Five keys to the 2010 NBA Finals

BY foxsports • June 1, 2010

Many factors will decide which team is to become the NBA champion.

Injuries, referees’ malfeasance, inadequate adjustments and re-adjustments by the coaching staffs, and so on. But here are the five situations that will have the greatest impact on determining the outcome of the 2010 Finals.

1. How the Celtics defend Kobe Bryant.

If outright doubling him is too risky and running him into multiple screens on defense will be fruitless, Boston’s options are limited. It could assign Ray Allen the task of denying Kobe the ball, even when he’s positioned beyond the 3-point line. Overplay him and provide help when Kobe attempts back and escape cuts.

Boston might also play him tightly to discourage Kobe from shooting long jumpers. Send him into the bosom of the defense and force him to make kick-out passes. In other words, make his teammates score enough points to win the game. The danger in this strategy is Kobe’s exceptional pull-up, mid-range prowess.

Another tactic might be the reverse of the above — play Kobe loosely and let him shoot jumpers to his heart’s content. The advantage here will be to keep him off the foul line and to prevent him from getting his teammates involved in the offense.

Only Tony Allen has the stuff to at least challenge Kobe in one-on-one situations. But T. Allen has a sore ankle, is foul prone and also diminishes the Celtics' capacity to spread L.A.’s defense by hitting perimeter jumpers.

Look for Boston to variously employ all of these methods to prevent Kobe from getting comfortable when faced with any one of them.

2. The Artest-Pierce matchup.

Paul Pierce must execute sufficient drives to the rim to soften up Ron Artest’s muscular defense. If PP is successful in so doing, he’ll create the space he needs to launch his deadly step-back jumpers. Also, by determinedly taking the ball to the hole, Pierce just might saddle Artest with early foul trouble.

At the other end of the game, Artest has to knock down enough outside shots to make Pierce guard him.

Given that Kobe will somehow find a way to get his, this could be the most critical matchup in the series.

3. How can the Lakers control Rajon Rondo?

They must limit Boston’s open-court and early-offense opportunities. The only ways to accomplish this are to take care of the ball and also to shoot a high percentage. This means being patient in running the triangle while also avoiding risky passes and forced shots.

Be assured that, in Boston’s half-court sets, the Lakers will also give Rondo room enough to shoot as many jumpers as his heart desires. This strategy will feature his defenders going under any proffered high screens.

Plus, the Lakers will try to force him left, because Rondo usually comes back to his right hand whenever he penetrates.

4. How will Pau Gasol react to the physical nature of Kendrick Perkins' defense?

Remember that Andrew Bynum was injured and did not play in the 2008 championship series. His presence will absorb some of Kendrick’s aggressive defense and, no doubt, hang some early fouls on the Celtics' starting center.

Glen Davis has a lower center of gravity than either Bynum or Gasol, so he’ll be able to root his opponent out of his favorite spot in the low post. At the same time, Gasol will easily be able to shoot over the much more vertically challenged Davis. Gasol’s height and length will also enable him to be a constant threat on the offensive glass.

5. The contest between Lamar Odom and Kevin Garnett.

In his diminished physical state, Garnett will have a difficult time keeping up with Odom. Even so, he won’t be overpowered or out-sized. The results of this matchup will depend to a great deal on Odom’s focus, outside shooting and overall activity.

Because of Garnett’s super-high release, not even Odom’s length will hinder his jumpers. Still, KG has become an afterthought in Boston’s offense, so the best he can do is to hit enough mid-range, face-up jumpers to keep Odom from freely rotating to other trouble spots.

Don’t be surprised if some unsung hero on either side emerges to win a game or two. But looking at the big picture, it’s the Celtics' moxie, teamwork, versatility and poise against the Lakers' relative youth, size, resourcefulness and, in Kobe, the overwhelming talents and willpower of its super-duper-star.



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