The NBA ended its 82-game regular season on April 14 and its postseason began on April 17. The league's 2010 champion was crowned on June 17, when the Celtics and Lakers played the 82nd game of this year's postseason. As I like to point out often, sports has a way of producing a lot of symmetry. The Lakers won the 17th Game 7 in NBA Finals history last Thursday, 83-79 (home teams are now 14-3 in The Finals and 85-19 in all postseason Game 7s). The win gave the Lakers their 16th all-time title (in 31 Finals appearances), one fewer than the franchise they beat in this year's Finals, the Boston Celtics, who have won 17 titles in 21 appearances.
For those who have been following my journal all postseason, home teams finished 54-28 (.659) SU, going 48-34 (58.5 percent) ATS, after going 5-2 SU and 4-3 ATS in The Finals. The NBA Finals saw six of the seven games go under (only Game 2 went over), leaving under bettors a slight winner overall. The postseason finished with 37 overs, 42 unders and three pushes (plus 1.3 net games for under bettors). Those following the Zig Zag theory went 4-2 in the Finals but just 29-38 for the entire playoffs (minus-12.8 net games).
I began my playoff journal by saying that the NBA playoffs rarely offer any real surprises. A check of the history books told us that since Bird and Magic entered the NBA for the start of the 1979-80 season, just three of the 30 NBA champions from 1980-2009 had been teams which had not finished with at least the regular season's third-best record. Fifteen had been teams which finished the regular season with the best regular season record (or tied for the best record). Nine champs had been teams which finished with its second-best mark (including the Lakers last year) and three others with its third-best record.
The Lakers finished this year's regular season with the third-best record in the league (57-25) and the Celtics, after a 27-27 record their final 54 games, finished 52-30 (4th-best in the East and tied for just ninth-best in the league). Boston could have joined the 2003-04 Pistons who finished at 54-28 (sixth-best mark), the 2005-06 Heat who finished at 52-30 (5th-best mark) and the 1994-95 Houston Rockets who finished 47-35 (tied for 10th-best), as one of just four teams outside the "top-three" to win a title the last 31 years, but fell one game short.
That one game came last Thursday and while it produced plenty of drama and excitement, it was hardly a masterpiece. Just three days later, the U.S. Open provided us with a similar scenario, a down-to-the-wire finish but one which looked more like a 'train wreck' than a 'coronation.' I've never been one to live in the past, yearning for "the good old days" and generally believe in the saying, "you can never go home." However, I must admit that while watching Game 7 of the Celtics and Lakers last Thursday, I couldn't help thinking back to the years 1984 through 1987 when the Celtics and Lakers met in the NBA Finals three times in that four-year span.
Let me first note that from 1980 through 1988 (a nine-year span), either the Lakers or Celtics were in every NBA Finals. The Lakers won titles in '80, '82 and '88 while losing in the '83 Finals, with the Celtics winning titles in '81 and '86. The Celtics beat the Lakers in seven games in 1984 and then the Lakers, in the first year of the 2-3-2 format, beat the Celtics in six games the following season ('85). The Lakers then won the 'rubber match' of the three NBA Finals in which Bird and Magic squared off in, defeating Boston in six games in '87.
A check of the NBA record book reveals that of those 19 games, only once did either team get held to under 100 points. That came when the Lakers beat the Celtics 106-93 in Game 6 of the '87 Finals to close out the series, meaning the teams played 18 straight games in The Finals (over three years), before a team finally failed to reach triple digits! The 1984 Finals averaged 232.6 PPG, the '85 Finals 229.0 PPG and the '87 Finals 226.2 PPG. Now remember, those Boston teams featured Bird, McHale and Parrish (all members of the NBA's 50-Greatest Team), not to mention Hall-of-Famer Dennis Johnson. LA also had three members of the NBA's 50-Greatest Team (Kareem, Magic and Worthy), plus Hall-of-Famer Bob McAdoo on the '84 and '85 teams.
That being said, I take nothing away from LA's accomplishment this year. The Lakers' Game 6 (89-67) and Game 7 (83-79) wins were hardly 'works of art' but the bottom line is, this Laker team now owns back-to-back titles, something accomplished by just the Lakers of '87 & '88, the Pistons of '89 & '90, the Bulls of '91-'93, the Rockets of '94 & '95, the Bulls of '96-'98 and the Lakers of '00-'02 since Russell's Celtics won 11 titles in his 13 seasons from 1957-1969. Individually, Kobe ties Magic with five NBA championships to his credit, one shy of MJ and Kareem and one ahead of Shaq (a fact that made Kobe very happy, as he alluded to in his post-game comments).
No one will catch Russell and his 11 titles but Kobe now has a realistic shot at tying and maybe passing MJ and Kareem. I'll note here for NBA historians that Sam Jones played on 10 NBA of Russell's 11 title teams and John Havlicek on eight title teams overall (six with Russell and two with Dave Cowens). Robert Horry played 16 seasons in the NBA, winning seven championships (two with Houston, three with the Lakers and two with the Spurs), joining John Salley as the only two players to have won NBA championships with three different teams (Salley won two titles with the Pistons, one with the Bulls and one with the Lakers).
Kobe was 5-of-20 from the floor after three quarters of Game 7 and would have been seen as the 'goat' of the series if LA hadn't rallied to win. Instead, he walks away his his second straight Finals MVP, something accomplished in the past by only MJ ('91-'93 and '96-'98), Hakeem ('94 & '95) and Shaq ('00-'02). It should be noted that the Finals MVP was first awarded in 1969, or Russell might have won seven to 10 of them. He has to settle for the award now being named after him.
The Lakers will surely be the favorites to return to the NBA Finals next year for a fourth straight time, something that's been accomplished just twice in NBA history. Russell's Celtics made 10 straight NBA Finals appearances from 1957-66 and the Lakers of Magic and Kareem's made four Finals trips in a row from 1982-85. If Kobe leads the Lakers to a third straight title next year and wins another MVP, his career resume will be tough to argue against. Kobe turns 32 in August, so he may have more than one more NBA title in him.
P.S. I forgot to give Phil is due. Jackson-coached teams are now 48-0 all-time in playoff series after winning Game 1, including 24-0 with the Lakers. He owns 11 NBA titles (Red is second with nine and Riley third with five) and 225 career postseason wins (Riley is second with "just" 171). The question now looms as to whether Jackson will be back with the Lakers next year? He's won titles in "groups of three," from '91-'93 and '96-'98 with the Bulls plus from 2000-'02 with the Lakers. Will he really not be around to give it a shot for three in a row with this group? If he isn't back, can the Lakers win without him?