by Marcel Mutoni

The Good

-The Lakers won the game, a game they absolutely had to have.

-Prior to the game, the atmosphere around the arena was a festive one. No one seemed particularly worried, and on at least three occasions, I overheard someone happily rattle off the names of the refs for the big game, and confidently state that they expected L.A. to get all of the calls. Um, maybe we shouldn’t dismiss Tim Donaghy’s allegations so easily…

-Laker fans are routinely accused of showing up late and leaving early, but from the moment I got to Staples (about 2 hours before game time), plenty of people were already there, getting their tickets, drinking and smoking, taking pictures, and just soaking it all in. I don’t know if the same could be said for a mid-February game against Philly, but on this night, the fans showed up when their team needed them the most.

-With the world watching, and celebrities tripping over one another to get noticed, the women of L.A. came out in full force. I couldn’t quite figure out if I was at Playoff basketball game, or standing in front of the hottest nightclub in town. Either way, I wasn’t complaining.

-Bottom line: Game Four, in many ways, will decide the series. If the Celtics lose, then all of the momentum going into Game Five will be with the Lakers, and they have to believe that they can win a game in Boston.

(Of course, should the Lakers drop this ginormous game, their season is pretty much dunzo. You’re not going to beat Boston three straight times – you’re just not – and both teams know it.)

The Bad

-This so-called rivalry: Plenty of people were walking the streets with Celtics gear on, and save for a few half-hearted boos, they were pretty much left alone. Come on, Laker fans! If they’re going to invade your city, and have seats in your stadium, at least make their lives a little bit miserable.

(Amazingly, a few people even had on Boston Red Sox jerseys and hats. I mean, I understand the need to support your team and city, but that’s a little much. The most out of place piece of attire, however, goes to the middle-aged man with long curly hair wearing a vintage Earl Monroe Knicks jersey. Kudos to you, sir!)

-Boston, despite the horrid shooting by KG and Pierce, had a very real shot at stealing the game in the fourth and all but ending L.A.’s season. Had it not been for a couple of missed shots by the Celtics, and Kobe’s late game heroics, last night could’ve turned out to be absolutely disastrous.

-With Game Four looming, the C’s have to be feeling pretty good about their chances. Two of their superstars played like crap in Game Three, and L.A. barely escaped with a win. Also, Lamar Odom and Pau Gasol seem overwhelmed by the enormity of the moment.

(Unless Kobe gets 40-50 points, and someone like Sasha has the game of his life again, the Lakers are in big trouble. Odom and Gasol cannot afford to have repeat performances if this team plans on forcing this series back to Boston. The Celtics are too good defensively, they rebound too well, and they have so many bodies to throw at the Lakers that Kobe putting on his Superman cape will simply not be enough.)

-The LAPD. No, there was no police brutality (at least, none that I saw), but L.A.’s finest had an absolutely massive presence around the arena. I don’t think I’ve ever seen that many cops in one place. Why is this bad, you ask? Simple. They chased away all of the ticket scalpers. How are people, like myself, who weren’t smart enough to get their tickets ahead of time supposed to get into the game?

(The good news is that I got tickets for Game Four online. The bad news is that they cost me a small fortune. I’m sure that I’ll eventually get used to the idea of being homeless…)

-You know those shots that ABC/ESPN shows of fans losing their minds prior to the game? None of them are authentic. ESPN had two of their staffers hustling around Staples looking for Laker fans who wanted to be on TV, so long as they agreed to hold up signs and shout for the Leader’s cameras. Needless to say, when they approached my brother and I, we politely declined.

(The best hand-held sign that I saw last night was from a pretty woman, who I’m guessing was in her early thirties, and it read: “Hey Pierce, we’re going to break your knee for real this time!” ESPN employees didn’t seem particularly enthused about including her in the broadcast.)

The Ugly

-There was an astounding number of douchebags loitering around the Staples prior to the game. I saw two guys who had draped some kind of heavy-looking Laker blanket around a dog they were walking (with the sun beating down on the poor thing.) The only thing these two clowns were missing were matching Michael Vick jerseys, and they would’ve entered the Animal Cruelty Hall of Fame on the first ballot.

-The Clown of the Night Award, though, goes to the gentleman who was driving around the arena in an SUV, with said SUV towing a beat up car (it looked like the thing had been set on fire, before someone took a baseball bat to it) painted all over with Laker colors, and the number 24 and the name KOBE in large letters on the sides. Dude drove up and down the street in front of the Staples at least ten times, and no one could quite figure out what the point was.

-Just before leaving, I went around the arena and found the VIP entrance. Pretty soon, it became clear that I was standing amongst various paparazzi, and with the large number of A-listers on hand, these guys were in heaven.

(Every couple of minutes, a celeb would arrive in some car that costs more than most people’s homes, and immediately upon their emergence from the parking lot, they would be bum-rushed by camera-wielding dudes as they tried to make their way into the game.)

Spotted from my vantage point: Andy Garcia with his family in tow; Sylvester Stallone rolling solo; Michael Clarke Duncan and his smoking-hot girlfriend (or considering the fact that she’s at least one-third of his age, it could very easily have been his smoking-hot daughter); Jalen Rose wearing a black suit and some white and yellow Nike Dunks; James Worthy and the fam; AC Green by his lonesome picking up tickets at the counter; Cuttino Mobley looking lost and confused in front of the arena; and according to the paparazzi, some of Hollywood’s biggest power players (though, for the life of me, I couldn’t recognize most of them.)

-The highlight of the star-gazing exercise, without a doubt, was the arrival of Hugh Hefner and three Playboy Bunnies. To my endless disappointment, Hef had elected to leave the robe at the crib.