The Difference between 2008 and 2010: Kobe Bryant (+), Ray Allen (-), and the dramatically improved Lakers defense

There are several differences between this year’s NBA Finals and the 2008 NBA Finals between the same two teams.  But the main reason the Celtics won handily in 2008 and are dead even this year is the dramatic difference in the play of two individuals:  Kobe Bryant for the Lakers and Ray Allen for the Boston Celtics.

In 2008, Kobe was not good, while Ray Allen (by my calculations) was the TRUE NBA Finals MVP.  Here are the Win Contribution calculations from those Finals.

You notice Kobe produced a -0.339 for those Finals, while Ray Allen produced a stunning +1.004.  This season the story is completely different.

In these Finals, Kobe has produced the positive Win Contribution, while Ray Allen has been a drag on the Celtics.  Kobe has posted a very positive Win Contribution of +0.384, while Ray Allen has posted a very negative Win Contribution of -0.207.

Other differences include the reduced play of the hampered Kevin Garnett (+0.445 in 2008; +0.132 in 2010) and the much improved play of Pau Gasol (+0.067 in 2008; +0.593 in 2010).

The final, and possibly most important, difference between the two Finals has been the Lakers committment to defense.  If you notice the linked chart above, in 2008 the Celtics recorded a Team Win Score of 46.4, extremely high for an NBA Finals, while they held the Lakers to just 34.4.  In these Finals the Lakers have matched the Celtics defensive intensity, possibly to the detriment of the television viewer, but definitely to the benefit of LakerNation.  This series, as mentioned in the last post, each team is posting a Team Win Score of only 31.6.  Thus its been a defensive struggle all the way, and the Lakers are standing toe-to-toe with the Celtics in that regard.

Rarely in history have you been able to say that for a Lakers team, even the great “Showtime” teams of the 1980s.  Those teams were powered solely by offense.  This team, with its impressive upfront size, is a model of tough defense.

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