Too Much Balance As Lakers Prevail
Game 1 of the 2010 NBA Finals lived up to all of the hype as the Los Angeles Lakers defeated the Boston Celtics 102-89 at Staples Center to take a 1-0 lead in the best-of-seven series. Nervous fans were on pins and needles early as physical play took ahold of the game from the opening tip-off. And it was the Lakers that appeared to be flinching first as the Boston Celtics flexed their muscles and their jaws. But maintaining their composure throughout, the Lakers exploded in the 3rd period, outscoring the Celtics 34-23 to take control of the game. Kobe Bryant (30 points on 10-22, 7 rebounds, 6 assists, 1 steal, 1 blocked shot) led the way, attacking the basket relentlessly, unlike in 2008 when Boston was able to turn him into a jump-shooting perimeter player. Pau Gasol (23 points on 8-14, 14 rebounds, 3 assists, 1 steal, 3 blocked shots) more than held his own against Boston’s formidable front line. The Lakers got a balanced attack from all involved and also held the Celtics to only 43.3% from the field with a swarming and suffocating defense. The Lakers held a 48-30 points-in-the-paint advantage as well as a 42-31 rebounding edge. Paul Pierce (24 points on 6-13, 12-13 from the line, 9 rebounds, 4 assists, 2 blocked shots) led Boston in scoring but was never a factor until late in the game. Kevin Garnett (16 points on 7-16, 4 rebounds, 1 assist, 2 steals, 1 blocked shot), Ray Allen (12 points on 3-8, 5 fouls) and Rajon Rondo (13 points on 6-14, 8 assists, 6 rebounds) could not muster enough offense to stave off going down 1-0 in the series. And each time Boston looked to threaten, they would commit a costly turnover or miss an incredibly easy shot. Meanwhile, the Lakers would take advantage and extend their lead off of the Celtic miscues.
Things started topsy-turvy as Ron Artest (15 points on 5-10, 4 rebounds, 2 steals, 1 assist, 1 blocked shot) got tangled up with Pierce as both players locked up arms and tumbled to the floor. For their efforts, each was assessed a technical foul :27 seconds into the contest. While Boston was busy antagonizing the Lakers, Kobe went to work and found easy paths to the basket. And with Andrew Bynum (10 points on 4-6, 6 rebounds in 28-minutes) active on the glass, the Lakers jumped out to a 16-10 lead. The game was called tight and both squads found themselves getting into early foul trouble. It was as if there was too much nervous energy that needed to be syphoned off. Derek Fisher (9 points on 3-8, 3 rebounds, 3 assists,1 steal) and Allen both picked up two fouls and had to head to the bench. Moments later, Artest picked up his second foul as well and had to take an early seat. Entering the game were Sasha Vujacic (0 points on 0-1, 1 rebound, 2 assists in 8-minutes) and Shannon Brown (6 points on 3-5, 1 rebound in 17-minutes) for Fish and Artest. The Lakers remained intent on attacking the rim and forcing the action. Tony Allen (4 points on 1-4, 1 steal, 1 blocked shot) immediately picked up 3 personal fouls while spelling relief for the foul plagued Ray-Ray on the bench. With players from each side dropping like flies, even Kobe picked up his second foul. Jordan Farmar (4 points on 2-4, 2 rebounds, 1 assist, 1 steal in 13-minutes) scored on a layup with just over half a minute to play to give the Lakers a 24-21 lead. Brown followed Farmar’s lead for a similar lay-in and the Lakers took a small 26-21 lead at the end of one. Pierce led Boston with 9-points as his march to the free throw line started early. Rondo added 6-points in the quarter but Boston got little support from anyone else. Kobe led the way for the Lakers with 8-points and 2 assists while Gasol added 7-points and 4 rebounds.
