A capsule look at the NBA finals between the Boston Celtics and Los Angeles Lakers, which begins Thursday night:
BOSTON CELTICS (66-16, 12-8) vs. LOS ANGELES LAKERS (57-25, 12-3):
Starters: Celtics - C Kendrick Perkins (7.2 ppg, 6.8 rpg), F Kevin Garnett (21.1 ppg, 9.8 rpg), F Paul Pierce (19.0 ppg, 5.1 rpg), G Ray Allen (14.2 ppg, 3.4 rpg), G Rajon Rondo (10.5 ppg, 6.6 apg, 4.2 rpg). Lakers - C Pau Gasol (17.7 ppg, 8.9 rpg), F Lamar Odom (14.7 ppg, 10.3 rpg), F Vladimir Radmanovic (8.3 ppg, 3.4 rpg), G Kobe Bryant (31.9 ppg, 6.1 rpg, 5.8 apg), G Derek Fisher (10.0 ppg, 2.2 apg).
Key Reserves: Celtics - F James Posey (6.1 ppg, 3.5 rpg), G Sam Cassell (4.7 ppg, 1.2 apg), F P.J. Brown (2.6 ppg, 2.1 rpg), G Eddie House (1.2 ppg), F Leon Powe (4.6 ppg, 2.5 rpg), F Glen Davis (2.3 ppg, 1.3 rpg). Lakers - G Sasha Vujacic (8.1 ppg, 2.3 rpg), F Luke Walton (7.3 ppg, 3.3 rpg), G Jordan Farmar (5.1 ppg, 1.3 apg), F Ronny Turiaf (2.1 ppg, 1.8 rpg).
Season Series: Celtics, 2-0, winning by a combined 32 points. However, both meetings came in late 2007, long before the Lakers acquired Gasol to give Bryant some much-needed help. Bryant averaged 25 points but shot just 32.6 percent against Boston. Odom managed only 9.0 points, also hitting one-third of his shots. Garnett averaged 21.5 points and 11.5 rebounds, while Pierce scored 26.5 per game, including 33 in the Celtics' 110-91 romp in Los Angeles on Dec. 30, when the Lakers struggled while wearing throwback ``short'' shorts in the first half.
Storyline: The NBA's most storied rivalry returns with the 11th NBA finals matchup between the teams. Boston won the first eight before the Lakers took the last two with victories in 1985 and '87. The Celtics hadn't been back since, until riding the All-Star trio of Garnett, Pierce and Allen to a league-best 66 wins. But the Lakers have been the best team in the postseason, winning 12 of 15 games behind league MVP Bryant, who won three titles from 2000-02. A victory gives Lakers coach Phil Jackson a 10th title, which would break a tie with the Celtics' Red Auerbach.
Key matchup I: Allen vs. Bryant. Just when Allen appeared to snap out of his postseason shooting slump, he now has to work against Bryant, a tenacious defender who will try to keep Allen from getting in a rhythm. Bryant has followed his first MVP award by leading all players in postseason scoring, and after taking apart San Antonio in the Western Conference finals, he now turns his attention to the Celtics, who held teams to the lowest shooting percentage in the league this season.
Key matchup II: Garnett vs. Odom. Garnett made 55 percent of his shots in the two wins over the Lakers, and should have a strength advantage when he goes into the post. But he often prefers to be on the perimeter, where he loses that edge. Odom, also versatile enough to play Pierce, needs to contribute more than he did against Boston during the regular season.
X-factor: Cassell and House. Bryant could make things difficult for Allen, and Rondo struggles from the perimeter, so the Celtics probably have to look elsewhere for someone to hit from the outside. Cassell and House have shot poorly and seen their minutes slashed, but their playing time will increase if they can come off the bench and knock down a couple of jumpers.
Prediction: Lakers in seven.
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