Weekly Countdown: The Lakers' weakness and more Finals lessons
5 Things we've learned from the NBA Finals
LOS ANGELES -- The weather really is beautiful here ...
5. Big men are still relevant. Why are the Lakers down 3-1? Because they don't have 7-foot, 285-pound center Andrew Bynum, sidelined since midseason with a knee injury. They have no one to defend the rim against penetrations or to score out of the low post.
Why are the Celtics on the verge of their first championship in 21 years? Because they've followed the lessons of their last title, when they had probably the finest front line in NBA history with three Hall of Famers 6-9 or bigger. Today's Celtics aren't so tall, but by today's standards they play abnormally large with 6-11 Kevin Garnett and 6-10 Kendrick Perkins as starters and 6-11 P.J. Brown playing off the bench (which is not to forget 6-9 Leon Powe with his impressive post-up game). In a league rife with perimeter stars feeling entitled to dribble to the basket as they please, the Celtics have nullified LeBron James or Kobe Bryant in the playoffs by converging one or more giants upon him.
Amid all the major acquisitions made this midseason, the move with arguably the biggest payoff turned out to be the Feb. 27 signing of Brown out of semi-retirement. He is about to win his first championship with the Celtics, and they probably wouldn't be so confident -- and might not be playing -- without him.
The Lopez twins, Brook and Robin, who are first-round 7-footers out of Stanford, should send a commission to Brown. Every time he so easily bullies a smaller opponent or clangs in one of his flat-line 12-footers from the seam of the defense, he and the Celtics' fleet of big men raise the value for true centers everywhere. In this copycat league, more teams may be interested in drafting the Lopezes today than a month or two ago.
4. The Lakers know what they need. Besides Bynum, they need to either trade for or sign a couple of veterans like Brown, James Posey and/or Eddie House. It's understandable that they entered the season with such a young roster, because they weren't thinking they would reach the NBA Finals this quickly -- or that Pau Gasol would be available so cheaply.
The other thing they need -- and this is tougher -- is a reliable second star to work alongside Bryant when the playoffs grow tough. Scottie Pippen sets the standard here, and neither Gasol nor Lamar Odom is close to Pippen in his ability to make big shots or defensive stops in a Finals setting. Maybe one or both will develop the necessary traits, or maybe the Lakers will need to package some of their youth for an older All-Star.
3. Paul Pierce is tough. So I knew this already: This is a guy who was stabbed nearly to death in 2000 but was back on the court within the month and played 82 games -- and averaged a breakout 25.3 points -- despite his weakened condition. So it was funny to hear talk that he was faking his Game 1 knee injury.
He was scared by that incident at first, because he has so little experience with knee injuries, then relieved that it wasn't as bad as he feared. But the feeling among some in the Celtics' camp is that Pierce has at least partially torn his meniscus and that he may need surgery after the Finals. As for refusing an MRI, he doesn't want the results haunting him.
He wants to win a title now, and deal with the injury later. In Game 3, he looked unable to move, but recovered Thursday to instigate the Celtics' record 24-point comeback. But he is doing this at less than full strength, that's for sure.
2. What Boston hasn't needed. The big worry about the Celtics has been the leadership of second-year point guard Rajon Rondo and the up-and-down play of his backup since March, Sam Cassell.
The reality has been that the Celtics have been more than OK with Rondo as their starter, and that a backup has been largely unnecessary. With Pierce, Allen and House, the Celtics have had enough handling in the backcourt. And the Lakers have failed to pressure Boston bringing the ball up the court.
1. Doc Rivers is on the verge of becoming the fourth active coach with a ring. I live in Boston, and anytime the Celtics go through a rough patch there are fans who can't wait to blame Rivers as someone lacking in X's and O's.
For starters, these critics are never able to comprehensively explain a technical strategy that would be superior. Secondly, they fail to acknowledge the importance of player motivation in the NBA. Rivers has been among the leading coaches in the league when it comes to maxing out the talent on his roster. There is so much talent that goes to waste in this league by coaches who don't know how to relate to players, but Rivers has an excellent feel for when to pressure players and when to liberate them. During the Game 4 comeback, he could be seen exhorting them -- "Don't stop believing'' -- and they listened.
"Doc is not afraid to tell us when we're messing up,'' Garnett said. "I've been around for a while and I've seen some coaches say 'the right thing.' '' By that he is referring to coaches who tell the players what they want to hear.
"He gives it to you straight,'' Garnett said of Rivers, "and he's probably one of the best motivators I've been around. He gives us hope through his words, and we believe it. We go out and we try to do what's asked of us.''