After his post-game sideline interview, Kobe Bryant walked up to Ron Artest who was sitting on the bench, took his teammate’s hand, pounded him on the chest, gathered his head to his, and whispered something in his ear. Maybe Bryant welcomed him to his first NBA Finals appearance. Maybe he commended Artest for a great job on guarding Paul Pierce, or a great job on his defense in general (it doesn’t get any better than Ron Artest refusing to give up space to anyone he is guarding). In whatever combination of words or actions, the sentiment was clear — thank you.
It has been two years since the Lakers folded over themselves in Boston, doe-eyed and filled with excitement to have made it to the NBA Finals when the future and direction of their team had been so unclear when that 2007-2008 season began. It has been two years since Bryant’s greatness was reduced by a Celtic defense that maimed his ability to carry the team to a victory; two years since Pau Gasol was deemed too soft and weak to play against the likes of physical players like Kevin Garnett and Kendrick Perkins; and two years since Andrew Bynum had to sit in a suit on the Laker bench, knowing that his mere presence on the court would probably help his team against Boston’s beating. That was then, however, and tonight was now.
Unlike their 2008 version, this Laker team was prepared to face the hardnosed, defense-first minded Celtics. With double technicals issued to Ron Artest and Paul Pierce 27 seconds into the game (for fighting for space under the Laker basket), physicality had shown up early, but from the unlikelier team.
“The Lakers were clearly the more physical team,” Celtics coach Doc Rivers said. “They were more aggressive. They attacked us the entire night.”
Out-rebounding the road team 42-31, with 12 offensive rebounds that led to a 16-0 advantage on second chance points, not to mention keeping the Celtics to 43% shooting, the Lakers out-hustled and out-muscled the Celtics right out of Staples Center.