You can only hear people say, "This series between the Lakers and Celtics will be different this time around because Rajon Rondo is so much better than he was two years ago" so many times before you start banging your head against a wall.
The rest of the "expert analysis" has been much of the same, with everyone saying, "Ron Artest makes the Lakers deeper," "The Celtics' bench has more experience" and "The Big Three and Kobe Bryant are two years older."
Really? That's the best we can all do?
Sure, we've been a little strapped for action during the weeklong lull between games, but maybe it's time to pay a little less attention to the "experts" (all of whom gave the Celtics no chance to even be in this position) and spend more time soaking it all in. The Celtics are playing the Lakers in the NBA Finals, and there's not much that can compete with that.
Where will this meeting rank in history? It could be the best. Here are 10 reasons why.
History in action
Every time you watch the Celtics and Lakers in an NBA Finals, you're watching history being made. Whether it's Magic Johnson's sky hook in a stunned Boston Garden, Kevin McHale's takedown of Kurt Rambis, the impossible Celtics comeback in Game 4 back in 2008 or any of the other countless moments, it's guaranteed that by the end of this series, there will be a signature moment that lives on in basketball history.
Paul Pierce's legacy
During the 2007-08 season, the Celtics were playing on national TV, and the commentators were discussing where Paul Pierce ranked among Celtics greats. If memory recalls, Jeff Van Gundy thought it was a ridiculous notion to say it was a foregone conclusion that Pierce's No. 34 would one day hang in the rafters. At the time, he hadn't won any championships, which made it hard to compare him to the greats that have played for the winningest franchise in NBA history.
Now, it's a different story. He's eighth in franchise history for games played, fifth in minutes, third in points, second in points per game, first in free-throw attempts and makes, seventh in assists and ninth in rebounds. Obviously, with one championship, he's a bit behind some of the legends. A second one won't exactly put him on par with Bill Russell, but it would certainly add to his legacy as one of the best Celtics of all time.
Each chapter gets better
With the Celtics and Lakers, the distaste between fan bases, players and executives never wanes. In fact, it only intensifies. So each time these two teams meet, there's even more incentive to crush the opponent.
This year is no different. Two years ago, the Celtics, led by the newly formed Big Three, pulled off an unbelievable comeback in Game 4 before laying down the hammer in the clinching Game 6. The Lakers have not forgotten either of those losses, and they'll only serve as fuel this time around. On the other side, the Celtics probably feel like they were robbed last year in losing Kevin Garnett to injury. They'll be just as motivated to tell the Lakers that last year didn't count.
Either way, Chapter 12 in this epic Finals rivalry will pick up where Chapter 11 left off. The outcome is very much unknown, but it's a sure thing that we'll all be captivated from start to finish.
Ron, Meet Rasheed. Rasheed, Ron.
People just aren't talking about this enough. Ron Artest and Rasheed Wallace are going to be on the floor at the same time on the NBA's biggest stage. Is there a limit for possibilities on what could happen? Would anything that these two do shock anyone?
Granted, both have been pretty tame thus far through the postseason, and Rasheed — for all his faults — pretty much knows how to handle his business in the playoffs, but just two years ago, he unleashed a memorable yet unquotable tirade following a loss to the Celtics. Artest, as nice as he's played alongside Kobe, is just one year removed from his wild, mohawked confrontations with Kobe in the Western Conference semifinals.
The potential is there for an explosion, the likes of which we have never seen and would likely never see again.
End of an era?
Whether you're a fan of the Celtics, Lakers, Timberwolves, Jazz or the WNBA, you're a fan of basketball. And fans of basketball can agree that the experiment of the Big Three was at the very least entertaining, and it proved to basketball players young and old that when egos are put aside (you guessed it), anything is possible.
When Danny Ainge assembled the trio of Pierce, Garnett and Ray Allen, most basketball voices agreed that it would take some time for the superstars to jell and form a powerful unit. With a trip to Italy and the proper motivational techniques from Doc Rivers (cue the the ubuntu), the team came together and proved that when the ultimate goal is winning, when phrases like "We Not Me" get thrown around and when an emotional force like Garnett is involved, winning a championship can be easy.
These next two weeks of basketball may be the end of the Big Three era. Ray Allen's contract is up, and his future is unknown. For basketball fans, it's time to enjoy it while it lasts. For the Big Three, it could mean going out in style.
The Rajon Rondo Show
I once heard a basketball expert tell me that this year's series will be different from the '08 series because Rajon Rondo is a much better player. Then 30 more people said the same thing. The analysis was truly awe-inspiring.
