The evening started solemnly, with a video montage dedicated to dearly departed Lakers’ owner, Jerry Buss. Images of him ranged from sitting courtside next to daughter, Jeanie Buss to photos of him celebrating with the team after numerous Championships won. In the end, it painted a picture of Dr. Buss as not only the owner of one of the most successful sports franchises (arguably ever), but it showed what he was at heart – a fan. So what better way to honor the Lakers’ biggest fan than defeating their most hated rivals?
In their first game since Jerry Buss’ death, it’s only fitting that their opponents be the Boston Celtics. In the two teams’ last meeting in Boston, the Lakers were overrun. Kobe Bryant did the bulk of the scoring, but other than him, the rest of the team lacked a collective effort and the Lakers lost 95-116.
Perhaps the emotions surrounding the loss of their owner was extra motivation; or maybe the Lakers were well-rested after the All-Star break and realize the brevity of the remainder of the season. It’s possible they enjoyed the comforts of playing at home or the simple fact that they were playing the Celtics provided some extra incentive. Whatever the cause, the Lakers played with a bounce in their step tonight; a sort of determination peeking out more than usual, and what it got them was a 113-99 victory over Boston.
Balance – Seven Lakers scored in double figures tonight, led by Dwight Howard’s 24 points on 10-13 from the field. Howard looked more alert and focused in this game, and not just on the offensive side. He officially only had one block in the game, but he altered more than a handful of attempts by the Celtics. He also grabbed 12 rebounds, and looked more comfortable and relatively healthier than he did before the season break.
Earl Clark – We can never say enough of Clark these days, can we? His last game, against the Clippers, was not reflective of his usual efforts, but he more than made up for it tonight. It wasn’t just about his 14 points and 16 (!) rebounds, it is about his constant readiness. Like Jordan Hill before he went down with an injury, and even reminiscent of Lamar Odom, Clark embodies anticipatory skills that has helped this Laker team remain alert. Clark doesn’t know how to give up on a play. A missed shot is an opportunity for an offensive rebound (of which he had five) and second chance points (two points for which Clark fought in a crowd of green jerseys to score).
Steve Nash – It’s been a long time coming, but we’ve all been waiting for Nash to punish the opponent with not just his passing skills, but his scoring as well. Tonight he went 6-7 from the field, including 2-2 from downtown, and added seven assists, which helped him surpass Magic Johnson for fourth place on the NBA All-Time Assist Leaders list. Nash just turned 39 years old a couple of weeks ago, and he remains one of the smartest, craftiest point guards in the league. He makes 39 look like the new 20.
Sustained Energy and Effort – Halfway through the first quarter, the Lakers took a 16-15 lead and never looked back. They led by as much as 22-points in the final quarter and held on to win by 14.
Points in the Paint – In their last meeting, the Celtics outscored the Lakers 58-36 in the paint. Tonight, the Lakers returned the favor, outscoring Boston 54-30 inside.
Defense – Forcing Boston into numerous shot clock violations and 14 turnovers, outrebounding them 49-34 – this is the
most sustained the Lakers have ever played defense all season. The adjustments made at halftime were on point, especially on Paul Pierce. In the first half, Pierce scored 23 points on 9-15 from the field. In the second half, just three points on 0-2.
The low point to come from every Laker win is the uncertainty of whether they can carry out the same effort for a longer stretch of games. The Lakers are in 9th place in the Western Conference, still trying to catch up with the Houston Rockets, who sit at the 8th spot. There are 27 games left in the season so suffice it to say, the Lakers don’t have a lot of time to dig themselves out of this hole.
Before leading the Staples Center crowd in a moment of silence, Kobe Bryant, clearly holding back his emotions, said the following about Jerry Buss: “His vision has transcended the game and we are all spoiled by his vision and his drive to win year after year after year.” Here’s hoping that the Lakers can honor Dr. Buss’ legacy by showing up to every game ready to put in the effort, ready to focus on the task at hand, and most of all – show up ready to win.