Even though I watched the clinching game of the NBA Finals back home in Sacramento, it was a foregone conclusion after Game 5 that this series was over. After covering the three games at the Staples Center, it became pretty apparent to me that the Lakers were not going to overcome a 3-1 deficit, much less force a seventh game. Their victory Sunday was nothing more than a tease. They simply weren't the better team. They blew another big lead, repeatedly were beat to loose balls and long rebounds, and benefitted from the absence of Celtics Kendrick Perkins (shoulder), the inexperience and sore ankle of Rajon Rondo, as well as Ray Allen's distraction because of his son's sudden illness. Plus, their bench was horribly outplayed, mostly by James Posey and Eddie House. Ultimately, the deciding factors were these: the Celtics' lineup featured three prolific scorers and their defense was stifling.
Given that the NBA is so trend-oriented, I will be curious to see the extent to which the Celtics' defensive domination influences draft selections, trades and free agent signings. Just a hunch: yes. it will.
The transformation of Paul Pierce
Watching Pierce's impressive performance during the three games in his hometown L.A., I couldn't help but recall that he was the convenient scapegoat for the USA's sixth-place finish at the 2002 World Championships in Indianapolis. On the court, the Celtics guard/forward was easily the USA's best player, but there grumblings behind the scenes that Pierce was too much of an individualist. In fact, the rap on him in Boston all these years was that he had a tendency to drive one-on-three, and lose the ball in the process.
Denver coach George Karl happened to be in the media dining room before Game 4 at Staples Center - he was there because his son Koby is on the Lakers reserve list - and I asked him about the World Games. He praised Pierce's maturity, and said that he and Baron Davis "went off on their own" during the World Games.
As a result, Pierce wasn't even considered for the 2004 Olympic team, and his apparent lack of interest in playing on subsequent squads eliminated him from consideration for the Beijing Games. Hmmm. But after his Finals MVP performance - including his 10 assists in the series clincher - Jerry Colangelo and Mike Krzyzewski might regret not knocking on his door. Pierce was all about winning ...
Other NBA Finals thoughts and observations:
* A few weeks ago, Miami Heat president Pat Riley told my colleague Bob Ryan of the Boston Globe that he "would love James Posey in the playoffs." The esteemed Ryan - known as "The Commish" around the NBA because of his encyclopedic memory and decades-long chronicling of hte Celtics - related Riley's remarks during dinner last week. Posey, an excellent defender and deep shooter on the Heat's championship team two years ago, was terrific again last night. His length bothered Kobe Bryant, and he was lethal from the corners.
* Eddie House is a testament to persistence. After playing for eight teams in eight years, he wins a ring. Nice. I'm sure he'll have some interesting stories to share with brother-in-law Mike Bibby.
* Throughout the playoffs, it's been pretty well established that Kevin Garnett is not the dominant player he was even two years ago. Though he's only 32, you have to rememember that he has been in the league since he was 19 years old. But his performance last night was emblematic of his career. He always plays with tremendous passion and intensity.
* Watching Phil Jackson hobble down the back corridors of Staples Center the other day, limping noticeably and walking with a cane (he has had two hip replacements the past few years), it's hard to imagine him coaching much longer.
* How badly did the Lakers miss injured center Andrew Bynum? The young center immediately improves their interior defense, rebounding and shotblocking, and enables the slow-footed Pau Gasol to move to power forward. Gotta feel for Kobe ...