It’s been a strange week for the Lakers. Off court drama + a 48 point loss in Utah + an overtime win vs. the Heat = fans’ heads spinning. But nothing grounds the Lakers or their fans like a game vs. the Celtics. It seems almost any other storyline takes a backseat to a game against Boston and a chance to beat the organization’s most bitter rival.
Kobe’s farewell tour adds an additional layer to this. Against the Heat, Kobe played 9 minutes and was held out of the entire 2nd half after telling Byron Scott he “couldn’t move” on the court. But with multiple days off and the lure of one last game against the hated C’s, there is little doubt Kobe will play in this game. There is no playoff push to make or any seeding implications for the Lakers, but this game means something. It always will.
When it comes to my favorite Kobe moment against the Celtics, I really can’t choose. There is the game winner in the
2009 2010 regular season in Boston. This game brought extra meaning after the C’s had just beat the Lakers in the Finals that previous June just two years earlier. Winning in Boston and with Kobe hitting the key dagger, it was a moment that Lakers’ team needed; a moment that reinforced the idea that year would be different.
Then, of course, there was game 1 of the 2010 NBA Finals. It’s one thing to win a regular season game, but these were the Finals and it was important to set the tone for the series. Kobe did just that scoring 30 points, grabbing 7 rebounds, and dishing 6 assists. Kobe got to the rim and hurt the Celtics’ strong size zone defensive scheme with smart passes and a brilliant in-between game filled with floaters and push jumpers.
And then, of course, there is game 7 of the 2010 Finals. Many jokes were made about Kobe’s 6-24 shooting performance, but I will always remember the 15 rebounds, how he manufactured points by getting to the FT line 15 times, and his key assist to Artest down the stretch. It wasn’t his most aesthetically pleasing game or the game with the most gaudy stats, but it was one where, as much as he struggled, he was still a major force in helping the team win. I’ll also never forget the joy on his face as he sprinted down court after the ball in the closing seconds or how he stood on top of the scorers table soaking in the crowd’s cheers as he held his arms wide as if accepting the embrace of all the fans. What a moment.
Of course, times have changed. The team has hit historic lows in the 6 years since that game 7. But those struggles serve as a reminder of how meaningful those highs were. Especially since they came against the Celtics. Especially since they came against the Celtics.
This game doesn’t offer the same intrigue as those above, but that doesn’t erase the meaning. The Celtics come in on a high, having just beat the Warriors on Friday night, snapping the reigning world champs’ 54 game home winning streak in the process. The C’s are battling for playoff positioning and while that game in Oakland didn’t gain them any ground, a win against the Lakers would bring them into a tie with Atlanta and the 4th seed. Boston will not be lacking in motivation coming into Staples.
The Lakers, then, could play a bit of a spoiler with a win. And they would surely want nothing more than to beat the C’s, hurt their playoff positioning, and get Kobe one last win against the guys in green. I can think of few better moments in Kobe’s last season than pulling it off.
Getting it, though, will not be easy. The teams’ respective records speak to the disparity in team quality. The Celtics are well coached, have a lot of good talent that meshes well together, and play a hard-nosed and gritty style. They have a dynamic scoring PG in Isaiah Thomas, excellent wing defenders in Avery Bradley, Marcus Smart, and Jae Crowder, and big men who can stretch the floor and finish inside. They are just a very good group who give opponents fits every night.
The Lakers will need their best effort, will need their young guys to hit shots and remain aggressive in the face of tough defense, and, yes, will need Kobe to play well too. And even if all those things happen, it still might not be enough. I hope we get the chance to find out if it is, though. Because there’s no better feeling than beating the Celtics.
Where you can watch: 6:30pm start time on TWC Sportsnet. Also listen on ESPN Radio 710AM Los Angeles.