(h/t to Jose3030 for the video)
If there’s one thing the Lakers had going for them tonight, it was emotion. You could hear in Kobe Bryant’s voice. You could feel it emanating from the fans in the arena. The Lakers were playing the Celtics — the hated Celtics — in their first after Jerry Buss passed away and there was no way they wouldn’t be ready to come out and give it their all.
And give it they did, beating their longtime rival 113-99 in a fitting tribute to their late great owner. This game may have been just one of eighty two, but it was so much more than that.
Interestingly enough, it was actually a trio of new Lakers who came out and put their stamp on this game.
Dwight Howard started the game with great activity on both ends of the floor, flying to the ball defensively and carving out space in the paint on offense. His first basket of the game came on a power post up where he took the action right to Kevin Garnett and finished with a lefty hook from in close. And, from there, it was on for Dwight. He’d score on lobs and offensive putbacks. He’d get more baskets on post ups where he backed his man down and on others where he’d move quickly right after the catch. He set hard screens and then dove into the gaps of the defense seeking out the action rather than standing and waiting for the ball to come to him. The results were 24 points on only 13 shots and a level of play that was sight for sore eyes.
Defensively he looked as quick and reactive as he has all season. He slid his feet and showed active hands. He’d cut off dribble penetration, recover to his man, and then slide with him before contesting a shot. He helped quickly when a teammate was over matched and challenged to either block or alter shots to force misses. He showed out on screens and still recovered back to the paint to rebound the ball. This was the defensive player that the Lakers have needed all season and while it could have simply been due to his back and legs being fresh after so many days off, it was the effort that stood out; it was the desire to race all around the floor that was so important.
Steve Nash, in his own way, had a similar impact on this game. With Dwight setting crushing screens to free him from Avery Bradley’s ball pressure, Nash found the creases in the defense he’d need to put Celtics in no win situations. When the hedge man sat back, Nash would simply pull up and knock down a jumper. If they stepped up but gave him a lane to drive, he’d penetrate the gap and then kick the ball out to a shooter. If the D played him flat, he’d keep his dribble, draw a defender, and then hit the roll man on his way to the rim. The result was a 14 point, 7 assist night with only one shot missed and countless plays made for his teammates. Oh, and another result was a new place in the record book too. With Nash’s 4th assist in this game he passed Magic Johnson for 4th on the all-time assists list. Congratulations are certainly in order for this accomplishment.
The other big night came from Earl Clark. Obviously still a bit hampered by his sore right foot, Clark battled through the pain and put forth the type of effort that really makes a difference. Though he didn’t shoot a high percentage (6-14 from the field), Clark found ways to get baskets just by hustling. He’d make a timely cut, grab one of his own misses and score on a put back, or just race to a loose ball and find a way to get the ball back into the basket. Beyond his 14 points, though, it was his work on the glass that was really key. Clark grabbed a career high 16 rebounds, with 11 of those coming on the defensive end. With Dwight challenging shots all over the floor, help was needed in the paint to secure defensive rebounds and it was Clark who was there to grab them.
Beyond those three, every other Laker also channeled the energy in the building to make positive plays. Kobe was only 5-15 from the floor, but he got to the line, chipped in on the glass, and made several great passes to set up his teammates. His 16 point, 7 assist night wasn’t his best effort this season, but he showed poise and control throughout the game when initiating the team’s sets. Antawn Jamison’s effort also stood out as he battled for every rebound in his area and worked his way close to the paint to try and get baskets around the rim. His 15 and 8 line doesn’t necessarily stand out as anything extraordinary, but it was very good line that came from a real workman’s like effort. Add in Steve Blake — who made several good passes to set up his teammates and hit some key shots — and Ron and Meeks and it was a real team effort to get this win.
Dr. Buss would have been proud of his guys tonight. Even though the Celtics kept the game close early in the game with Inglewood native Paul Pierce (23 first half points) doing his best to not let the Lakers get any separation, the team simply stuck to the plan and kept working hard on both ends. In the 2nd half they were finally able to break the game open and put the game out of reach. On the night the Lakers celebrated the life, ownership, and success of their fallen owner the Lakers beat their historical rival playing great team ball on both ends of the floor. I’m sure he (and for sure the fans) wouldn’t have had it any other way.
This one was for you, Dr. Buss.