Blog vs. Blog: X Factor guy
More blog-off action with our Boston Globe Celtics Blog compadres. The initial discussion centered around whether or not the Celtics can stop Kobe Bryant. Then came the question of which team should capture America's heart. Tonight, we examine the Lakers and Celtics rosters beyond Kobe and the Big Three to determine which of the "lesser" names could most affect the series. Ladies and gentlemen, join us for a rousing round of Pick your X Factor guy!!!
Gary Dzen: Boston Globe
Rajon Rondo. The end.
No, but seriously, as Rondo goes, so go the Celtics. Paul Pierce is going to score. Kevin Garnett is going to score. Ray Allen might score. Maybe. But Rondo is the engine that makes the Celtics go. There are two reasons for this.
The first is that Rondo by himself is an impact player. He has only one speed: frantic. Rondo will pressure Derek Fisher and make it difficult for the Lakers to get into their offense. He's the only Celtics perimeter player who can even hope to disrupt the Lakers in the backcourt. On offense, the 22-year-old Rondo is inconsistent. And this has nothing to do with his outside shooting, which has been blown way out of proportion. Rondo will hit the midrange shot. He won't hit threes. It's that simple. This is NOT a storyline. But the way Rondo runs the offense IS a storyline for Boston. When Rondo is aggressive and takes it to the basket, the Celtics are much better off. When he's tentative, watch out.
A couple of examples:
Celtics need Rondo to be successful is because the alternatives are scary. Sam Cassell is way past his prime. He's a liability on defense because he can't stay with anybody, and he's a liability on offense because he is a black hole. He doesn't know the plays. And he shoots every time down. Eddie House is the other PG option for the C's, and he's the much preferred option in my opinion. He's deadly from three, and although he's undersized, he gets into the passing lanes and gives a solid effort on defense. But Rondo he is not. Rondo is the X factor. Is that a lot of pressure to put on the scrawny shoulders of a 22-year-old? Sure. But so was handing him the keys to the Bentley that is the 66-win Celtics. Pressure's on you, young fella.
Andrew Kamenetzky: LA Times
Picking a Laker "X Factor" for this series isn't the easiest task, since this team's enviable depth has created a scenario where everyone's two cents make a mark. You could offer a solid "X" argument for anyone in the rotation garnering at least 15 minutes of consistent PT. But a man's gotta make a choice, and with that, I'm selecting Sasha Vujacic.
He's not the most important guy on the roster, nor is he the most talented. But the sharp shooter's production affects the Lakers in a variety of ways. He's been the playoffs' most consistent Bench Mobber, which plays into a potentially big element against the Celts. The Lakers bench has been considerably better than Boston's during the postseason. As the purple and gold standout reserve, Sasha could be a big part of either burying Boston when their starters rest or simply allowing Kobe a rest without his own squad getting a dirt nap. On nights when he's clanged Spalding (like the 1-11 Game 5 against Utah), he's offset that lousy aim with relentless and effective defense. And while he may be a reserve, when it comes to the fourth quarter, Sasha's got starter's clout. Odds favor him on the court down the stretch, often saddled with a difficult assignment. Save perhaps Lamar Odom (who often joins the mob at the top of the second/fourth frames as Kobe catches a breather), no Laker may play as big a role with the first and second units as Vujacic.
There's also another wrinkle with Sasha pushing him over the top. We've seen him act the fool a few times during the playoffs. Getting a dumb tech jawing at Kyle Korver during Game 5's final (and tight) minute. Canning a wholly unnecessary three as the Lakers and Spurs were ready to shake hands upon the series' conclusion. Michael Finley looked like he was about to kick the crap out of him. And as much as I like Sasha, that shot was nothing short of "bush" (his own teammates weren't even thrilled) and a pop to the chops would have been justified. Both scenarios, however, underscore The Face's ability to annoy foes, which is why I'm genuinely curious to see which Celtic ends up hating him the most.
Bugging the hell out of opponents has always been a Vujacician talent, but an ability to spark reactions doesn't mean much if you're getting used by the player in question. In the past, Sasha would irritate whomever he guarded on a possession or two, then get lit up on the rest. Not so much anymore. Throw in the fact that he's not one to back down and this could get interesting. And by "interesting," I mean, "entertaining." I can easily picture Sasha residing inside the skin of a few green soldiers. Eddie House is nothing if not easily excitable. Rajon Rondo might be down for an epic "skinny dude battle." Sam Cassell may cut to the chase and initiate the smack (if that happens, be happy, because it means Sam-I-Am is playing, which can only help the Lakers). But the best bet could very well be one Kevin Garnett, who's wound waaaaaaaayyyyyy too tightly to find Sasha anything less than nails on the chalkboard. If Vegas offers a prop bet for "first Laker elbowed" (and I have to imagine some casino must), the safe money is on Slovenia's Favorite Son.
Of course, this all goes out the window if Phil finally comes to his senses and begins running the offense through DJ Mbenga. That, my friends, will put the "X" in "X Factor." But until that day arrives, I'm sticking with Sasha.