Why They’re Here: Like everyone else, I originally had the Ducks in my top 10 coming into the year. Then QB Jeremiah Massoli got suspended for the season and things changed a bit. Then I heard about the quarterback situation, with Nate Costa and Darron Thomas, and things changed some more. This team is the ultimate unknown coming into this season and just like last year (admittedly a poor decision) I’ve decided to sleep on them.
The Good: There is a ton of good coming into this season for the Ducks. They return their entire offensive line, which is always a big, big bonus, plus a total of nine starters from last year on offense. RB LaMichael James is another (superlative beginning with ‘s’) sophomore, and his running ability – along with the emergence of fellow sophomore speedster Kenjon Barner – will make the Oregon running attack one of the best in the nation. This is a very well coached team and head coach Chip Kelly may even be the best in the Pac-10. If these guys can live up to their potential, the Pac-10 could easily reemerge as one of the top conferences in all of college football. There’s also freshman CB Terrance Mitchell, who put on a show, returning an interception 46 yards for a touchdown in the spring game, and the number 13-rated recruiting class in the nation.
The Bad: Replacing Massoli is a lot like replacing Tim Tebow for Florida. So much of the Ducks offensive identity was based on the way Massoli played. He wasn’t an imposing physical presence or a tremendously talented passer, but he made big plays in big situations and his leadership and poise at the quarterback position will be impossible to replace. The Ducks also play at Tennessee, at Arizona State, at Cal, at Oregon State and at USC this season. Last year, all of Oregon’s tough games were played in the Autzen Zoo. The Ducks have one of the best home crowds in the nation and in that environment playing your toughest games at home gives you quite an advantage. Having to go on the road for all of the big games, with a new starting quarterback who wasn’t expected to play this year…not easy.
The Last Word: The Ducks biggest opponent this year is themselves. They have every excuse to let this season slip away and start worrying about next year early. If this team proves not to have what it takes, it won’t take long to show. Don’t be surprised to see a loss at Tennessee on September 11 and even a loss to Arizona State. However, if they can make it to the USC game undefeated, they may just be battle tested enough to pull out the win. Nothing from a 6-6 to 12-0 record would really surprise me for this Oregon team. But if I were a betting man, my money would be on the former.
Final Record: 8-5
For the Los Angeles Lakers, it was Kobe Bryant. He scored 29 points, but struggled from the field (10 out of 29). He also had seven rebounds and four assists. Bryant continually saved the Lakers, swishing buckets late in the shot clock.
But he needed help in the Lakers’ 91-84 win.
It came in the form of Derek Fisher. The Lakers’ 35-year-old starting point guard, often matched up against lightning quick, young guards, helped the Black Mamba just enough.
Well, more than enough as Bryant scored just four points in the fourth quarter leaving D-Fish to pick it up. Fisher came through with 16 points, 11 of them in the fourth quarter. It wasn’t a groundbreaking game at all, but someone else needed to shoulder the scoring load.
If Kobe was the superhero, Fisher helped some. He was Robin to Kobe’s Batman. See, Robin’s important too.
“I’m always excited for him when he does it,” Bryant said. “He’s been criticized quite a bit for his age. It’s a huge thrill for him and for all of us to see him come through in these moments. But truthfully, he’s done it over and over and over again. It’s almost his responsibility to our team to do these things.”
Points came at a premium as both teams went through dry spells. Fisher, however, was hot in the fourth. He shot five for seven and sealed the game with a three-point play by driving to the basket where three Celtics hammered him. The play stretched the Lakers’ lead to seven points with 48 seconds left to play.
“He won the game for them,” Celtics coach Doc Rivers said. “Derek Fisher was the difference in the game. He’s just a gutty, gritty player and he gutted the game out for them. I thought Kobe was struggling a little bit, and Fisher — he basically took the game over. I don’t know what he had in the fourth quarter … but most of them were down the stretch.”
The Lakers’ victory in Boston was their first since Magic Johnson hit his famous baby hook in 1987.
The Celtics got the Kevin Garnett of old back. The Big Ticket notched 25 points and six rebounds. This was Garnett’s breakout game, but he didn’t have help.
Paul Pierce struggled once again, scoring 15 points on five for 12 shooting, but his play was sporadic because of foul trouble.
Ray Allen, who broke an NBA finals record with eight three pointers, had no baskets. Zip, a fat doughnut. Allen was zero for 13 from the field and finished with two points (free throws).
