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It's on!

Posted by Gary Dzen, Boston.com Staff  June 2, 2008 11:56 PM

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To kick up the rivalry a little bit, we thought we'd get our friends (or mortal enemies) at the LA Times involved. Andrew and Brian Kamenetzky cover the Lakers over at latimes.com with their Lakers blog. Since we have similar shticks, we thought we'd engage in a good ol' fashioned blog-off during the Finals. Every day, bloggers from both papers will answer the same question pertaining to a key issue in the series. Feel free to chime in by leaving a comment or two.

TODAY'S TOPIC: Can the Celtics stop Kobe Bryant?

Brian Kamenetzky of the LA Times

Short answer? No. But don't feel bad, nobody can. The better question is should they?

It's been my contention that one of the greatest mistakes an opposing team can make is to overplay Kobe, and focus their attention on shutting him down. First of all, it's hard to do. He has been able to kick it into another gear that most teams can't handle, even when they throw bodies at him. But more importantly, the Lakers offense is far more efficient and effective when Kobe is able to distribute as well as score. The days of Kobe consistently working to beat double and triple teams while the rest of his guys hang out and scope the crowd for a-listers are over. Always a good passer, Kobe has done a great job this season of recognizing that the extra man is coming, and delivering a pass to the open man. Because the Lakers are, as a team, such good passers, that almost always leaves them with space to run their offense and find an open shot. When they play well offensively, they get to the rack and create looks in rhythm, leading to more made baskets and better defense on the other end (transition D isn't a strong suit).

Instead, I think the Celtics would be better off playing the Lakers as straight as possible, trying to make Kobe one-dimensional. Don't give him the opportunity to be a scorer and a distributor. Make him take the bulk of the shots and cut off the angles he'll get off doubles to feed Gasol and Odom for easy trips to the hoop. Besides, even with double teams, Kobe still can rack up points if he's on.

While the Spurs didn't get crazy on Kobe, they did do something that the Celtics would be wise to emulate -- that would be keeping him off the free throw line. They conceded a lot of buckets that might have otherwise turned into and-ones, and in this case discretion turned out to be the better part of valor. Keeping Bryant off the line can be the difference between him dropping "only" 30 and blowing up for 45.

To a large extent, with the Lakers you have to pick your poison. It always looks bad to see Kobe shred a defense, but if he takes 35 shots, the Lakers are less likely to win. When they get balance, they're almost impossible to stop.

Gary Dzen of the Boston Globe

The Celtics can stop Kobe Bryant. They already have.

In the previous two meetings this season between the Lakers and Celtics, the C's held the league's MVP to 9 of 21 shooting in Boston (28 points, 3 assists) and 6 of 25 shooting in Los Angeles (22 points, 6 rebounds). Not exactly domination.

Look ... no one is going to truly stop Bryant. He's the league's most dangerous player, capable of taking over a game by himself. Kobe can average 30 points per game this series -- it would be a surprise if he didn't. He's the best player in the Finals, hands down. But the Celtics have proven they can limit both Bryant's points and his ability to get others involved.

The Celtics have already been through this. Remember LeBron James? The 23-year-old dynamo was supposed to run ragged over the Celtics defense because the Celtics did not have an individual answer for him. And while James averaged almost 27 points per game against the Celtics in the conference semifinals, Cleveland couldn't get over the hump. In fact, James' best individual game (45 points, 6 assists in Game 7) was a Cavaliers loss.

Defense wins championships, and the Celtics have been the NBA's best defensive team all season. In the playoffs, Boston is holding opponents to 87.3 points per game on 42 percent shooting (by contrast, the Lakers are allowing 99.5 points on 43 percent shooting).

Kevin Garnett was the league's defensive MVP, but the Celtics' D thrives as a unit. Kobe will see Ray Allen, Paul Pierce, and James Posey on the perimeter. When Bryant drives, he'll meet Garnett and Perkins in the middle. And the Celtics finish their rotations better than any other team, meaning Bryant won't be able to pick apart the defense by finding open teammates every time down.

So give Kobe his 30. But don't expect that to be enough. And if you're expecting 50 from the league's MVP, think again. These aren't Larry Bird's Celtics. They're better, at least on the defensive side of the ball.

What do you think? Leave a comment here.

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