how you're performing tonight. I think Shannon Brown is being exposed as someone with some flaws, including an inconsistent three-point shot. But he could come in and chase Ray Allen for awhile. I would put him in the same category as NateRobinson -- neither one will be depended upon much, but each could have the rare big game like Nate did in the last round for the Celtics.
"Big Chief" [Jackson] does a great job. They're used to him, they know what to expect. Doc is a different type of coach and a good motivator, and he's great after timeouts and making adjustments during the game. I'd call this one even.
I don't think Phil actively coaches as much and he's not as demonstrative and verbal as Doc is throughout the game. But he's already had everything in place, so he doesn't have to be that way and he can be a little bit more laid back. Both are very good coaches for their respective teams. Don't think Boston would do as well with Phil, and L.A. wouldn't be as good with Doc.
Inspiration is a big deal in this series. Boston won it last time, in 2008, and they're two years older and significantly different, when you think about essentially trading P.J. Brown and James Posey for Rasheed and Tony Allen. The Lakers have a 50-percent version of Bynum -- they didn't have him at all last time -- and they have Artest instead of Ariza, which helps them against Pierce.
Based on the last series you can see that Kobe has his eyes on the prize, there's no doubt about it. We'll see what Tom Thibodeau can game plan for him.
Boston will win one in L.A., then win one at home, and L.A. will finish it in Game 6 back home.