Allen had the second worst shooting night in NBA finals history, narrowly missing the record set by Baltimore’s Chip Reiser and Seattle’s Dennis Johnson. They shot 0-14 in 1948 (against Philadelphia) and 1978 (against Washington), respectively.
Game four of the NBA finals is Thursday.
Why They’re Here: Even though they had some big losses on the defensive side of the ball, this is a team that has shown it can reload with the best of them. The offense returns nine starters, including quarterback Andy Dalton who could become a star this year. But even with an almost guaranteed great offense, the Horned Frogs will have their hands full.
The Good: The high-flying Horned Frogs offense will be back and probably better than ever. First team all-conference QB Andy Dalton will again be at the helm and we’ve all seen what he’s capable of. Coming off his AP Coach of the Year win, Gary Patterson seems more determined than ever to get TCU to the next level. The Frogs will also have last year’s loss to Boise State, a game in which they got physically manhandled, to motivate them all offseason.
The Bad: LB Daryl Washington was the heart and soul of not just the TCU defense, but the entire team. Andy Dalton showed he withers under pressure in last year’s Fiesta Bowl and with no Jerry Hughes around either, the Frogs are in desperate need of some leadership. I honestly don’t think there will be another TCU team as good as the team last year – that team was great on offense, defense and special teams. They’ll still be good on offense, but defense and special teams, where the Frogs were able to turn the tables in close games and separate themselves from competition last year, are big question marks.
The Last Word: Has any conference ever come out of nowhere to be legit as quickly as the Mountain West? With Utah, BYU, Air Force and TCU, the Mountain West has really put the rest of the college football world on notice. The MWC has been so impressive the past five seasons that the BCS is considering bringing them into the fold. That’s no small task considering the money-grubbing, conscience-free venture capitalists who run the system. If TCU can find a leader and a stud to replace Washington, they can be very good again. If not…
Final Record: 11-2
The cigar smoking old timer, a Yoda type in NBA circles, said the travel in the NBA finals was too difficult since the East Coast-West Coast trips logged a bunch of miles, especially in games five, six and seven. This was a time to think logically, Darth Stern.
Instead, the NBA’s Sith Lord decided to accept this ludicrous suggestion. In 1985 the NBA finals changed the home-game format to the dreaded 2-3-2 we have today. What does that mean?
The NBA playoffs have a 2-2-1-1-1 format, which means the team with homecourt advantage hosts games one, two, five and seven. Seems fair, right?
Imagine a tough playoff series in which homecourt advantage holds and it’s tied at two games apiece going into game five. Well, that team with homecourt advantage has the luxury to go home, rest up and take that series edge in its own building. With a win, the home club has two chances to win the series: either game six on the road or a do-or-die game seven at home.
This fair format undergoes a wild change when the NBA finals begin. The team with homecourt advantage is punished by having to run the gauntlet in three straight games. No game five comfort at home. Thank you, random 2-3-2 format.
How much sense does this make? Why the sudden change? Do Jedi suddenly crave adventure and excitement?
If Darth Stern was so concerned with long airplane rides, just make sure there are two days between travel games instead of one. The NBA does make the schedule, duh.
Home teams in the middle gauntlet, however, can’t always take advantage of their newfound good fortune. Only two home teams have won the three middle games — the 2004 Detroit Pistons and the 2006 Miami Heat.
Detroit in 2004 took advantage of a Los Angeles Lakers team in complete disarray. The Lakers had these distractions: Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal’s feud, Karl Malone’s injury, Phil Jackson’s lame duck contract situation, Bryant’s questionable shot selection and not passing the ball to Shaq (the Diesel totally ate up Ben Wallace, he only shot about 60 percent from the field that year).
That was the beginning of Kobe’s transition from a promising Anakin Skywalker to the nefarious Darth Vader. But like Vader, Kobe has brought balance to the Force as he has recreated himself as the face of the championship Lakers and the face of the league. The donation of Pau Gasol helped in that championship run too.
The Heat probably wouldn’t have won the title in ’06. The Dallas Mavericks took the first two at home then dropped all three in Miami providing the Heat with enough momentum to snatch the championship in game six on the road.
The middle games bring tremendous pressure for both squads. In the case of the Lakers, they split the first two games and now face the reality that they could watch the Celtics celebrate another championship at home.
“We ain’t coming back to L.A.,” Celtics forward Paul Pierce said in the closing seconds of game two.
History says you probably will, Paul.
