Many Celtics fans wore shirts that read, "Beat LA." The sellout crowd of 18,624 at TD Banknorth Garden included a long list of celebrities. And it was the first time the Celtics' star trio faced Kobe Bryant and the Lakers.
But the latest installment of this rivalry won't be talked about 20 years from now, or maybe even a week from now. And until both teams reach the Finals again, the NBA's most-storied rivalry will probably never be as it was.
The Celtics led by as many 22 points and never trailed during a 107-94 victory last night, the Lakers' lone regular-season trip to Boston.
"Since I've been in the league, [the Celtics stunk]," Bryant said. "Now they are kicking our butt. Hopefully, we'll get to the point where there is some parity. If we can get to a point where we can get some parity between us and them, that means we're playing at a championship-caliber level. Hopefully, that will happen."
The Celtics had four players with at least 18 points - Kendrick Perkins (career-high 21 points, 9 rebounds), Kevin Garnett (21 points, 11 rebounds), Ray Allen (18 points), and Paul Pierce (20 points, 9 assists). Bryant scored 20 of his 28 points in the second half. The Celtics' defense, tops in the league, limited the Lakers to 42.2 percent shooting and forced 15 turnovers.
Said Bryant: "They took us out of our offense in terms of our rhythm and what we like to do. We didn't know how to adjust or adapt to it at this point and time in the season."
Boston earned its 10th win of the season, including a 7-0 record at home. The Celtics didn't win their 10th game last season until Dec. 16, the fifth game of a five-game winning streak.
"It's important for us to play well at home," Pierce said. "We know how tough it is to win on the road. So, we take advantage of our home-court crowd that comes in night in and night out."
Among those in attendance were Arnold Schwarzenegger and wife Maria Shriver, actress Ellen Pompeo of "Grey's Anatomy," several Patriots, and former Celtic and Laker Rick Fox, who was booed.
"I saw a lot of people in the crowd," Pierce said. "We're starting to bring celebrities out. That's what I like."
Said Garnett: "It was like a playoff atmosphere. This building has a lot of energy in it to begin with, and it was great. It was fun. Any time you play Kobe and the Lakers, you know it's going to be a war."
Last season, Bryant scored 43 and 38 points in the two meetings, both Laker wins. So, just how were the Celtics going to guard arguably the most intimidating offensive player in the league?
Celtics coach Doc Rivers had planned on using a rotation of Ray Allen, Pierce, James Posey, and Tony Allen to guard Bryant. But for most of the night, Ray Allen got the job done. Bryant, a nine-time All-Star, was scoreless in the second quarter en route to 8 points in 18 first-half minutes, as Boston held a 53-35 lead. Bryant heated up in the second half with 20 points, including three 3-pointers, but it was too late.
Bryant also had to expend energy guarding Ray Allen. And, yes, Celtics fans booed Bryant every time he touched the ball.
"Defensively, we were all in the right positions," said Ray Allen. "I just wanted him to shoot tough twos over the top of me. Then, in the second half, he got to the basket a couple of times, we fell asleep, and he got to the free throw line."
It seemed like just another win for the Celtics against just another opponent. While the buildup and atmosphere were exciting, the game didn't live up to the past.
When asked if he hoped to see the rivalry become what it was, Pierce said, "It's going to be hard to do because rivalries are made in the playoffs. Unless we see them in the Finals."
Marc J. Spears can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org