This contest was the classic example of how a basketball game can take you to the highest of highs, down to the deepest depths, and then right back to cloud nine. It was a game that wasn’t always pretty, but it was hard fought throughout and showed why these two teams are two of the best in the league: both teams do not quit and show the heart of a champion by exhibiting true grit and fighting until the final buzzer.
The game started with an intensity level befitting an all-time sports rivalry. Artest and Pierce needed to be separated while jockeying for position during the jump ball. Players were elbowing and grabbing for territory all over the court like shoppers at dawn in line on Black Friday. Every inch of real estate was contested. The referees tried to get control of the game early by calling touch fouls on the big men battling on the block and by penalizing the slightest of contact on the wings with a blow of the whistle. Both teams begrudgingly adjusted and the game settled into a flow (we should note that even though the game settled down, both teams were still pretty sloppy as turnovers were plentiful).
At the outset, the Lakers showed their hand for how they plan to play Rajon Rondo. They put Kobe on the C’s all-star and dared him to be an outside shooter. Initially, this was effective as Rondo struggled to get into the paint and the C’s struggled to find an offensive rhythm. Boston ended up settling for jumpers from Ray Allen and mid range post ups for KG. And though some of these shots went in, Boston struggled to create quality looks and also turned the ball over too many times to ever really find an offensive groove. Meanwhile, the Lakers’ offense was patient and poised. Kobe showed nice touch on his jumper. Pau and Andrew established deep post position and scored easily against Boston’s frontline. This was especially true for Bynum who was playing a brand of ball that many fans have long been hoping for from our young Center when we face a quality opponent with very good defensive bigs. I’ll let nomuskles explain what we all saw:
Kudos to Andrew Bynum. He played mostly good defense and did a lot of work to get good position for himself on the offensive end. He grabbed 11 boards and he didn’t back down from any of the Celtics. KG and Perkins live off their opponents’ fear and Bynum showed none. KG got a bucket and ran his mouth all the way down the floor. Bynum sealed KGs smaller body off to the outside, received a nice post-entry pass and dunked it and glared at KG. He was not out of control but he was determined.
And so it went in the first quarter. The Lakers played an inside out game, contested shots, forced turnovers, and raced out to an 11 point lead. However, unfortunately for the Lakers the game did not end after the initial 12 minutes of this contest.
At the start of the 2nd quarter, the Lakers bench proceeded to play out of sorts and the Celtics took advantage. At the center of the comeback were Rajon Rondo and (to a lesser extent, but a still quite effective) Tony Allen. Essentially, Rondo showed why the coaches of this league selected him to be an all-star. He controlled the tempo of the game and got good shots for himself and his teammates. He showed savvy on the the P&R and forced switches by keeping his dribble alive and flashing his beautiful change of pace dribble. All of this led to Rondo living in the paint in the half court, easily creating easy shots for himself right at the rim and opening up passing angles all over the court against a scrambling Lakers’ defense. Slowly but surely, the Celtics chipped away at a double digit advantage and gained confidence. Meanwhile the Lakers went away from what worked so well early in the game and began playing too fast, became isolation centric on offense, and got sloppy with the ball. By the time the 2nd quarter ended, the Lakers had been outscored by 16 and an eleven point lead was a five point deficit.
After playing to a virtual tie in the 3rd quarter, the closing period arrived the Lakers showed the combination of heart and skill that earned them a title last June. They continued to fight and made enough plays to keep the game close going into the final minutes. Then, in the closing moments of the game the Lakers did all the little things that help win – they cleaned their defensive glass, they found a soft spot to exploit in the Celtics defense (Kobe at the elbow), and just kept attacking. The Lakers finally clinched the game on a four possession sequence (two offensive, two defensive) where Artest made an incredibly difficult layup to bring us with one, followed by (Ron again) drawing an offensive foul on Pierce, then Kobe sinking an amazing line drive jumper with Ray Allen all over him, and climaxing with the Celtics running a play for Ray Allen and Lamar closing out to contest what would have been the game winner. Just a fantastic finish to game that had my heart pounding for the final 5 minutes of the contest.
As Kurt mentioned, this is the type of game that often means a lot to the fans. Many of us see these games as measuring sticks and take on a greater importance than the effects it has on the standings. But, this was also a game that was very important to the players. Again, I’ll let nomuskles take it from here:
It’s a great confidence booster to the Lakers that they can win these tough games. It won’t carry all the way to the playoffs by itself, but I could tell how pumped the guys were that they hung tough. It would have been very easy to let that second quarter set the tone for the rest of the game and throw in the towel accordingly…The game could have easily gone the other way and the lessons learned would still be the same but the impact is much stronger because they emerged with a win. These sorts of tests will come in handy when the Lakers are facing crunch time in the playoffs.
That feeling of confidence (and relief) was evident with all the guys right as the final buzzer sounded. After Fisher secured the rebound off the aforementioned Ray Allen miss, you saw players jumping up and down, embracing, and celebrating in a manner that is not typically seen after a regular season game. The Lakers beat the Celtics and survived a roller coaster ride in the process. For one day, at least, our biggest historical rival was vanquished and despite all the ups and downs we were smiling at the end.