Does anyone honestly think the Lakers will drop four games in a row? They’re not the ’91 Lakers with injuries to James Worthy and Byron Scott or the ’01 76ers who were squashed by the juggernaut Lakers. The ’91 Lakers and ’01 76ers both won game one of the NBA finals and didn’t sniff victory after that.
Boston, if it doesn’t win all three games, must win another playoff game in Los Angeles to take the trophy.
Under the 2-2-1-1-1 format the Celtics could return home for a game six to win. Sorry, Boston.
Get rid of the asinine 2-3-2 format. Why fix what isn’t broken? The playoffs work fine in the first three rounds. There is no debate at all about 2-2-1-1-1.
What’s next, Jar Jar Binks receiving the title of Jedi Master and wielding two lightsabers against his foes? That makes about as much sense as playing three home games in a row in the NBA finals.
But Ray Allen’s three-point shot was pretty as was Rajon Rondo’s all-around game, which is why Boston took the homecourt advantage from the Lakers in game two of the NBA finals.
Allen hit an NBA finals record eight three pointers on his way to 32 points. Rondo had another triple double (19 points, 12 rebounds and 10 assists) and made all the plays down the stretch to preserve the Celtics’ win.
Game two was tough for both teams and neither side could be pleased with officiating. Like game one, there were 58 foul calls. Boston’s entire frontline — the bench included — had foul trouble the whole game. The Lakers’ Kobe Bryant and Lamar Odom also played with foul trouble, severely limiting their minutes.
Bryant played just 34 minutes and Odom 15. Celtics forward Kevin Garnett logged 24 minutes and for the second consecutive game played subpar. He scored six points and grabbed four rebounds, but he dished six assists. Odom also struggled in his second straight game with three points and five rebounds.
The Lakers played tough again, going to the free throw line 41 times. Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum had their way with the Celtics. The two combined for 46 points and 14 rebounds. Bynum blocked seven shots and Gasol had six. Los Angeles had an NBA finals record 14 blocked shots.
“Our big guys played great,” Lakers coach Phil Jackson said. “We didn’t get the ball often enough to them, or in a good enough position many times, and a lot of our outside shooting was not that (good). … In a sequence like this, there’s no doubt it’s a blow to us to lose the homecourt, but we anticipated this might happen, and we’re just going to have to go pick it up.”
Bryant simply didn’t play enough minutes to find a rhythm and close the game out. He had a balanced game — 21 points, five rebounds, six assists and four steals. But in a tight contest such as this he would play more than 40 minutes. Two of his foul calls were extremely questionable, especially a phantom one in which Rondo stole the ball and lost his balance out of bounds.
The Celtics also had some tough whistles go against them. Their big men stuffed some Lakers drives to the basket, but more often than not a foul was called. Boston’s forwards and centers were in such foul trouble seldom-used backup Sheldon Williams played four minutes.
Los Angeles’ loss was the first of the playoffs at home. When the Lakers played the Celtics in 2008, Boston won a game in Los Angeles; that loss was also the Lakers’ first at home in the playoffs.
Rondo did damage in the fourth quarter with 10 points. He also blocked a shot by Derek Fisher to ignite a fastbreak. Rondo’s play combined with Allen’s deadly three-point shooting were enough to avoid a 2-0 NBA final deficit. Boston now has the next three games at home.
Why They’re Here: Eh heh heh hee, Bobby’s gone. Apparently, in his absence new coach Jimbo Fisher has been putting in work. The Noles had the 10th best recruiting class according to Rivals and Scout.com and number six, according to ESPN. They lost a lot of talent on defense last year, including LB Dekoda Watson and DBs Myron Rolle and first-round pick Patrick Robinson. I know I said no one from Florida State’s 2009 team deserved to be picked in the first round, but for a Seminole he wasn’t bad.
The Good: As hard as it is to say anything good about Florida State, this is their year. If the Seminoles are ever going to end their six-game losing streak to Florida, this is the time. Christian Ponder looks like a solid quarterback and their offense returns all 11 starters. Last year Gary Danielson remarked at one point during the UF-FSU game, “It’s the varsity versus the JV out there,” and he was completely right. Since Florida beat Florida State in the Chris Leak sweepstakes, the Noles haven’t even been competitive (outside of that 2003 game we won’t speak of). But with the loss of Tim Tebow and almost the entire 2011 senior class to the NFL draft, Florida State is in great position. They’ve also got probably the best offense in the ACC this side of Virginia Tech.
The Bad: It’s hard to replace guys like Watson, Rolle, Robinson, Kendrick Stewart, Kevin McNeil and Korey Mangum. The Florida State defense is probably going to have to start some of the freshmen from its stellar class this year and whether or not they’re ready to make the leap to the college level will determine how far the Noles will go this season.
