The Lakers and the Celtics may be rivals. They may hate each other for as long as the NBA has existed, to eons into the future. This season, however, they have more in common than any two adversaries in the league could be. Their records are almost identical, with the Lakers at 15-11 and the Celtics with14-11. They both dominate the league in unsexier categories like points allowed (Boston in first and the Lakers in 4th) instead of blowing up the box score with explosive offense. They are both constantly written off for being too old and too slow against the new forefront of younger, more exciting teams like the Thunder, Clippers and Bulls. But the one thing that sets these two teams apart the most from the younger packs is their ability to make even a sub-40% shooting night into a nail-biting, hair-pulling thriller of a game merely due to the colors of their jerseys.
The longer the clock ran at TD North, the uglier the game got. And the uglier the game got, the harder the two teams worked. Boy did they both work…and work…until the literal last nanosecond of the entire game. And in that last nanosecond, Pau Gasol blocked the living daylights out of Ray Allen’s attempt to hit the winning shot, and the Lakers recorded their fourth regular season win in a row in Beantown.
There were nine lead changes and nine ties in 53 minutes of game time. The largest lead was Boston’s nine-point advantage in the first half, and the highest shooting percentage for either team was the Celtics’ 48% in the first quarter. None of it mattered, however, because Boston, as excellent defensively as they are, cannot compete with the Lakers’ 14-foot tandem. They tried taking Kobe Bryant out of commission, doubling him in the first half, sometimes with the ball still en route to his hands, but it only left Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum open to do their own damage, and damage they wreaked on Boston’s front court. Kobe Bryant may have scored the most, but make no mistake – this game in Boston was won on the shoulders of the Laker big men.
Playing Big – 14 feet is better than, well, it’s better than just about anything in the NBA. Combining for 41 points, 31 rebounds (the Celtics as a team had 33 boards) and five blocks, Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum showed where the power of this Lakers team is. Yes, there is Kobe Bryant, but with the ability and size of Gasol and Bynum on the floor, Bryant is ICING on this slow-baking, purple and gold cake. In the end, it was the work of Bynum and Gasol that won this game.
With just under three minutes left in regulation, Bynum rebounded Gasol’s missed three and willed himself up for a layup and the foul. Despite shooting so poorly from the free throw line this season (he went 4-6 tonight), he converted the three-point play that gave the Lakers a one-point lead. And then, again late in overtime, with about 90 seconds left, Bynum tipped in Bryant’s missed jump shot that gave the Lakers their winning score of 88 points. Averaging 17 ppg and 12 rpg this season, this is the consistency that has alluded the young center for years. In games like tonight, with 17 huge rebounds (seven offensive boards), Bynum showed what an asset he is late in the game, with a victory on the line. After his last tip-in off Bryant’s miss, Bynum was greeted at the bench with a pat on the head and kiss on the forehead from Coach Mike Brown. How’s that for encouragement?
Pau Gasol, 25 points on 12-20, 14 rebounds, three assists and two blocks – TAKE THAT, ALL-STAR VOTERS! If there was ever a time for Gasol to step up in a game in a big way, it’s only fitting it would be against Boston IN Boston, the place Gasol walked into to play his first Finals game in 2008, and the arena he walked out of with everyone questioning his toughness. Against the usually bullying Kevin Garnett, who scored just 12 points on 6-23, Gasol was the bigger man and he didn’t need to scowl in anyone’s face or taunt his opponents to prove it. All he did was work the glass, and when it mattered most, play the type of blue-collar defense that is almost always rewarded. Tonight it was blocking Ray Allen’s possible game-winner.
Kobe Bryant in regulation – Doc Rivers clearly had a singular plan of attack tonight – the beheading of the Black Mamba. Early in the game, it worked. Bryant shot just 2-2 in the first quarter, 4-6 in the entire half for his 11 points. Talk about double-teaming reflexes – that’s what the Celtics had tonight against Bryant. In the second half, however, Ray Allen took on the challenge himself and the Mamba’s head grew back to score 16 more points. Well, they tried, but Allen’s defense is no match for Bryant’s footwork. In the third quarter, Kobe kissed it off the glass over Allen. A few possessions later, Allen was practically in Bryant’s jersey and he still managed to score through it. 27 points on 11-24, 5-5 from the charity stripe, five rebounds, four assists – just another day at the zoo.
Matt Barnes – We’ve been wondering where Barnes had been after those first few productive games when the season began. Losing his starting spot to Metta World Peace, Barnes’ appeared somewhat distant in recent contests, but he came into tonight’s game and did just what the Lakers need him to do – be his active self. With just over 17 minutes of floor time, Barnes scored 11 points on 3-5 and went 5-6 from the free throw line, grabbing four rebounds in the process. If he could contribute just even this level of production coming off the bench on a regular basis, the Lakers might be able to establish some consistency with the reserve unit. When it comes to bench play, there doesn’t need to be just the one player who can score all the points and make all the big plays. Bench production is a collaborative effort. If every player off the pine committed to just even 10 points and five rebounds per game, this would be a completely different Laker team.
Defense – By keeping the Boston Celtics to 39% shooting from the field, 32% from behind the arc (they’re the best in the league from downtown) and only allowing five free throws for the entire game, the Lakers showed there is more to winning than scoring (but of course it helps).
Kobe Bryant in Overtime – 1-5 for two points. With all the success that Gasol and Bynum had had thus far tonight, Bryant still took it upon himself to play outside of what was working in order to put his imprint on the game. Fortunately for him, there were two big guys boxing out to retrieve his misses.
Guards not named Kobe Bryant (OT notwithstanding) – Derek Fisher 0-7, Andrew Goudelock 0-2, Steve Blake 2-7 (though, to be fair, it was his first game back from injury). It wasn’t a great night for most of the Lakers’ backcourt, but the frontcourt compensated so they’ll live to tell another tale. With Steve Blake back in the line-up, Mike Brown’s rotation took yet another turn, which it often does. Hopefully, however, the return of Blake will regulate some sort of guard rotation with the production of Goudelock to consider.
3-point shooting – 1-17 for a whopping 6.7% from downtown. The Celtics didn’t exactly shoot lights out from back there either (6-19 for 32%), but 1-17?! Metta World Peace, Derek Fisher, Steve Blake, Troy Murphy and Matt Barnes – career-wise, all are considered relatively respectable from behind the arc, but this season looks like they’re shooting cannon balls into test tubes – it’s become almost impossible to get the ball in the hole! With Bryant, Gasol and Bynum attracting so much of the defense, the open man (and there is ALWAYS an open man) has got to convert those shots from long distance. The Lakers are lucky that the best three-point shooting team in the league didn’t show up tonight. Otherwise, this may have been a completely different game.
It wasn’t easy. Nothing ever is for these Lakers this season, but they managed to pull a hard-fought win out of themselves tonight.