Sizing Up the NBA Finals

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The NBA Conference finals are underway. In the East, the Boston Celtics won Game 1 against the Detroit Pistons. In the West, the Los Angeles Lakers beat the San Antonio Spurs in the first game of their series.


The NBA's version of the Final Four, the conference finals, are underway. The Boston Celtics hold a one-to-nothing series lead over the Detroit Pistons in the East. The Los Angeles Lakers last night jumped to a one-to-nothing lead in the West with a four-point victory over the San Antonio Spurs.

Commentator John Feinstein joins us now to look at where this series might be headed. Good morning.

JOHN FEINSTEIN: Good morning, Renee.

MONTAGNE: Let's begin in the East, because the Celtics have been the league's best story all year. Can they keep it going?

FEINSTEIN: Well, they're going to have to do two things that they didn't do, haven't done, in the first two rounds, I think, if they want to beat the Pistons and get back to the finals for the first time since 1987 and win the championship: One, they're going to have to win a game on the road, which they didn't do in the first two rounds. No team in NBA history has won a title without winning at least three games on the road.

Now the Celtics have home-court advantage throughout the playoffs, which means in theory, they could keep doing what they've been doing: win all their home games, lose all their road games. But in all likelihood, they're going to have to find a way to win a road game or two somewhere along the line if they want the championship.

Second, the great Ray Allen, arguably the best jump-shooter in the league the last 12 years, has to find his missing jump shot. Nobody seems to know where it is. He's been shooting horribly the last few games.

The Celtics have survived so far, but again, he's got to shoot the ball better if they're going to have that big three of Garnett, Pierce and Allen lead them to a title.

MONTAGNE: But John, can they win this series if Allen's shooting doesn't come around?

FEINSTEIN: I honestly don't think they can, Renee. That's really sort of the question that basketball fans are asking all over the country, sort of like David versus David in "American Idol." Can Ray Allen find his jump shot? And the answer is none of knows - unlike in "American Idol," where we now know, I guess.

MONTAGNE: Okay, so the Spurs are the defending champions. The Lakers have home-court advantage. To whom do you give the edge?

FEINSTEIN: I really think the Lakers are back. I mean, they have been sort of off the radar for a few years. They're the glamour team with all the superstars from Hollywood sitting courtside. Kobe Bryant was the league's MVP this year, for the first time in his career.

The Spurs are getting a little older. They're still really good. They had a 20-point lead last night and easily could have won the game on the road. I think that's a seven-game series, and it may come down to the fact that Game Seven would be played in Los Angeles.

MONTAGNE: Although I guess if you're a TV big shot or get to the NBA, you're pulling for a Lakers-Celtics final.

FEINSTEIN: No question. Everybody in the NBA wants to bring back memories of those great Lakers-Celtics finals in the 1960s, and - you know, Bill Russell versus Wilt Chamberlain, and, of course, in the 1980s, Larry Bird versus Magic Johnson.

As I said, it's been more than 20 years since those two teams met in the finals. It would create huge TV ratings, bring back all sorts of stories about those days. You bet. David Stern is sitting there sticking - the commissioner is sitting in his office sticking pins in the Spurs and Pistons dolls he must keep in there.

MONTAGNE: But John, why do you think people don't get more excited about the Spurs? It's a really winning team.

FEINSTEIN: It's a great question - four titles in nine years. In Tim Duncan, they've got a Hall-of-Fame player who's everything you want a professional athlete to be - not only a terrific player but a terrific person, does everything right off the court. They've gotten, you know, wonderful players in Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili. They're superbly coached.

I think it's just because they're not glitzy enough. They don't make headlines. All they do is win games and do their jobs. In American sports today, that's not enough.

MONTAGNE: John, pleasure as always.

FEINSTEIN: Thank you, Renee.

MONTAGNE: The comments of John Feinstein, whose new book is "Living on the Black: Two Pitchers, Two Teams and One Season to Remember."

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