The Last Word: The ACC is back and Florida State is one of the teams leading the way. If Christian Ponder can play like the conference’s MVP, this is a team that can go places. This season is on his shoulders. He’ll have his whole offense from last year back, but everyone will be looking to him to lead. From what I’ve seen, I don’t know that he’s up to it, but we’ll see.
Final Record: 11-3
The Los Angeles Lakers grew up like Kevin and hammered the Boston Celtics in game one. No longer was Wayne able to headlock Kevin at will or tease him about girlfriends while on the phone. The scoreboard didn’t reflect the beatdown the Celtics received. But the points in the paint, rebounding and second-chance points did.
The Lakers scored 48 points in the paint while the Celtics had 30. Boston was also outrebounded by the Lakers, 42-31. Of those rebounds Los Angeles grabbed 12 offensive boards and the Celtics were held to eight.
Those are not staggering stats, but this next one is: the Lakers had 16 second-chance points. The Celtics had none. No accidental tip-ins. No offensive rebounds for dunks. No long rebounds that led to three pointers. Every Celtics possession that ended in a missed shot meant no points. At all. Usually someone gets a garbage bucket at least. No trash delivery in game one.
Boston, which prides itself on its toughness, was out-toughed. The game was actually played at the Celtics’ tempo. Slow, a lot of foul calls (54 whistles between both teams), no real rhythm to the contest. Boston actually shot more free throws than Los Angeles, 36 to the Lakers’ 31.
“Well, it wasn’t the prettiest basketball game I’ve ever watched in my life,” Lakers coach Phil Jackson said.
All the muscle in game one was flexed by the Lakers’ starting frontline. Pau Gasol led the way with 23 points, 14 rebounds and three blocks. Gasol’s 14 rebounds equaled the rebounding effort of Boston’s bigs. Kevin Garnett, Kendrick Perkins, Rasheed Wallace and Glen Davis snatched 14 rebounds combined.
“On Kevin’s part, he’s also lost some explosiveness,” Gasol said. “He’s more of a jump shooter now you could say, comes off the lane. Before he had a really, really quick first step and was getting to the lane and he was more aggressive then. Time passes and we all suffer it one way or another, but he’s still a terrific player, a terrific competitor, and he’s going to bring everything he’s got. You can count on that.”
Center Andrew Bynum, who didn’t play in the 2008 NBA finals, chipped in with 10 points and six rebounds, not spectacular numbers by any means. But he doesn’t have to put up huge numbers. Bynum’s size clogs the lane for the Celtics and provides the Lakers with the luxury of bringing Lamar Odom off the bench.
Finally, there was Ron Artest, Thug No. 1, the guy you want on your team, but you don’t want to play against. How tough was he? Only 27 seconds into the game he got into a wrestling match that Stone Cold Steve Austin would have been proud of with Paul Pierce. Both players went to the ground and were called for double technical fouls.
Although the Lakers played Godzilla to the Celtics’ King Kong, Boston should have a better effort in game two. After suffering their own smackdown they are almost certain to come out more aggressive in the next game. Ray Allen didn’t play many minutes because of foul trouble and Rajon Rondo got stuffed every time he ventured near the basket.
Boston hit one three pointer. If some more of those go down, it will be a close game.
The Celtics may feel like Wayne Arnold, overshadowed at his sudden inability to punk little bro, but they must flex their own muscle if they want to make this a series. It’s no secret that the Lakers have star players at almost every position, but it was the Celtics rugged defense that got them back to the finals.
Wayne Arnold must stand up to the challenge of Kevin Arnold. Kevin may be bigger now. So what, Wayne must say. Wayne, er, Celtics, show that you’re tough too.
There is one case where tie does not go to the runner. It is when the pitcher of record is working on a perfect game and it is the ninth inning. That being said Jim Joyce missed an obvious call to rob Armando Gallaraga of a a perfect game. Don’t believe me? Check here.
Basically in the ninth inning of a perfect game, all players are secretly telling themselves, “please don’t hit it to me, please don’t hit it to me.” Now Joyce has given us, “Please hit a fly ball, Please hit a fly ball.”
I just checked and “My Bad” does not sufficiently cover it for apologies.
