Vs. / Clap Clap ClapClapClap: The Real Winners of the Boston-L.A. Finals (So Far)
Posted by Andrew Unterberger on June 11, 2008
Do other cities ever get jealous that Boston gets all the cool rivalries?
So despite their win in Game 3 tonight, the Lakers are still down 2-1 in the NBA finals, with two more to go in L.A. before they (in a best-case scenario) have the unenviable task of having to steal a game or possibly two from Boston back in the Not-Garden. But who is really winning the series so far, in all the areas that actually count? Let’s take a look.
1. Best Pre-Game Introductions: I’ve become so enamored with the Boston pre-game introduction traditions in the games I’ve seen of theirs so far this playoffs that now I actually make sure to turn on the games in time to see them. You’ve got the Requiem for a Dream theme, Paul Pierce bellowing “LET ME HEEEAR ITTTT!!!!,” Ray Allen’s mimed jump shot, maybe the only good single off the last 50 Cent album, and of course that earth-shaking KG scream. It’s fun, it’s exciting, and it’s communal. L.A.’s, which I saw for the first time tonight, just had some weirdly uninvigorating Boston/L.A. rivalry montage set to Jay-Z’s “Heart of the City” (which says “West Coast” about as much as Bruce Springsteen’s “Thunder Road” would) and a bunch of uncomfortable-looking teammates that seem like they actually prefer the ambivalence of away crowds.
2. Least Embarrassing Legend Interview: To add even more historical weight to the series, the pre-game shows have taken to interviewing legendary players from both teams to gain their wisdom and insight. Before G3, Lakers great Jerry West made some points about the importance of the Lakers’ going to the hoop that seemed competent enough, if not particularly revelatory. Before G2, though, the Bill Russell interview continued the unwatchability of his series of discussions with Kevin Garnett, where he was just a little too far gone to make for an interview that doesn’t make you shudder with the thought of talking to some of your older, less coherent relatives. And the way Jon Barry kept over-cackling at each of his jokes just made things that much more uncomfortable.
3. Best Celebrity Crowd: L.A. had a bunch of definite a-list celebs–Steven Spielberg, Eddie Murphy, Jack Nicholson of course–to belie the point that this was Cali, baby! and that you shouldn’t be able to buy a hotdog without running into an Oscar winner. But as Bill Simmons (surprise) writes in his most recent ESPN column, what’s always so remarkable about C’s games is how many of the city’s local sports icons–baseball, football, soccer (maybe) alike–come out to support each others’ games, and in Game Two especially, it felt like half the Sox’s lineup was somewhere in the Not-Garden. Now I suppose the Angels and Dodgers technically had a game tonight while the Lakers were playing, but honestly, could you picture Joe Saunders and Juan Pierre giving a crap?
4. Best Non-Celeb Crowd: There’s no question that Boston’s is the more excited, more supportive, more appreciative crowd–when they’re turned up to full blast, like in the second half of G1, it feels like there’s no way the C’s could ever lose. That said, if this category was about “crowd I’d least like to meet in a dark alley,” L.A. would take it in a walk–when they chanted “BOS-TON SUCKS!!” for the first time tonight, it nearly gave me chills, it was so legitimately vitriolic. Watch your back no the way home tonight, P.J. Brown.
5. Most Heartwarming Comeback: I don’t know why I became so invested in the ups and downs of Ray Allen in the first couple rounds of the playoffs, but more than anything in the conference finals, I was pulling for Ray-Ray to snap out of his funk and prove that he’s not at the end of his usefulness. He has, and then some, becoming arguably Boston’s most consistent offensive performer in the series thusfar, and positively keeping them competitive in G3. For L.A., the closest thing is the triumphant return of Trevor Ariza after a season of injuries, scoring four points in sixteen minutes and prompting approximately 500,000 questions along the lines of “Wait…Trevor Ariza plays for the Lakers now?”
