Tuesday night, the 2008-09 NBA season came to a close, in a way that can only be described as anti-climatic. The Celtics took their 17th career title with a 131-92 massacre of the formerly favored Lakers. For Boston, it wasn't even a contest. For Los Angeles, it was a downright embarassment to the game. I watched in disbelief as the Celtics scored at will and were relentless on defense. Bryant and the Lakers looked completely helpless in all facets of the game.
After burying an early three in the first quarter, Kobe Bryant was seen telling courtside Celtics fans, "Not tonight. Not tonight." Kobe was right, he and the Lakers didn't have it that night. Perhaps he had a feeling when he buried his first three shots from behind the arc that his shot would be off shortly. Or perhaps he was just as oblivious as to what would happen in the near future as every other viewer watching was. Nontheless the Lakers and Kobe would only hang with the Celtics until mid-way through the second, before the floodgates would open. The Celtics held a small 32-29 lead at that point, but would outscore the Lakers 26-6 to close the half, separating themselves for good, with a 58-35 halftime lead.
When the ball was inbounded to start the third, the Celtics picked up where they left off. They never allowed the Lakers to even feel a glimpse of hope. Boston was well aware the Lakers had overcome 18 & 19 point deficits to beat San Antonio in the Conference Finals, and they themselves were almost victims of a 24 point come-from-behind victory in Game 4. In Game 6, they would have none of that.
The Celtics fed off the energy of their home crowd and poured it on the Lakers, even flirting with the largest margin of victory in an NBA Finals game, ever (42, Chicago 96 - Utah 54, 1997, they had MJ). Allen led the game with 26 points, Pierce had 17, Rondo had a surprising 21, and Garnett shared the game-high with 26 points and 14 rebounds. Posey never missed a shot, House hit some threes; everyone contributed. The game was a complete Boston onslaught.
As for the Lakers, they never even showed up. LA played with no intensity and seemed to be a team with no care for a championship title. They played as if they were just happy to be in the Finals. It was frustrating to watch a team as good as the Lakers, with a player that wanted to win as much as Kobe, play with absolutley no compassion or sense of urgency. Gasol and Odom went through the motions of every game in the series, Vulacic was horrendous from the field, and the other players seemed nonexistent. What was Kobe supposed to do? He had the league's best defense keying on him, and none of his teammates had the guts or drive to step up and lend him a hand. The Lakers desire to win can be summed up by the effort of Vulacic with a win on the line in Game 4, as he practically let Ray Allen walk by him for an uncontested layup to seal the deal. Or perhaps it is better summed up by the 24 point lead the Lakers let slip away in that same game. Not one player on that Western Conference champion team responded to the Boston run, and LA let Boston embarrass them on their own court.
I really have no idea what happened to the Lakers in the Finals. After a 4-1 series victory over the defending champion Spurs, the Lakers seemed poised to crown themselves the new champions. Boston was supposed to be worn out from their long road to the Finals, and the West was still believed to be far more stronger than the East. Yet a different Lakers team showed up. One that looked as if the Knicks would give them a run for their money (just kidding, but you catch my drift). That's just how bad the Lakers were.
So now we look to the next season. Barring injuries, the Lakers and Celtics should both contend for another shot at a title. The Lakers should be even stronger with the return of 7'0" Center Andrew Bynum. If they decide to keep Odom, the Lakers would have arguably the best front court in the game, and a back court with the game's best player, in Kobe Bryant. Fans should be wary though. They are putting a lot of pressure on Bynum to perform. Many do not realize he only averaged 13 ppg this year. He'll get his share of rebounds, but he's not a prolific scorer. Gasol and Odom's production was just the same if not better than Bynum's, and the Lakers still found themselves runners-up to the Celtics. There's no guarantee Bynum will be the final piece to the Lakers puzzle in their quest for an NBA title. But we will see.
In my opinion, next year should bring an exciting season. Watch out for Chris Paul and the Hornets to emerge as the West's best team. Paul demonstrated his poise and MVP-like abilities in this year's playoffs, but his young team was not quite ready to make that final jump. They found themselves in unchartered waters against the defending champs and came a game short of ending their season. Next year should be different. As for the East, I think the Cavs are one quality move away from taking over the East. The Celtics should have the league's best record again come playoff time, but Cleveland has proven they can step up when May comes around. I think one key addition would give them a run at the title. Don't count out Lakers and Celtics, Round 2, though. Bryant is a winner, and he'll do anything to prove he can do it without Shaq. And when the Big 3 is on, who can stop them?
Image taken from Yahoo! Sports