Thursday, June 10, 2010

The NBA Finals enter the fourth game Thursday with the Lakers ahead 2-1. What's often fun about the finals is the unlikely heroes, never more clearly than in the third game, when "Big Baby" almost was the difference for Boston but Derek Fisher obviously was for the Lakers with a career fourth quarter. Fisher is not really all that unlikely--not like Trevor Ariza last year, for example. He's usually good for winning one game in a series, and he did that with a career fourth quarter on Tuesday. As for the Lakers bench as a whole, they've been a pleasant surprise. Luke Walton's defense definitely contributed Tuesday, and other bench players have made key baskets, stops, blocks and steals during the finals.

But the series will eventually come down to the stars, and so I expect Boston's stars to be firing on full throttle Thursday, and I expect they'll win game 4. After that, time favors the Lakers, mostly because of Kobe Bryant, although Gasol is likely to have a dominant game before it's over. Whether fortune favors the Lakers is another question, but I do expect the officials to not be quite the decisive factor they've been in the first three games.

As for the skeptics (like me) who didn't see why the Lakers would trade a young and valiant talent like Ariza for the volatile and older Ron Artest, the answer may be as simple as the match-up of Artest guarding Paul Pierce. Pierce can't muscle him as he could (and did) Ariza or even Kobe. Artest is keeping him at bay.

Andrew Bynum has been the most pleasant surprise, showing stamina, will against injury, and great attitude. He was a force in each game, especially Tuesday, and especially when he guarded Kevin Garnett. Lamar Odum had his best game Tuesday but not the best he is capable of. I'll even repeat the commentator mantra that when he has it going, the Lakers are almost unbeatable.
Though the Lakers sometimes sag in the middle games, they've shown in this year's playoffs that once they solve the other team, they get stronger as the series goes on. I expect them to win the fifth game in Boston and win the championship in the sixth game back in L.A.