Any time the Lakers play the Celtics, it is a big deal. The teams can be awful — and in the last 20 years, there have been plenty of match ups where one or both were not of good quality — and the game will still matter to fans and, more importantly, the players.
This, from head trainer Gary Vitti sums up the sentiment well:
— Bill Oram (@billoram) December 29, 2015
This game, then, matters more than others. I have noted in the past that if the Lakers were unfortunate enough to go 2-80 on the year, if those two wins came against the Celtics it would take some of the sting off. That’s an exaggeration, but the desire to beat that specific team is real.
Tonight, though, there is the added stakes of this being Kobe’s last game in Boston. The extra meaning of Kobe’s farewell tour isn’t lost on me and I doubt it will be lost on the players, either. I expect an electric atmosphere to start the contest with the fans showing out to pay their respect to Kobe, and then I expect that to continue with them wanting nothing more than to send their hated rival out of town with another L.
Considering the quality of both teams, the Celtics should do just that. But this is why the games are played and why we watch. Does Kobe have one more great night in him to hold off the Celtics? Can D’Angelo Russell find his groove against a batch of very good defensive guards (Marcus Smart and Avery Bradley specifically)? Can Julius Randle step up his game and show the C’s what they’re missing when they decided to draft Smart ahead of him in the draft?
These are some of the storylines which serve as the backdrop for the game and I, for one, am excited to see how it all plays out. The Celtics certainly have the advantage in personnel and in coaching. Isaiah Thomas is playing like an All-Star, Avery Bradley and Jae Crowder are providing very good two-way play, Evan Turner and Kelly Olynyk are nice options off the bench, and role players like Jared Sullinger and Amir Johnson are doing their jobs.
Add all that up and the Lakers are in for a tough night. That said, if the Kobe/Russell/Randle trio can have good nights, Lou Williams can start to hit some shots, and Brandon Bass (revenge game?!) can continue his good play the Lakers can keep pace. And if it comes down to the last few possessions where a back-and-forth between two storied rivals ends up occurring, I’ll walk away somewhat happy. Hopefully, though, they can do more than that and get that W. Rooting for anything else tonight simply isn’t in the DNA.
Where you can watch: 4:30pm start time on TWC Sportsnet and NBA TV nationally. Also listen on ESPN Radio 710AM Los Angeles.