I thought I'd be agnostic towards this series, but when I broke it down, I found that I really favored the Celtics. I don't really like them, but other than Ray Allen, I don't dislike any of their players or coaches. I dislike Boston (the city and the fans), but no more than I do LA. With LA, I can count on one hand how many of their players I wouldn't punch in the face if given a free shot.
Bear in mind, my stupid DVR cut out and I missed the last four minutes of the game, where LA apparently cut the lead to four at one point. My analysis doesn't take this flurry of points into account at all.
The "Guys with the Whistles"
The referees started off the game by making atrocious calls on both ends. It seemed like one of those basketball video games where fouls are called at random every minute or so. Guys would practically tackle each other, no call, then a touch foul would be called. Boston set two legal screens that were called as fouls. It seems that in the NBA, moving screens are OK, but any screen that causes the defender to fall down or stop in his tracks is considered a foul, no matter how stationary the screener is.
After the first few minutes, the refs start calling the game like the fix is in for Boston. Kobe is getting hacked and manhandled, and not getting any calls. Gasol is playing tough, dunking in Garnett's face and taking it strong to the rim, and not getting ANY calls. Meanwhile, Leon Powe is spinning and juking and jiving, throwing up Steve Martin "wild and crazy guys" shots, and being rewarded with 9 FTs in like 5 minutes of playing time.
KG: Softer than Pau?
Meanwhile, I think Garnett has shot at least 5 jumpers in the first half from the top of the circle. Does he ever shoot in the paint? If ever there were a moment for KG to man up, it would have been after Pau dunked right on his head. What does he do? He takes it at Pau, then scores on some kind of weak dipsy-do reverse under the basket. I tell you, if Garnett were wired upstairs like Leon Powe, he'd be... a Tim Duncan who pounds his chest and throws talcum powder in the air (does he think he's a magician?). Although Tim's gone away from taking it hard to the basket as often as I'd like him to.
Kobe had to sit with three fouls, but the reserves played well, so ultimately it didn't make much of a difference. Still, he got saddled with two very questionable calls early; that has to affect his aggressiveness on D. It seemed like the whole team lost that aggressiveness for fear of fouling; Boston's "swarming" defense is being allowed to clutch and grab, and they are getting a lot of deflections, loose balls, and rebounds. They played most of the game with high intensity, which the Lakers did not come close to matching.
Jeff Van Gundy had an interesting suggestion: give players more fouls (7 or 8) or even unlimited fouls. Why not? How does it benefit the fans if a star has to sit because of foul trouble? They get free throws, so it's not like you can commit fouls without repercussions, like you can in pickup ball. Maybe they should make it where every foul you commit after the sixth gives the other team three FTs (on shooting fouls or when in the bonus) or one shot and the ball back (on non-shooting fouls).
Second Round Draft Pick Leon Powe
Apparently Leon Powe had a rough childhood, being homeless/in foster care. The announcers are really harping on this fact. Anyways, Leon Powe is exactly the kind of player the Spurs need. He reminds me a lot of young Malik Rose. Athletic, hungry, a bit undersized, but plays like his hair is on fire. The Spurs used to find these guys (Rose, Devin Brown, Derrick Dial, et al) but now it seems like Pop doesn't have the patience to give Darius Washington or James White any slack. If you take a bad shot, you don't just get benched, you get CUT. Even if those players are not as effective as veterans (though it's hard to see how they could be less effective than Horry or Finley), their youth and enthusiasm helps the team chemistry as a whole.
Part of the problem with taking fliers on these foreign guys in the second round is you give yourself no chance of finding a Leon Powe, Carl Landry, or Paul Millsap diamond in the rough. If you figure only 1 out of 5 second rounders pan out, even for teams with competent front offices and scouting departments, then it's all about picking more players. If you pick guys, but you can't bring them over, you're dramatically reducing your odds.
Speaking of, the NBA needs to address the issue of set salaries for first round picks. I'm sure the Spurs would have like to have offered Splitter more money, but they couldn't. Maybe NBA teams should be allowed to match the contract offers for guys in overseas leagues. Mark my words, it won't be long before you see a high draft pick sign in Europe for bigger dollars than they could make in the States (like Danny Ferry). If it were New York or LA or Boston that was running into this issue, and not the Spurs, you can bet the commish would do something about it.
What About Game Three?
I suspect that the officiating will be VERY DIFFERENT back in LA. I absolutely hate buying into conspiracy theories, but this game really makes me think that the NBA is going to ensure that this series goes 6 or 7 games. I foresee an LA blowout in game 3, LA winning a semi-close game 4, then a down to the wire game 5.