The game lived up to everything fans hoped it would. It was the veritable clash of titans everyone hoped for. It was the long awaited rematch, a heavyweight bout between the champion and last years’ title fight runner up. The challenger was up to the challenge this time.
The healing and somewhat rebuilt Boston Celtics took on the champion Los Angeles Lakers and after see-sawing the lead early for control of this game, the Celtics prevailed behind a dominant performance by Paul Pierce.
Flush with lots of big time plays, this match displayed multiple difficult and clutch shots getting drained by both teams.
Pierce-Kobe Shoot Out
At one point it was the Paul Pierce and Kobe Bryant show. Pierce was on top of his game, manufacturing 32 loud and precise points on 11 of 18 shooting, 3 of 5 three pointers, and a perfect 7 from the foul line as he led the way for Boston.
With the Lakers’ big men largely neutralized and Ron Artest misfiring, Kobe Bryant became the sole offensive spark and one man show already seen in last season’s title series, by firing away for 41 points on 29 shots with no assists in a losing effort.
Both players made highly difficult shots all game, with Bryant unfazed as he attacked double and triple teams more and more as the game wore on. Not seeing his teammates respond offensively as he hoped, did not deter him from his mission of single handedly trying to keep L.A. from losing. In fact that was what spurred on his solo performance. He was in the end, deterred. The Celtics won going away by a convincing 109-96.
The Celtics jumped out to the early lead and it took a Kobe Bryant three pointer with 2:41 left in the first half to wrest the lead (44-42) from the motivated Celtics. In what was reminiscent of the that title series, the unflappable Lakers went up by 6 at 54-48 on 2 Bryant free throws. Then Lamar Odom fouled Glen Davis on a last second 60 foot desperation shot attempt by Glen Davis before the half ended. Davis made 2 of 3 foul shots to make it 54-50 at the half.
Pierce Shoots Celts Back Into Lead Multiple Times
The game became a duel of big shots and Paul Pierce simply hit more of them. Three shots in a row at one point, to be exact.
L.A. had their biggest lead of the night at the opening of the third quarter when Bryant made a three pointer to put L.A. up 57-50. Boston scored the next 8 points to regain the lead on a jump hook by Garnett and 6 straight points by Pierce. After 2 Pau Gasol foul shots to retake the lead, Pierce made another big three pointer to take back the lead.
Gasol tipped in another shot to tie it at 61 and Pierce responded with yet another three pointer for his 26-28th points of the night to give the Celtics the lead for good with 6:39 left in the third. The Lakers continued to challenge largely through Kobe’s shoot and take no-prisoners effort.
Paul Pierce and the Celtics, on the other hand, played tag team and Pierce handed off the offense to Ray Allen, Kevin Garnett, Nate Robinson and Glen Davis the rest of the way. Allen scored 12 points and Garnett finally went to work around the post for an assorted 10 points against difficult and long defense by Bynum, Gasol and Odom. Nate drained 2 big three pointers and finished with 11 deeply appreciated points on 4 of 7 shooting in 13 plus minutes.
The Celtics shot .603 on the day and simply had too many weapons clicking in this particular contest. Robinson, Pierce and Allen each had 3 three pointers as the Celtic took what the Lakers were giving until late in the game. The Lakers length was packing it in inside, making it difficult for the Cs to work the middle. They made the Lakers change with continually strong outside shooting.
Finally, a largely unguarded Rajon Rondo got it going with drives to rim and carved up and confused a normally smart and tight Laker defense. Rondo finished with 16 assists after having only one in the first half. Rondo and the Cs took what the Lakers were giving and then Rondo exploited Laker misses, strong Celtic rebounding and outlet passes with a faster, better transition game in the second half. Rondo on the move and slightly ahead of the defense is a hard force to stop.
Battle of the Big Men
The Lakers’ big men are a huge problem over an extended series when they are healthy. That is why the Celtics went out and signed three very long players in the off season, Shaq, Jermaine O’neal and Semih Erden. Only Shaq played and was limited to 12 plus mostly uneventful minutes due to foul trouble.
But the Celtic remaining big men made their presence felt.
Garnett’s defense was most responsible for impacting and impeding Odom, Bynum and Gasol. Kendrick Perkins returned to the scene of the crime and put his imprint on the game defensively as did Glen Davis who was often seen pushing Bynum and Gasol away from the paint and the boards.
The game was closer than the final score might suggest, that is, until the last 3 plus minutes when the Celtics did what they do to more pedestrian opponents. Rajon alley ooped a fast breaking Garnett for a 98-87 lead. Davis boxed out Bynum, grabbed the rebound, and started another fast break where Rondo hit Ray across court for a three pointer for a 101-89 lead.
Davis then drew a charge on an offensively panicking Kobe. On the other end, Ray curls around screens underneath and pops out on the left, leaving Fisher in his dust for another jumper to the left of foul line to all but end it at 103-89. Celtic ball would prevail on this day.
What this game revealed was that the Celtics have strong secondary support in the form of Ray Allen and a healthier Kevin Garnett. Though the Celtics did not initially solve the interior defense of the Lakers, eventually they opened things up and Glen Davis and Nate Robinson provided much needed help scoring as well.
You can look at this game a number of ways. The Celtics broke the interior defense by shooting exceptionally well and rebounding and running after misses. Ron Artest was unmotivated to play Pierce as he normally does. Bynum and Shaq both got into foul trouble. Though lethargic initially, the Lakers were again poised and took the lead back multiple times behind Kobe and Pau. The Celtics rebounded much better than they usually do.
All in all, these two teams look rather evenly matched, the results of this game notwithstanding. As the Celtics were not really ready until the playoffs last season, these Lakers look to be running a similar road this season.
The win was nice and it was good to see so many Celtics step up. But it would premature and maybe naive to make too much of this victory at this time of year. Yet, it is good to know that Delonte West, possibly Jermaine O’Neal and Semih Erden can all add to the Celtics’ depth when it will really count.
In a way, the Celtics had more riding on this game than the Lakers so it was good to see them respond and take the game away from the Lakers on their home court. Call this game a solid move in the right direction. But I think we will see better from Gasol and Bynum the next time around. If not, Kobe’s arms might get tired and fall off.
It was an entertaining game from an entertaining team named the Celtics and an entertaining player named Kobe Bryant. On the other hand, is it possible we witnessed what might be the undoing of the Lakers, should they fail in their bid to repeat? Ultimately, it is still a team game.
As Phil Jackson himself said…the Celtics are a very good team.