So, I just saw this article on Fox Sports saying that after the 'surprising' game 3 wins it's unclear who will wind-up in the playoffs. I thought it was a rather interesting analysis, but does anybody really think David Stern would let this happen. This is what he has been planning all season long. In my opinion it is definitely a stretch of imagination.
No offense to what the New Orleans Hornets accomplished this season, finishing with the second seed in the West, but there is no doubt the top four teams have made it to the dance and there are four very different possible combinations for the Finals, with each of them interesting in their own right.
Sure, the Los Angeles Lakers jumped out to a 2-1 lead on the defending champion San Antonio Spurs, but is anybody crazy enough to rule out the Spurs — winners of three of the last five titles? But the Spurs surely need to win Game 4 or the Lakers go home for Game 5 with a chance to clinch.
And yes, the Boston Celtics finally won on the road after a record-tying six straight losses until Saturday at the Palace of Auburn Hills, taking a 2-1 lead over the Detroit Pistons. But you all know the Pistons ... bad game, good game, bad game, good game. In this case, like the Spurs, the Pistons have to win Game 4 or the Celtics go home with the opportunity to wrap up the series.
So that sets all the utensils out on the table, with four possible combinations for the Finals. If majority rules, the Celtics and Lakers will meet, rekindling a historic Finals rivalry that has occurred nine times, dating back to 1959, when the Lakers still played in Minneapolis. And let's not forget the Lakers' Phil Jackson, he of nine NBA titles as coach (six in Chicago and three in L.A.), in a tie with Celtics legend Red Auerbach for the most rings in coaching history. One thing to consider is Jackson's teams have never lost a playoff series (40-0) when they win Game 1, as they did against the Spurs. With MVP Kobe Bryant leading the way and the home court, they are favored.
But that's not a guarantee.
The Spurs have the opportunity to win their fourth title in six years, something that nobody has done since the Celtics had their spectacular run of 11 titles in 13 years from 1957-69 . There is no trio in the league that has won as consistently as Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili. You can knock them down, but knocking them out is an entirely different circumstance.
The Celtics triumvirate of Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen has had more than their share of success during their respective careers. And during the regular season, they put together the best record in the NBA. It's different now, though, considering this is the first season the three All-Stars have played together on the Celtics.
Meanwhile, the hard-to-figure Pistons have shown the ability to come back in any series and have been to the Conference finals six years in a row, so they have the experience to bounce back against the Celtics. It's just always hard to figure what we will see from the Pistons, who have greatness but too often inexplicably lapse into a lifeless bunch during select games in the postseason.
So as we consider all of the above, let's look at the matchups to decide which one we'd like to see going forward:
Spurs vs. Pistons
The good: These two teams already had a great series in 2005, with the Spurs barely winning in seven games, thwarting the Pistons' attempt to repeat after taking out the Lakers in five the year before. Both teams are predicated by defense and consistent team execution at both ends of the floor.
The bad: When these two teams meet, the scores tend to look more like college games than the NBA. In this fast-paced basketball frenzy of the 21st century, they'll still slow it down. In 2005, the Pistons were the only team to score 100 points in the series, and it happened in a 102-71 blowout in Game 4. On the other hand, the Pistons also lost, 84-69, in Game 1. A thing of beauty, it was not.
Conclusion: These two teams have garnered an enormous amount of respect this decade and rightfully so. They have been consistently solid year in and year out, which is why this matchup would be no surprise and intense. The only problem is that nobody but the fans of the two teams has any interest in seeing them slug it out again.
Lakers vs. Pistons
The good: There is history here, too, with the 2004 Finals the most recent — signaling the end of the Shaquille O'Neal-Kobe Bryant-Phil Jackson era for the Lake Show. All three proved to be amazingly selfish in the end, with Shaq getting dealt to Miami, Phil taking a year off for a "tell-all" book and Kobe suffering the brunt of the blame, when in retrospect it seems to be equal parts of blame to go around. There also were the 1988 and 1989 meetings that began with Magic Johnson and Isiah Thomas exchanging kisses on the cheek and ended with their public friendship becoming a personal feud. The Lakers won in 1988, but the Pistons won in 1989 when Johnson and Byron Scott both suffered hamstring injuries that made it impossible for the Lakers to compete.
The bad: Chauncey Billups has the hamstring in question for the Pistons. The way he looked in Games 1 and 3, it's hard to fathom the Pistons getting there now. Sure, rookie Rodney Stuckey has been surprisingly stellar and growing in confidence in his place. But if they can't get more dependable play from Rasheed Wallace and Tayshaun Prince, it won't matter. They won't get there.
Conclusion: All things being equal health-wise, this would be an excellent matchup, with Wallace and Antonio McDyess going against Lamar Odom and Pau Gasol up front and with Rip Hamilton and Bryant locking horns in the backcourt. But unless the Pistons rally quickly, it's not going to happen.
Spurs vs. Celtics
The good: There is the tradition of the Spurs now and the Celtics then that makes it intriguing. Even more special would be the matchup of Duncan and Garnett, Western Conference rivals for so many years, meeting in the Finals for the first time. Watching Bruce Bowen check Paul Pierce would be fun and the Ray Allen-Manu Ginobili lockup would also be great theater in so many ways. And that's not to mention the quickness of the Celtics young Rajon Rondo against the race car known as Tony Parker.
The bad: The scores will be in the 80's and low 90's featuring a bump-and-grind mode for both teams. These games could be excruciating to watch until the fourth quarter, which would finally offer some great basketball. In other words, the desire would be to see a best-of-seven, one quarter each. Otherwise, the non-diehards would find it to be unwatchable.
Conclusion: As a die-hard NBA fan, this would be a fabulous series. The matchups are terrific, even if Duncan and Garnett aren't head-to-head all the time. The alteration of defenses from the Spurs Gregg Popovich and Pistons coach Flip Saunders are continual, with the two having faced each other innumerable times in the Western Conference during Saunders' nine-plus seasons as coach of the Minnesota Timberwolves. This is the second choice because of the possibilities.
Lakers vs. Celtics
The good: Unless you resent both franchises, there is nothing to dislike about this. Bryant making his first playoff appearance in Boston is reason enough to get excited. Even more so, there is the prospect of Jackson in search of his 10th title with the ghost of Auerbach looming overhead the Garden. There also is the desire to see Garnett, Pierce and Allen have a shot at their first title after all three superstars never having made it to the Finals before.
The bad: There will be the conspiracy theories if this happens. The NBA has been waiting for a return to the golden era ever since the lockout of 1998-99, when it lost a large chunk of audience and got lost in the hip hop, tattoo-infested youth of the 21st century. But in reality, if the worst matchup is the Spurs vs. the Pistons, there is no way the NBA can lose this time around.
Conclusion: Again, unless you just hate the NBA or the two franchises, how can you not want this to happen? This would be the greatest matchup, mostly because of the legacy of the Celtics and Auerbach vs. Bryant and Jackson. Just imagine if the Lakers were to clinch the series in Boston and Jackson gets to light up a stogie in the Garden to celebrate. Those would certainly be ingredients of his choice.