Game Notes: Lakers at Celtics
L.A. proves they may still have enough for one more title run.
by Jonathan Evans
It was a familiar script for the Celtics—big game against a big rival, and Paul Pierce sets up at the top of the key with it all on the line. He dribbles, creates space and fades back for the jumper. But after hitting two big jumpers earlier in the overtime, this one doesn’t find the mark. Any hope of a Boston win was engulfed by Pau Gasol who swooped in to block what would be the go-ahead putback from Ray Allen to seal the 88-87 overtime win.
The hard fought game was another thrilling chapter in the last throes of this run of the Lakers-Celtics rivalry. Gasol’s block was an exclamation point of a game where L.A.’s bigs were simply unstoppable. In what was probably the Lakers‘ biggest win of the season—L.A.’s hard-nosed, defensive-minded identity is starting to take shape.
Mike Brown’s Lakers may not be triangles and three-peats but the cupboard isn’t exactly bare here. As dismal as the Lakers’ point guard play (0-7 and 2 assists from Fisher) and bench (just 18 points total) have been, L.A. still has three of the best in the game in Kobe Bryant, Gasol and Andrew Bynum. That frontcourt in particular is proving to be key to the Lakers dictating tempo and getting easy baskets. A long way from Showtime, these Lakers are starting to see the benefits of doing the dirty work. Brown talked after about how “a staple of his team is giving multiple efforts through the rebound. Pau’s block epitomized that.”
On the night that the All-Star reserves were announced, the snubbed Gasol had his game going. He dropped in 25 points—off an array of jumpers, drives and putbacks—and pulled down 14 boards. Bynum was right behind him with 16 points and 17 boards. Both bigs cleaned up on the glass all night long. L.A. had 24 second-chance points but it easily felt like twice that number. Two of the biggest baskets of the game were putbacks from Bynum and Gasol at the end of the fourth that bailed out otherwise stagnant Laker possessions. Overall, the Lakers out-rebounded the Celtics by 10 with even Troy Murphy got into the mix pulling down 9 rebounds off the bench.
Not to be outdone, Kobe Bryant had a strong game with 27 points on 11-24 and the highlight of the night catching a one-handed alley from Gasol. In a throwback to his boxy sneaker mini-fro days, Kobe soared and caught the seemingly too high pass and flushed it home. I’m not sure what level it was on the Kobe System but it certainly took the air out of the Boston crowd.
Beyond the dunk, Kobe did a good job of knowing when to work through Bynum and Gasol and when to go for his. Despite Boston trying to load up on the strong side and double Kobe, he had his share of daggers in this one hitting several big jumpers. You can tell as he comes up court when he smells blood and is going to attack. Whether it was backing down Rajon Rondo and spinning off for a fallaway off the glass or a turnaround over Ray Allen, Kobe stepped up to the plate in this rivalry game.
The usual suspects paced Boston in the one. Pierce had 18 points, Ray dropped 22 on the Laker point guards and Rondo drove and dished his way to 14 points and 7 assists. The Laker bigs held the C’s frontcourt of KG and O’Neal to a combined 14 points on 7-26 shooting.
The familiar “Beat L.A.!” chants filled an electric atmosphere at the Garden. Though the hatred is no doubt sincere, the chant seemed a bit out of place as these two aging squads are no longer the center of the NBA universe. While the stars on both sides all had their moments throughout, the Lakers showed in this one that their triumvirate, with its big, long, boarding and blocking frontline, might still have enough for one more run at it all.