But the Lakers left with what they wanted — a win over a quality opponent. It reinforces that their play of late has not been just smoke and mirrors, it was a reminder they still have the Larry O’Brien trophy until somebody pries it out of their cold, dead fingers.
Was it a statement win? No. Neither the Lakers nor the Celtics make statements in February.
But it was clear that winning the game meant more to the Lakers.
First, however, they had to ride out an emotional high from Boston. The Celtics were pushing to get Ray Allen his record on what seemed like the perfect night for the coronation of a great player. And he obliged.
With that record-setting energy, Boston had the early lead. That lead grew to 15 points early in the second quarter as Boston had great ball movement and some easy buckets in transition. The Celtics were knocking down their jumpers, and when they do that, they are hard to beat.
Through it, the Lakers stayed close because they made a point of using their size advantage — Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol
each had 12 first-half points. Then the Lakers made a 10-0 run late in the first half as they started to defend and get dribble penetration.
The Lakers lost the last meeting because it was the Kobe Bryant
Show — this time he took just three shots in the first half. Kobe was going to involve his teammates this time.
In the third quarter, the Lakers came out with a renewed defensive intensity — something they have shown more of recently — while the Celtics seemed to have deflated emotionally. The result was the Lakers forcing more contested jumpers, the Celtics missing now and ending up with just 15 third-quarter points. Now it was the Lakers on top and they were able to maintain the lead through the first part of the fourth quarter while Kobe and Gasol got an extended rest. The Lakers’ depth worked for them in this game the way the Celtics could not.
When Kobe came back in and went on a personal 6-0 run (using some nice weakside two-man action with Gasol). That run was followed by Bryant driving, drawing three defenders and dumping off to Gasol for the dunk.
Boston’s lack of depth because of injury caught up with them in this one, especially after backup point guard Nate Robinson
left with a bruised knee. Boston missed having Shaquille O’Neal inside to bang with Bynum, too.
In the big picture of the NBA season this game matters little to the Celtics — they have already proven they are back and are contenders.
For the Lakers, it was a measuring stick to make sure the recent run of good play was not a mirage.
It wasn’t a statement. All this game said about June is that if these two teams meet again, it’s going to be a lot of fun.