6. Best Overachieving Back-Up Point Guard Performance: Maybe it’s just his general style, or an over-buying into the Laker myth, but Jordan Farmar doesn’t seem to know how to do anything the non-Showtime way. Of the 11 shots he’s taken so far in this series, I don’t remember a single one that wasn’t either a three-pointer or a swooping, on-the-run reverse layup. He even gave P.J. Brown a piece of his mind after receiving a little rough stuff, despite being about five feet shorter. Meanwhile, Sam Cassell seems to take his being inserted into a game “for offense” (and if you’re a C’s fan, you must die a little at the sound of that) to mean that he and he alone is responsbile for reviving the team, and that he should do so while wasting as few dribbles, passes and seconds as possible. He actually seemed to take his blocked air-ball in game two as a sign that maybe he should work more as a distributor, but tonight he was back in fourth gear, hoisting four shots in as many possessions. Farmar gets the edge for actually hitting a couple of those key threes in G2 and an important charge-draw in G3, whereas even when Cassell actually makes a shot now, you still have to groan a little.
7. Best Breakout Bench Performance: Smarting though I am over the lack of love Doc Rivers has shown for Glen “Big Baby” Davis this series, it was pretty inspiring to see back-up forward Leon Powe eke a superstar-level performance out of 14 minutes and change of playing time (good thing they had planned that Powe bio for halftime of G2, instead of 3, in which he played six minutes, scored one point and had his shot blocked twice). Still, his performance was no match for that of Sasha “The Machine” Vujacic in G3, who actually managed to score in double figures when it seemed like everyone on the court except Kobe and Ray was playing in 120 degree heat, including a three-pointer within the last few minutes that more or less sealed the quarter’s momentum for the Lakers. Can’t wait to see the video for this one.
8. Worst Refuting of Season’s Progress in Game 3. Now that Mark Jackson has officially dubbed Paul Pierce to be on Larry Bird’s all-around level, and everyone seems to have finally agreed that it is he, and not Ray or KG, that is Boston’s best offensive weapon, it seems only appropriate that he go for six points on 2-14 shooting and pick up five fouls in the process. And now that Kobe won an MVP largely for his newfound leadership, learning to share the ball and trust his teammates, what better time would there to be for him to go for 36 on his own, only hand out one dime, and seem to be snapping at his teammates at any possible opportunity? Still, 36 points is 36 points, and lord knows L.A. was getting that from a “confused” Lamar Odom and an apparently Kwame Brown-possessed Pau Gasol.
9. Least Embarrassing “What Is That You Do Here, Exactly?” Performer: One of my favorite subplots that no one is paying attention to in this series is the battle between Goofy Laker Back-Up Big Ronny Turiaf’s point tally and his personal foul tally–currently, points are outscoring fouls in a nine-eight squeaker. And what’s more, he seems prouder of his foul total. Look at him next time he gets a whistle–he’s positively beaming, raising his hand for all to know that it was he, and not some other braided seven-foot Frenchman, that hacked KG on a post-up. The closest the C’s have is Kendrick Perkins, who fans must no doubt be waiting to breakout like he did against the Pistons in G4 of the Conference Finals and rip a double-double on a thusfar sub-par L.A. front court, but has yet to get double anything, and in fact only scored one point in G1. Still, he’s Tim Duncan next to Turiaf this series.
10. Best “Don’t Ever Underestimate the Heart of a Champion” Moment: Well, I had to get what so far is undoubtedly the classic (or at least, the ESPN Classic) moment of the series, when Paul Pierce went down in the third quarter of G1 in what looked to be a possibly series-ending injury, only to come back by the end of the quarter to hit two consecutive threes and jump-start a Boston victory, drawing comparisons to Willis Reed* and inspiring some snarky t-shirts from unmoved laker fans. L.A. has nothing to match it as of yet, but really the only thing that would match it at this point would be if after an injury to Gasol in G5, Andrew Bynum came careening out of the stands, ripped off his suit and his cast, and finished the game as the Lakers’ center. And it seems unlikely that Phil Jackson would allow for such dramatics under his watch.
11. Best Post-Game Interview Moment: Tie between Phil Jackson referring to G2 hero “Leon Pow” and Kobe saying “shit” on live national TV. The only way I could see the Celtics being at all interesting in a post-game would be if Doc Rivers actually went for the grope at Michelle Tafoya’s ass during her interview.
Nonetheless, with three games down…