Kidding aside, Rondo has been the most electric player in the NBA for the past two postseasons. And he continues to get better. He makes Tony Allen look like Michael Jordan (for a second or two at a time). He looks like he entered the "unlimited turbo" cheat code for NBA Jam. He looks, at times, completely unstoppable, and he's always risen to the occasion — remember when he hit a 20-foot jumper out of nowhere during closing time in Game 6 in Detroit? Remember when he did the same thing this year in Game 2 in Cleveland? This is a guy who just about never hits jumpers, yet when the pressure's on, he even makes those look easy.
So now he's in the NBA Finals, and the bulk of the national media has started saying that "this year's team is Rondo's team" (you may have heard that one, too). Rondo is a confident young man, to say the least, and he hears that talk. Based on his history of rising up in huge moments, there's no reason not to expect him to produce some unbelievable moments.
(Oh, and a note to Lakers big men: Stay on your feet. You do not want to look like Anthony Parker and Anderson Varejao did last month. Ever.)
Doesn't Kobe always have something to prove?
Can he win without Shaq? Sure, he did that last year … but it was against the Magic. The Magic are 0-8 in Finals games. Does that even count?
Yes, it does, but Kobe — as much as anyone on this earth — is perpetually concerned with his image. You don't think that lower-teeth-jutting-out-so-I-look-mean thing that he unveiled last spring was unplanned, do you? That was actually a look so transparent it actually said, "Everyone thinks I only care about me and my stats, so now I'll show them that I have Jordan's killer instinct. Show 'em the teeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeth."
What's the point? Well, Kobe's now won a championship without the big fella, but he knows that if he can take down the Celtics on his way to championship No. 5, his place in NBA history only gets more secure. When you're as big a star as Kobe, you'll always have haters — therefore, you'll always have motivation. And, well, you don't want to try to guard a highly motivated Kobe Bryant, but it will be something special to watch.
Despite not being gaudy, flashy or loud, Phil Jackson is a pretty polarizing guy. He's loved and revered as the best coach of all time by many, and he's dismissed as overrated and obnoxious by even more. So when he took that hat with the Roman numeral "X" on it last year and plopped it on his big head, blood was boiling throughout Boston. How dare he act like he's better than Red Auerbach, right?
Well, Phil couldn't solve the Celtics last time around (he couldn't even properly name the members of the Celtics' roster), and Celtics fans would like to keep it that way. Seeing Phil wearing a hat with "XI" stamped on it would infinitely sting the Boston fan base.
Ten championship rings is nice, but an 0-2 record against the Celtics in the Finals wouldn't convince many in Boston that Phil's any better than Red. Then again, what would?
The hatred is real
When an L.A. Times columnist is joking about Paul Pierce getting stabbed, chances are that you've got yourself a rivalry.
As Bob Ryan (who, by the way, was so excited for this series, he wrote about 4 million words on it) wrote, "There is nothing in the NBA like [the Celtics-Lakers rivalry]. Truthfully, there is nothing in sports like it. Red Sox and Yankees fans are essentially the same people. That is not the case here. We?re talking Pluto vs. Venus."
He's right. Does any Bostonian in his right mind respect the 19,000 people that flood the Staples Center in their fancy-pants Gucci shirts? Do any Lakers fans stop in to Sully's Tap before heading into the Garden? No. Boston and Los Angeles go together like peanut butter and Vegemite. Their basketball teams are no different. There's simply nothing in common between the two teams. Kobe and Ray Allen hate each other. Everyone in purple hates Kevin Garnett. Everyone in Boston hates Sasha Vujacic (and all 24 of his playoff minutes). The rivalry is real, and it's as alive as ever.
At long last … the rubber match
In 1984, the Celtics beat the Lakers in an epic seven-game series. The following season, the Lakers bested the Celtics in six. In 1986, the stage was set for the rubber match … but the Lakers lost the conference finals in five games to the Rockets, who were then handled in six games by the Celtics.
True, the C's and Lakers met in the 1987 finals, but Kevin McHale and Robert Parish were severely slowed by injuries and Bill Walton was out. It wasn't the rematch that both L.A. and Boston wanted. Now, that's not the case. KG is healthy, and so is Andrew Bynum (sort of). A few role players are gone, with Rasheed Wallace and Ron Artest entering the fray. If anything, both teams may be better now than they were in '08.
The Lakers are happy they won last year, but they know how much better a championship will be if it goes through the Celtics. Meanwhile, the C's know they can't erase the events of last June, but they can make it a distant memory.
The claim to being the best team of the past three years is at stake, and it all starts Thursday night. Let's get to it.