After the first five games of the 2010 NBA Finals and with the Boston Celtics one victory away from their second championship in three years, several observations should be firmly embedded in the minds of analyst and fan alike going into Game 6.
From the Celtics reaffirming they have the most complete team in the league to the Los Angeles Lakers being exposed for their lack of depth, it has become crystal clear that Boston’s mastery of the Lakers has not been limited by roster changes and modifications to the game since this rivalry began to simmer in 1959.
Now, over five decades later, the Celtics are on the cusp of defeating Los Angeles for the 10th time in 12 Finals match-ups between the two most successful franchises in league history.
On the two occasions that the Lakers did defeat Boston in the NBA Finals, Earvin ‘Magic’ Johnson led the charge, first in 1985 and again in 1987.
These historic triumphs would be redemption for Johnson and Los Angeles after suffering a crushing defeat at the hands of Larry Bird and the Celtics in the 1984 Finals, in which ‘Magic’ inexplicably dribbled out the clock in regulation time of Game 2 to force an overtime that saw the Lakers fail to grab a 2-0 series lead going back to the Great Western Forum.
Subsequently, in Game 4, with Los Angeles leading the series 2-1, Johnson would be given the new nickname of ‘Tragic’ for throwing an errant pass to Celtics center Robert Parish late in the fourth quarter and missing two crucial free throws in overtime as Boston would go on to even the series and eventually win the NBA Championship in seven games.
However, as previously mentioned, Johnson would erase the memory of 1984 and cement his place among the greats of Lakers lore by ending the Boston hex in two out of the next three years.
And although the faces and names have changed, Lakers shooting guard Kobe Bryant found himself in a similar predicament entering this year’s reboot of the hotly contested rivalry as he attempted to help Los Angeles exorcise the demons of a loss to the Celtics in the 2008 Finals, which included a humiliating 39-point defeat in the decisive Game 6 at the TD Garden.
A series victory for the Lakers would mean a second consecutive championship for the organization and it would give Bryant his fifth championship, tying him with ‘Magic’ Johnson, his second championship ring without Shaquille O’Neal, who many view as primarily responsible for getting Bryant his first three, a Finals victory over a heated rival and, most importantly, a legitimate right to be mentioned in the same breath as Michael Jordan.
But a legacy-enhancing series for Bryant could become another in a long line of post-season disappointments since Shaquille O’Neal was shipped to the Miami Heat in 2004; and if this does come to fruition, the finger of blame can be first pointed at Lamar Odom and Ron Artest.
Entering this year’s Finals, LA’s Queens, New York connection of Artest and Odom had to place their unique imprints on the series in order for Los Angeles to overcome the tremendous depth of the Celtics; however, in the last two games especially, the former AAU teammates have been unable to find their respective games.
In Game 4 and Game 5, Artest, born and raised in Queensbridge Projects, has averaged 8 points and 4.5 rebounds per game while shooting 31.6% from the field. Meanwhile, Odom, a native of South Jamaica, Queens, has averaged 9 points and 7.5 rebounds per game.
In addition, the Lakers, as a team, have played what Kobe Bryant has dubbed 'milk-carton' defense; particularly when it comes Artest's match-up with Paul Pierce. Matter of fact, Pierce was torching Artest so frequently in Game 5 that Bryant went so far as to ask Los Angeles head coach Phil Jackson to be matched up with the Celtic captain.
These performances aren’t going to cut it when Lakers center Andrew Bynum is hobbled by a torn meniscus in his right knee and when Rajon Rondo, Ray Allen, Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett are all playing at high level at the offensive and defensive side of the floor.
And if Artest and Odom don’t begin exhibiting the intensity and toughness that made them hard court legends in Queens then Kobe Bryant will be left wondering whether they can ever compete on his level when it counts the most.
According to YahooSports.com, Bryant was heard screaming in the locker room after Game 5 that he needed some-bleeping-one to make a stand with him and, in his post-game interview, Kobe, as if talking to the rest of his team again, said, “Just man up and play”, when asked about the enormity of the Lakers facing elimination in Game 6.
Artest and Odom need to take Bryant's statements to heart because if they can’t produce, besides Bryant, Pau Gasol, and to some extent Derek Fisher, the Lakers don’t have anyone else that can consistently compete on Boston’s level.
Bottom line, Artest and Odom need to bring Queens back into their respective games in order for Kobe Bryant’s legacy to get bumped up another notch because Bryant isn’t in the same conversation with ‘Magic Johnson’ or Michael Jordan unless he wins one for the thumb and defeats the Boston Celtics in the process.
Click here to read the original article on Examiner.com, which includes relevant links and a special video presentation featuring Kobe Bryant.