- The Washington Times - Monday, June 16, 2008


It is said a playoff series does not genuinely start until one of the teams wins on the road.

The Lakers and Celtics put the lie to that NBA axiom.

Alas, the series failed to live up to the considerable hype.

The repeated replays of the Lakers and Celtics showdowns in the NBA Finals of the ‘80s merely reinforced the view that the latest version of the rivalry was made of cheaper quality.

And nothing against Vladimir Radmanovic, Lamar Odom, Kendrick Perkins and Rajon Rondo, starting players who would not have been in the top-eight rotation of either team in the ‘80s.

Bromides have been dispensed in honor of the Celtics’ defense. Never mind that, with the outcome of the game in doubt, it has been challenged by only one player.

It is not all that impressive to constrain Kobe Bryant with five defenders, as the Celtics are allowed to do in the late going because of the deer-in-the-headlights pose of Pau Gasol and Odom.

The two treat the basketball as if it were a hot potato in the fourth quarter, although they are purportedly the second and third scoring options of the Lakers.

Sasha Vujacic is inclined to the shoot the ball in a no-no-yes or no-no-no way, either option unsettling.

That often leaves Bryant to go 1-on-5, as he repeatedly has noted whenever the subject of the Celtics’ effective defense is brought before him. You are obligated to draw the obvious conclusion in order to spare Bryant the criticism of being a bad teammate.

A defense does not have to be all that special if two of the opposition’s principal scoring threats are hiding behind the basket support on offense and have their hands clasped over their eyes in fear.

Celtics coach Doc Rivers suggests that Bryant is both the “most criticized and scariest player” there ever has been in the NBA.

Rivers does not understand the criticism, possibly because he does not have to deal with Bryant rolling his eyes or berating him after a poor decision.

Bryant accepts the responsibility of being a lightning rod.

“I kind of take it all in stride, including the criticism,” he says. “You have to take the good with the bad in this game.”

And that includes the weasel-like observations of noted blogger Curt Schilling, urged in these parts to stick a ketchup-drenched sock in it.

Lakers coach Phil Jackson says he and Mitch Kupchak try to land players who can hold up to Bryant’s strong personality, no different from Michael Jordan’s. At least Bryant has not punched out Steve Kerr.

“I think that’s an energy that a lot of players can’t stand up to,” Jackson says. “But we try to find players who can.”

Jackson and Kupchak must have missed on Odom and Gasol.

Worse for the Lakers, the homecourt advantage of Staples Center was minimized by the celebrity mutes in the expensive seats, made available by those jersey-wearing season-ticket holders who could not pass up a big-dollar exchange.

The celebrity mutes showed up in droves because of the big-event spectacle of the NBA Finals, as opposed to unyielding devotion to the Lakers.

A columnist in Sunday’s editions of the Los Angeles Times lamented the awful reality of celebrities being above it all, too cool to show emotion, Jack Nicholson excluded.

That cool was embodied by David Beckham, unable to clap and cheer, possibly because basketball is so foreign to an international soccer superstar.

The great East-West divide in talent - a regular-season staple of story-seeking NBA observers - came to look so overwrought in the series.

If the West is several rungs up from the East - the Lakers, Spurs, Jazz and Hornets at the head of the class - the Celtics required everyone to rethink the proposition.

The Celtics were the pick of few going into the series, billed as a back-to-the-future delight.

Most were wrong on both counts.

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