I came to a revelation. The Lakers were grossly over matched in 2008. I just didn’t see it then. Let’s start with Paul Pierce in the first game. If you recall he broke his knee. So much so that he had to be carted off with a look of despair and pain. He grimaced like he had been shot in the leg. But then as if a brilliant ploy, of which I am sure there was none, he comes out of the locker room skipping. Pierce basically came out like Daniel Laruso in Karate Kid. Although please recall Laruso was limping after. Pierce was not. So the Lakers lose the match up between athletic trainer Gary Vitti and whatever magical potions and/or small Japanese janitors they have behind their locker rooms in Boston.
We also lacked depth. Ronny Turiaff was in the game with the Lakers down six in the fourth quarter in game 1. That is my only argument.
I also realized that the finals are quite over before they even start. To prove this all one has to do is witness the glory and splendor that is NBA officiating. Its the only sport that it’s audience brazenly declares that you get “calls” at home. Where in any sport is this so prevalent. A foul is a foul and it is only less of a foul if you are a home team in the NBA. The Lakers have four games at home this series.
So who wins? With questions on one side about injuries and the other about age, this series will come down to who has to go deep into their bench early and often. If Brian Scalabrine gets more minutes in the series than Adam Morrison then the Lakers are looking good. Here is to hoping Morrison keeps on those warm-ups.
June 17, 2008, final score, Celtics 131, Lakers 92. Not even the Memorial Day Massacre in 1985 was this bad — at least the Lakers won that series against Big. No, that disgusting 2008 score solidified Boston’s completion of a defensive masterpiece, a return to glory and another black eye for their West Coast rivals.
In that series two years ago the Lakers were on the verge of tying the series. They had an 18-point halftime lead (at home) and led by as many as 24 points. The Celtics, however, clamped down on defense, holding the Lakers to only 33 points in the second half.
That was the series. Los Angeles won a meaningless game five, but it was only a matter of time until Boston closed it out.
Since that victory I have dreamed of this rematch. When the Lakers won the title last year I wasn’t satisfied. Who cares about beating Dwight Howard and a bunch of also-ran NBA players? The only way for a championship run to be complete would be to defeat the Celtics in the NBA finals.
It didn’t seem as if the Celtics had the hunger to make it back to the championship round. Some experts had them losing in the first round. But they hit the switch and D’d up in the playoffs.
I say good. Bring it, Boston. I knew with a healthy Andrew Bynum the Lakers could match the Celtics’ physicality. It was no coincidence the Lakers vs. Celtics game on Christmas 2008 was one of the most hotly contested regular season games in recent years. With a healthy lineup the Lakers won, snapping the Celtics’ franchise-record 19-game winning streak.
Now that these teams are finally matched up I am relieved. I don’t take the Celtics lightly. They are a veteran team that will muck up the scoreboard and keep games close with their defense. I am relieved because the Lakers have the chance to defeat these guys in the finals.
Beating Cleveland or Orlando just wouldn’t matter.
For the Lakers, this will be about redemption. Very few times do teams get a chance such as this. As a hardcore Lakers fan I cherish championships and mourn missed opportunities.
Kobe Bryant, Shaquille O’Neal, Gary Payton and Karl Malone won’t have a chance to play the Detroit Pistons, a team I think was the worst to ever win the championship.
The 1998 team with its four All-Stars of Shaq, Kobe, Eddie Jones and Nick Van Exel can’t play the Utah Jazz with the John Stockton-to-Malone connection.
Wilt Chamberlain, Jerry West and Elgin Baylor, sorry guys, you don’t get a do-over for game seven at home against the Celtics. That loss hurt badly; it was the only time the Lakers have lost a seven-game series when holding a 2-0 lead. The Lakers’ owner, Jack Kent Cooke, was so confident his team would win the 1969 finals he planned an elaborate postgame celebration with thousands of balloons in the rafters and even a marching band.
The Celtics won that game, the only time a road team has won game seven in the NBA finals. Had I been alive for that loss I might have been borderline suicidal.
For two years I have told anyone who would listen the only way to make a Lakers’ championship complete would be to defeat Boston in the finals. I never thought it would happen. Sure, the Lakers would take care of business, but the Celtics … this was very unlikely. Now that it’s here I’m giddy.
I hope this is a tough series. Although a four-game sweep would please me, I know it is unlikely. No, the best revenge would be one in which the Celtics think they have a shot then they get their hearts ripped out by a Kobe jumpshot or a series of Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum dunks.
Boston, to quote Ric Flair, to be the man, you gotta beat the man. Right now the Lakers are that man, they have the championship belt that you guys covet so much. This year, I don’t see the Larry O’Brien Trophy shipping off to Boston.