In the NBA, the best team nearly always wins in a seven-game series. In a one-game elimination like the NCAA Tourney, the weaker team can get hot and hit difficult shots or the stronger team can miss easier ones. But over seven games, averages prevail.
The team with the match-up edge gets better looks at the basket. A main offensive player is contained (Dwight Howard against the Celtics) or a defensive weakness is exposed (Dwight Howard against the Hawks). And over an entire series, the better looks quickly add up.
Two teams rarely match-up evenly. That's why there was only one other Game 7 in these play-offs (Bucks/Hawks) and only three Finals series in the last 20 years went to seven games -- '94 Rockets/Knicks, '05 Pistons/Spurs and '10 Lakers/Celtics.
It's even rarer for an NBA title to be decided in the last minute of a Game 7. The Lakers had improved from 2008 (a healthy Andrew Bynum and Ron Artest) while the Celtics got worse (KG's knee problems and losing James Posey). The 2010 versions of each were evenly matched, creating the most compelling series of the decade.
It's one thing to lose to a better opponent; it's quite another to be out-executed in the final stretch of a deciding game. A handful of plays would have decided the game for either team:
- In a game where the final margin of victory was 4 points and LA averaged 20.7 points a quarter, the Lakers scored 13 points from the free-throw line in the fourth (not counting the fouls to stop the clock at the end of the game).
- Foul shots allowed LA to get cheap points when they could not score on Boston in the half-court; they also allowed the Lakers to set their defense and prevented the Celtics from running after stops, where they were most effective on offense.
- This is where the absence of Kendrick Perkins was felt the most. In six minutes, Glen Davis had four fouls. Gasol used his height advantage to draw two in succession at the start of the quarter and another after Boston was forced to send a double-team to help Davis.
- As a result, LA was in the penalty very early in the fourth.
- Even worse, Boston bailed them out by fouling as they contested jump-shots, a cardinal sin.
Boston had two more crucial breakdowns in the game's final two minutes: Paul Pierce was sitting in no man's land and unable to contest Ron Artest's back-breaking 3, while KG and Rondo didn't switch assignment when they had the chance, allowing Gasol to get the game-clinching offensive rebound when Boston was only down 3.
The game's MVP was clearly Ron Artest, and if he had shot better in the first parts of the series, he would have drawn serious attention for Finals MVP.
- LA won the series on the defensive end: Boston averaged 79.75 points in their losses and 97 points in their wins.
- Paul Pierce, Boston's primary scorer, could not effectively score on Artest in isolation situations. Artest was able to stay in front of him and force him to take nearly impossible off-balance shots with no room whatsoever. This stagnated Boston's offense, as they had no one who could bail them out at the end of the shot-clock.
- In his post-game interview, Artest first thanked everyone in his hood. He proceeded to acknowledge the "World Wide Warriors" and his psychiatrist before promoting a rap song he recorded over a year ago.
Despite shooting 40% for the series, Kobe played very well. With LA's big men struggling, there were countless times when Kobe had to take bail-out shots because no one else could generate a good look at the basket.
- He couldn't get very many clean looks at the basket, but he could always at least generate a passable shot off the dribble. Getting 24 shots up is an accomplishment in and of itself, especially with no other favorable match-ups for the Lakers offensively; Pierce couldn't have gotten that many against Artest if he had the ball in his hands the entire game.
- Chasing him on defense had to have taken a toll on Ray Allen's legs; his 3-14 shooting line included many make-able shots.
- That being said, I don't see how this performance somehow elevates him into the MJ (or even Shaq/Duncan) discussion. As Denny Green said, he is who we thought he was.
Rasheed's very, very effective 36 minutes a game had to raise eyebrows for Boston. Could he have sustained those averages over seven games if given the chance?
- A front-line rotation of just Perkins, KG and Wallace would have matched the Lakers length for length for the entire series.
- He showcased an unstoppable post-up game that has driven everyone in basketball crazy for years; he could be a top-5 post-scorer every year if he chose.
- Height and shooting ability age very well; he could run the Robert Horry bit for another couple years if he wanted too. Very few players can both defend the post and stretch the floor as well as Sheed.