Our Big-3 Play Bigger Than Yours…
It might’ve been viewed as two aging prize fighters on the brink of collapse, but whichever direction these two warriors ultimately take as the season plays out, Thursday evening’s contest between the Los Angeles Lakers and the Boston Celtics continues to be the rivalry of all rivalries. Never mind that both teams sport similar, mediocre records, or that Father Time appears to have caught up with them, leading to endless speculation that a break-up of either team’s Big-3 is eminent. Forget about all of the rumor-mill fodder that a swap between Rondo and Pau is in the works, I mean, that’s just ludicrous. This is Lakers vs Celtics baby, and that’s equally synonymous with Love and Hate, Hot or Cold, Good vs Evil or dare we say, Playoffs or Lottery-bound.
Kobe Bryant (27 points, 5 rebounds, 4 assists) rebounded from his poor 4th quarter showing against Philly by scoring, dishing, and otherwise, making all of the right decisions as the Lakers pulled away for an 88-87 victory in OT to even up their six-game road trip at 2-2. Kobe seemed to get particular pleasure in tormenting whomever the Celtics defense threw at him, but none more than long time nemesis Ray Allen. The one-time Seattle Sonic found himself isolated on the Black Mamba numerous times and Kobe didn’t take very long to strike and deliver his lethal blows. Twitching back-and-forth trying to get him to commit, Kobe exploded over Allen for a handful of impossible fade-aways that had the TD Garden crowd ooing and ahhing.
Even though NBA fans had this game pegged as a Celtics win, the Lakers persevered after going down early. Yet, from the start, the Lakers made a concerted effort to get the ball into the post and the Laker bigs did not disappoint. Pau Gasol (25 points, 14 rebounds, 3 assists, 2 blocks) and Andrew Bynum (16 points, 17 rebounds, 1 assist, 1 steal, 3 blocks) powered the Lakers to a lopsided 55-45 advantage on the glass. And although the shooting remained tepid at best for both teams, everyone knew that this was going to be a defensive slugfest. Ray Allen (22 points, 6 rebounds, 2 assists) was the lone hot hand with 12-points in the first half while the Lakers put the clamps down on everyone else. Metta World Peace (2 points, 2 rebounds, 2 steals, 1 assist, 1 block) had his hands full face-guarding Paul Pierce (18 points on 7-18, 9 rebounds, 7 assists), and even though his stats paled in comparison, MWP, along with all of the other Lakers dug in and contributed in the team win.
Bynum’s circus shot over his head with his back facing the basket, plus the and-one, trimmed Boston’s advantage to only 47-45 at halftime. But after getting 28-points in the paint and 12-points out on the break, the Lakers severely limited the C’s the rest of the way. The Lakers pushed them out of the paint and forced them to an almost exclusive perimeter game. Los Angeles capitalized on multiple second chance points with Bynum and Gasol taking turns cleaning the backboards. After shooting 5-5 from the free throw line in the first half, the Celtics didn’t attempt another freebie the rest of the night. Leading 60-53 after an Allen 3-pointer, the Lakers went on a 14-4 tear to end the 3rd period ahead, 67-64.
Kevin Garnett (12 points, 12 rebounds, 3 assists, 1 steal, 1 block) turned up the heat to start the 4th quarter but Matt Barnes (11 points, 4 rebounds, 1 assist) responded off the bench with more tough defense on Pierce and a flurry of slashes to the basket which resulted in easy gimmes at the free throw line. Boston relied exclusively on the outside shot while the Lakers denied anything in the paint. With Kobe playing free safety, daring Rajon Rondo (14 points, 7 assists, 2 rebounds, 2 steals) to take the outside shot, Kobe was free to roam and play help defense on whomever ventured into the paint. Bynum’s 3-point play off another offensive rebound gave the Lakers an 80-70 lead with just over two minutes to play. But Allen splashed a 3-pointer as the chant of “Beat LA! Beat LA!” rang down on the purple and gold.
With 9.8 seconds left to play, Gasol scored on a tip-in off a Kobe miss to knot the score. Boston had a chance to win the game in regulation but superb defense by World Peace and Barnes forced Pierce to pass the ball while stationed far above the top of the key. Mickael Pietrus’ (9 points, 1 rebound) desperation shot fell harmlessly away as the old foes headed for overtime. Kobe scored on another difficult jumper over Allen, followed by a long 2-pointer by Steve Blake (5 points, 3 rebounds, 1 steal in 32-minutes) giving them an 86-82 lead and forcing a Boston time-out. Pierce got loose for a free throw line pull-up, then drained a 3-pointer at the top of the key propelling the Celtics back in front. But Bynum restored order, scoring on a tip-in for the one-point lead with just over a minute to play. Neither team would score again but no more points were needed by the Lakers as their defense prevailed in the end.
With 6.1 seconds to play in overtime, World Peace pressured Pierce into a difficult fall away but Allen grabbed the offensive rebound in perfect position for the easy follow shot. Still in the air, Allen shot the ball only to have Gasol come out of nowhere and block the shot as time expired. It was playoff intensity basketball in a hostile environment featuring two familiar foes duking it out to the very end. And just like it’s supposed to be, the Lakers beat the Celtics. Again.