We asked our experts to rate the most important factors leading into the NBA Finals. Here are their wild-card picks.
Henry Abbott: Paul Pierce's extra gear in recent big games
In Boston's two most recent closeout games, Pierce has been an MVP-quality player. I don't know what gets into him in those games, but it makes the Celtics something special. If he can bring that two or three times, Boston will win.
J.A. Adande: Game 1
It's hard to believe the series could be decided after one game, but if the Lakers win the opener, it's over.
Phil Jackson has never lost in the playoffs after his team won the first game -- he's 41-0 lifetime. His teams know how to sustain a good start to a series.
Unlike, say, "Moonlighting."
Chris Broussard: Rebounding
This is critical and is Boston's biggest advantage. L.A. was crushed on the boards by Denver and Utah but those teams weren't complete enough to capitalize. If Boston can do the same, it is strong enough to capitalize. If the Celtics demolish L.A. on the glass like they did to Detroit, they can win this series.
Ric Bucher: Hunger
Hearing Paul Pierce talking about being part of history and Kevin Garnett saying going to the Finals fulfilled a dream is all well and good -- but it just sounds too much like the Orlando Magic, circa 1995. They, too, were equipped on paper to give the Rockets a battle, but had the just-freakin'-blissed-out-to-be-here vibe, which grew into a full-blown gong after they lost the first game in the final seconds and three more quickly thereafter.
Several Lakers, meanwhile, talked about the bitter taste of losing in their last visit to the Finals, even though it was four years ago. I just don't get the sense the Lakers are the least bit satisfied, and I can't say the same for the fellas in green.
John Hollinger: Tony Allen
A total nonfactor through the first three playoff rounds, Allen could potentially play a much larger role against L.A. if he's healed from a strained right Achilles tendon.
Though a bit of a train wreck offensively, his quickness and tenacity on D make him Boston's best matchup against Bryant.
Tim Legler: The Celtics' other two
The big three get all the attention, but starters Kendrick Perkins and Rajon Rondo will have a lot to do with the outcome.
Perkins can be a beast, especially against a finesse team like the Lakers, and Rondo will thrive in the open-court style the Lakers allow.
Chris Sheridan: KG in the clutch
The knock on KG throughout his career has been that he doesn't always exude confidence in the way he plays down the stretch, which usually manifests itself with the viewer asking, "Why did he pass that instead of shoot it?"
If several of these games go down to the wire, as I expect, this will be something to watch for in those situations.
Marc Stein: James Posey
He is the best-equipped Celtic to try to keep up with Kobe. But even if you believe Posey is quick enough -- and I just had a great chat with Ron Artest during which Ron repeatedly said Posey can't -- Boston either has to play a very small lineup (Posey at the four) to keep Ray Allen on the floor or cut into Ray's time to get Posey enough PT. Quite a conundrum for Doc Rivers.
David Thorpe: Kevin Garnett's offensive game
This might be the major factor as this series unfolds. He's capable of scoring 30-plus points in every game if he's of the mindset to do so.
When Boston's offense grows cold, will KG step up, just as we anticipate Kobe doing when L.A.'s shooters are off? And what can we expect from him late in games?