The Lakers opened play in the 2nd quarter with predominantly bench players as Phil Jackson tried to bide some time with his starters in foul trouble. They bench players looked confused on offense, unsure of where to go and ended up coughing up the ball on numerous possessions. Lamar Odom (5 points on 2-6, 4 rebounds, 1 assist, 1 blocked shot) took two steps backwards for every step he tried to go forward. The Lakers invaluable sixth man found himself in foul trouble as well, picking up his third just a minute and a half into the period. A Rasheed Wallace (9 points on 3-4, 4 rebounds, 1 blocked shot) 3-pointer drew the Celtics within 28-26 as the crowd started getting nervous. Brown scored on a difficult running bank shot off the glass with the shot clock running down and then drew the offensive foul on Glen Davis (3 points on 1-3, 3 rebounds, 1 assist, 1 steal). Brown would score again for a 32-26 lead. Kendrick Perkins (8 points on 2-2, 3 rebounds, 1 assists, 1 steal) 3-point play on a silly foul by Sasha would trim the lead to 32-31. Boston was definitely gaining confidence and momentum as the Lakers bench failed to play with any consistently. Phil reinserted the starters and they were able to extend the lead back up to 39-35 with 4:28 left in the half. Both teams hit the dry spell as neither club could take advantage of one another. Finally, Artest nailed a momentum changing 3-pointer, then followed it up with a layup off a Fisher steal and suddenly the Lakers had a 44-35 advantage as Doc Rivers called for a time out. With the crowd whipped up into a frenzy, the Lakers extended their slim lead when Pau’s pair of free throws made it 50-39. A last second Rondo jumper, with his foot barely over the line, narrowed the deficit to 50-41 as the half time horn sounded. Kobe and Pau led the way with 12- and 11-points apiece. Bynum contributed 7-points and 5 rebounds while Artest added 7-points and Brown 6-points. The Lakers shot 20-38 for 52.6% while holding the Celtics to only 15-36 for 41.7%.
Foul trouble continued to follow the Lakers into the second half. Seconds apart, Fish picked up his 3rd foul, then Artest did likewise. Both teams exchanged buckets as their offensive game plans appeared to loosen up a bit. Kobe continued his mastery from outside, nailing a top-of-the-key jumper, then a delicate floater over the outstretched fingers of Perkins. Ray Allen would pick up his 4th foul and soon thereafter, Perkins would join him on the bench with his 4th foul as well. With the Lakers holding a 61-52 lead, Fisher would drop a 20-footer, then Artest would steal the ball from Pierce which led to a Kobe dunk for a 65-52 advantage and Boston heading to the bench to regroup. The Lakers would maintain their 13-point advantage up until around the 2-minute mark. They used an 9-2 run to close out the quarter capped by another Artest 3-pointer for a 84-64 cushion. The Lakers held a 34-17 rebound advantage up to that point with Kobe having amassed 26-points, Pau contributing 18-points and 10 boards, and Artest chipping in a dozen.
Boston was in desperation-mode to start the 4th quarter. Sheed scored on a dunk, Pierce drove around Gasol for the lay-up, then Big Baby sank a jumper inside the paint and suddenly the lead had whittled down to 85-70. Garnett drained a top-of-the-key jumper, then Pierce added a pair of free throws and the Celtics were back in the game, having narrowed the deficit to 85-74. Farmar found an open lane to the basket for the easy score, then Gasol dropped in a hook shot from the baseline to give themselves a little breathing room. Artest would record a blocked shot on Davis under the basket, save the ball from going out of bounds and zip the ball out to Farmar on the wing. Farmar found a streaking Gasol for the emphatic jam and the Lakers had rebuilt their lead back up to 91-76 with 6:20 left to play. The two teams would trade baskets again as the Celtics were unable to make any more significant stops. After another pair of free throws by Pierce, Artest drained another 3-pointer for a 99-84 lead and put the game in the bag. Pierce’s 3-point play drew the Celtics to within 99-89 but Kobe nonchalantly dropped in a trey as time expired on the shot clock for the final margin of victory. Except for the start of the 4th quarter, the Lakers controlled the game from start to finish. Kobe did as he pleased while their team defense was exceptional. Even though Pau found the going tough in the beginning, he persevered and stayed focus throughout the contest. Bynum presence was felt and his contributions loom even larger in the upcoming games. Lamar tried and tried, but everything he did backfired. It was just one of those nights for LO. Luckily, his services were not needed tonight as guys like Artest, Fish and Brown helped fill in the gaps. Boston didn’t look particularly well all game. But what was evident from the start was the physical nature of their play. We have not seen this type of play throughout the Western Conference playoffs and will need to play even tougher as the stakes raise and tempers shorten. Game 2 is Sunday evening back at Staples Center. Prepare for the real war to begin at 6:00 pm.