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Vince Thomas

Do Kobe Bryant and the Lakers have a little vengeance on their minds?
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

Driven Lakers have a score to settle in Finals

Posted Jun 2 2010 11:52AM

We all want to know if the 2010 Finals will not only be a rematch but also a repeat. Translation: Will the Celtics "punk" the Lakers again, because they are tougher and want it more. And, before you get duped into believing these Finals will follow that same trajectory because the jerseys and many of the principal players are the same, recognize that motivation will have a strong, palpable impact on what goes down.

The Celtics are motivated by the same thing that has helped them advanced to The Finals when many dismissed them as old and disinterested -- pride and healthy greed. At risk of sounding too abstract and baseless, I really believe the Cs wanted a ring more than their opponents and believed they would/should win. Nothing about that will change for these last four to seven games against the Lakers.


For the Lakers -- embarrassed, maybe even humiliated in the 2008 Finals -- redemption is the primary motivation. One could even go as far as calling it vengeance for the more competitive guys.

Take a moment and recall the two Boston-L.A. games of the 2008-2009 season. The Christmas Day game was huge. Both squads were on pace for 60 wins, they were largely considered the class of the league and we all wanted to know how the Lakers would respond to their undressing from the Finals. Well, they won. But, it wasn't just that they beat Boston (the Lakers swept the season series that year), L.A. played like they were trying to redeem their manhood. Boston tried to use many of the tough guy tactics that bent the Lakers out of shape the previous June. Didn't work. At one point, midway through the game, with emotions running high, Kevin Garnett approached Lamar Odom and barked and foamed and did the "KG Intimidation Routine."

Odom stood chest-to-chest and told KG, in so many words, that he wasn't going to do a bleep-bleep thing. Perhaps more than any other act that season, that brief, five to ten second encounter between KG and an unfazed, even confrontational Odom illustrated that L.A.'s championship mission was a quest for rings and respect.

Over the past two years, the Lakers have had periodic problems with toughness. The L.A. big men don't posture like the Boston big guys. Odom, Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum don't seem to have the consistent zeal for banging like KG, Kendrick Perkins, Glen Davis or even Rasheed Wallace (on the defensive end). But when the L.A. bigs see those green and white jerseys, they turn into different cats. Gasol and Odom were reamed so hard throughout the summer of 2008, questioned so often thanks to the way Boston supposedly chumped them, that, for the past two years, they get extra motivated for Cs games. If there are games where they will see to it that they aren't stripped of their toughness bona fides, it's against Boston.

Unless you think the Lakers bigs are simply incapable of performing unafraid against the Cs (which would ignore the past two seasons), then their seemingly Celtic-sensitive battle antennae alone is probably the greatest difference born out of the two years since the '08 Finals.

Of course the rosters are different. Rajon Rondo -- even though he killed the Lakers point guards in '08 -- is significantly better, as is Big Baby. 'Sheed is new. We saw the game-changing effect that Nate Robinson can have off the bench.

But there's also no James Posey, Sam Cassell or PJ Brown on this Celtics squad. Are they better or worse?

The Lakers added Ron Artest to help with "toughness" and a gimpy 2010 Bynum is better than no Bynum in '08. That's an improvement. Then again, Derek Fisher is older and the Lakers '08 shooters -- Sasha Vujacic and Vladimir Radmanovich -- are either gone or bench-buried. Are the Lakers better or worse?

Is Kobe Bryant better or worse? We haven't seen Kobe perform much better than he has this postseason, especially his downright sublime play from the past two series. But Kobe entered the '08 Finals on a similar run. He and the Lakers ran through Denver, Utah and the Spurs that postseason. Kobe was a man on the mission. His 39-point Western Conference Finals clincher was a personal classic.

Then Boston D'd him up, forced him into a six-game stretch where he shot 40 percent and averaged about four turnovers and just 25 points. At some point, desperation set in and Kobe was off his game. We love Kobe for his maniacal competitiveness. But, looking back on the '08 Finals, maybe his own quest for a redeeming fourth ring became so suffocating that, along with Boston's stifling perimeter defense, he seized up.

Let me state right now that you won't see the Utah/Phoenix series Kobe in these Finals. Kobe, as great as he is, will not toy with Boston's defense. So expect the 30-point games to cease and expect to see Kobe struggle some. What I don't think we'll see is a pressing Kobe as frustrated as he was in '08, simply because his other teammates, on redemption quests, won't be as invisible and Kobe trusts them far more than he did two years ago.

This is the Lakers third championship run. That's dynastic. That's also enough time for Kobe to avoid some of the panic we witnessed two seasons ago. And Kobe will also be out for his own redemption. He's said recently that he doesn't care about the L.A.-Boston rivalry, he cares about "winning." But no athlete as self-aware as Kobe can possibly enter a Finals two years after one of his career's great disappointments, against the same team, and not be that much more motivated to not only win, but exact some vengeance.

This is why I see the Lakers, after a tough six or seven game series, hoisting the Larry O'Brien trophy. As a team, they are motivated and compelled by emotions that Boston isn't.

Redemption, vengeance, payback are consuming. So yeah, this is a rematch. But it won't be a repeat.

Vincent Thomas writes "The Commish" column for SLAM Magazine and is a contributing commentator for ESPN. You can e-mail him here and follow him on twitter.

The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting.

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