NBA Conference Finals Renews Old Rivalries

The 2008 NBA playoffs have been advertised as “Where amazing happens.” They’ve certainly lived up to their billing so far. Postseason highlights to this point have included both the Los Angeles Lakers’ Kobe Bryant dismantling the Utah Jazz and the Boston Celtics defeating the reigning Eastern Conference Champions: the Cleveland Cavaliers in a taxing seven-game series. Four teams are still on the road to a championship. The Los Angeles Lakers and the San Antonio Spurs square off in the Western Conference finals, and the Boston Celtics and the Detroit Pistons clash in the Eastern Conference Finals. Most fans expected the Pistons and Celtics to meet in the Eastern Conference finals since day one of the season. The Pistons, making their sixth straight appearance in the conference finals, are led by veteran guards Chauncey Billups and Tayshaun Prince and forwards Richard Hamilton and Rasheed Wallace. The Celtics, featuring a three-pronged attack of Paul Pierce, Ray Allen, and Kevin Garnett, have defeated two competitive teams in the Atlanta Hawks and Cavaliers with a combination of heart and hustle. One crucial matchup will be between Prince and Pierce. In Detroit’s regular season win in Boston, Prince held Pierce to a paltry 11 points. Pierce caught fire against the Cavaliers, scoring 41 points in game seven of that series. It will be interesting to see how the series plays out if Prince can shut down Pierce, which will in turn force other Celtics, like Ray Allen, to make shots. Allen will be the player who decides the victor of this series. He’s been a no-show in the playoffs this year. In the second round against Cleveland, he averaged only 9.3 points per game. The Celtics need Allen’s three-point shooting if they’re going to beat the seasoned Pistons, who are hungry for a championship after a three-year drought. Allen will also have a big responsibility defensively to shut down fellow University of Connecticut alumnus, Richard Hamilton. The Celtics bench, including Sam Cassell and Eddie House, is going to break out against Detroit. If Boston can contain Billups, who’s been hampered by a hamstring injury since the series against Orlando, they’re a sure bet to win this series in six games. In the Western Conference finals, the Lakers-Spurs duel features the Lakers’ high-scoring offense against the Spurs’ vaunted team defense. The Lakers average over 110 points per game this postseason. Guard Derek Fisher and forward Vladimir Radmanovich are deadly shooters, and forward Pau Gasol is a powerful force underneath the basket. The Lakers also boast MVP Kobe Bryant, a legitimate threat to score 50 points on any given night. Even more intriguing about Bryant’s season is the fact that he has now found a way to run an offense incorporating the entire team. Bryant’s unselfish play has undoubtedly been a key to the Laker’s success thus far in the playoffs. On the other sideline, the Spurs’ lineup is full of playoff-savvy veterans, most of whom were part of last year’s championship team. Guards Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili can shoot from anywhere and can also find the open man for a clean shot. Forward Tim Duncan is already a lock for the Hall of Fame. He’s been a steady influence in this year’s postseason, averaging 19 points and 13 rebounds. If the Spurs’ defense, led by guard Bruce Bowen, can neutralize Bryant, they stand a chance of going deep into the series. Even if San Antonio does this, though, their experienced but aging lineup will wither before the young firepower of the Lakers, and the Lakers will take the series in seven games. And after all, what more could an NBA fan want than a Lakers vs. Celtics championship?