I know it’ll be said, and you all know it’ll be said – that the Lakers won this game because the Celtics had a depleted roster. Well to Doc Rivers and his “Lakers never beat us when…” philosophy, I say, cancel my subscription, I’m done with your issues. The Lakers won, not because Boston didn’t have enough players, but because they a) played to their strengths – length and Kobe Bryant b) played defense and c) remained poised until the very end.
Fans, analysts and even the Lakers themselves have gone through the wringer this season for the inability of the defending champions to secure a win against a title contender. All of us watching have grown anxious waiting for the dominant Lakers; the hungry Lakers; the fired up for every game Lakers to show up and run over every team they met. Then Kobe Bryant came on the radio this week and said that, from the beginning, the one word he’d used to signify the 2010-2011 season was patient.
In the third game of their longest road trip of the year, in the arena filled with their biggest haters in the nation, on the night a beloved home team hero would be regaled for making record book history, the Lakers played to victory because they found their focus and maintained that which their fearless leader knew all along they would need – patience.
In their last meeting with Boston at Staples Center, the Lakers were anything but. They forced shots late into each 24 seconds, failed to run any offense, defended haphazardly and therefore ineffectively, their seven-footers played timidly and Kobe Bryant was forced to do too much, too late. Maybe it was the trade talks that got to Andrew Bynum. Maybe it was that “soft” label arising to haunt Pau Gasol. Whatever it was that prompted the Lakers big men to up their game from the last meeting (as there was ample room to rise up from their stinker in January), it was welcomed.
The visiting team had a lot of distractions to contend with on this night. Never mind that they were playing in the most hostile environment. They also had to compete with all the hoopla that surrounded Ray Allen surpassing Reggie Miller’s NBA record for most three-pointers. When Allen hit that record-breaking shot from beyond the arc in the first quarter, the crowd applauded for a good length of time and the game practically came to a halt as Allen took his moment, walking by the TNT table to pay respects to Reggie Miller. With Boston leading 27-20 after the first quarter, the cameras followed Allen as he hugged Miller again, hugged his mom, hugged his wife and kids, shook hands with his teammates and waved to the fans. It was quite the spectacle, and the Lakers had every chance to be distracted, but they perked up to attention instead.
After getting behind by 15 points, the Lakers buckled down their defense and found their offense, going on a 10-0 run to get within five points before a late Boston surge put them behind by eight at half-time. They also committed nine turnovers. But instead of bringing their first-half negatives into the third, they brought their positives instead.
The second half was played by a more focused Laker team. Kobe Bryant started putting his stamp on the scoreboard, and the Laker defense just went stingy. They won the third quarter 27-15 and the fourth 20-18. After giving up 53 points and 51% shooting in the first half, they allowed just 33 in the second, and Boston shot just 40% for the game. The rebounding battle was also won by the road team, 47-36. As for individual contributions, there were plenty.
20 points on 8-13, 10 rebounds, 4 assists and 1 block – the Black Swan cometh. No Kevin Garnett or Big Baby could get in Gasol’s way tonight. If they got in his face, he’d hit a jumper over them. They left him to double Kobe Bryant, he’d cut to receive a pass for an easy basket. And speaking of cuts, as if the blow to Garnett in the last Lakers-Celtics meeting wasn’t enough, Gasol struck again as teammate Lamar Odom tipped in a missed shot and then ran into the Spaniard’s teeth. Odom was patched up temporarily to play but eventually needed eight stitches on his forehead. “Watch out for Gasol’s alter ego,” opponents will now say. He’s even hurting guys on his own team! (cue sarcastic laugh here)
And despite his name being dragged around the trading block, Andrew Bynum played tonight as if to remind the Lakers organization why he means more to this current team than any Carmelo Anthony would. 16 points on 6-10, 9 rebounds, an assist and a no-nonsense block of Kendrick Perkins – this is what Bynum offers every night and this team is far and away a title contender because of it.
After scoring just three points and attempting just three shots in the first half, opting to help distribute the ball to get his teammates involved, Kobe Bryant unleashed his alter ego in the second half. He shot right over Ray Allen and that 3-point record of his again and again, causing Allen’s fourth foul with just under seven minutes left in the third. When former Laker, Von Wafer, came in to replace Allen, Bryant merely continued his field day. He shot over and dribbled past the smaller guard. He drove to the hoop and laid it in over Glen Davis with ease. Late in the game, with the Celtics trying to make a run at the Lakers’ lead, Bryant drew three defenders at the baseline before throwing a pass to Pau Gasol for an open basket before hitting the dagger 60 seconds later. 23 points on 9-17, 5 rebounds, 4 assists, 1 block – the Black Mamba clutcheth.
It was a solid win against a solid team and the Lakers are now 3-0 on the road trip. Their second game of this back-to-back is against the Knicks tomorrow night at Madison Square Garden. The Knicks will be looking to avenge their embarrassing 22-point loss, and the Lakers will be looking to ride this momentum.
Pre-game Thoughts: Boston ain’t a farm, Lakers. No laying eggs tonight. The Celtics are depleted with injuries and it looks like Paul Pierce is playing sick again. Play with focus and aggression. Play with FOCUSED AGGRESSION. Know your game and this won’t be difficult to win.
Half-time Thoughts: 45-53 – The Celtics led by as many as 15 and were shooting 56% at one point. The Lakers didn’t come into this game half as ready and aggressive as we’d hoped, but a 10-0 run cut the lead and the road team are taking advantage of their size with Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum leading the way with 12 points a piece, and the points in the paint belonging to the Lakers in a big way, 28-10. Kobe Bryant and Derek Fisher are just 2-6 from the field but have a combined seven assists. The hoopla over Ray Allen breaking Reggie Miller’s 3-point record has charged the home team and the crowd and the Lakers need to play above it if they want to win this game.
Most Thoughtless Play(s)/Player(s) of the Game: Turnovers – The Lakers collected nine in just the first half, but only accumulated five the rest of the game. They have to start getting into a habit of taking care of that ball though. With teams like Boston who are ready to run the break, the Lakers can’t afford to give away easy points off mistakes.
Most Thought-filled Play(s)/Player(s) of the Game: Kobe Bryant closed the game in Mamba fashion, but Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum played like the prized possessions that they are on this team. Unlike their last meeting with Boston, the Laker bigs actually played BIG – on both ends of the court. You simply can’t teach length.