LOS ANGELES -- It was inevitable that the Celtics would lose at some point. But the rare agony of defeat was much more bitter after their bitter rivals, the Los Angeles Lakers, made it happen.
The defending champion Celtics fell, 92-83, to the Lakers yesterday at Staples Center in the first meeting of the teams since last springâs NBA Finals. The loss snapped the Celtics' franchise-best 19-game winning streak, and a 10-game road winning streak.
The Lakers outscored the Celtics, 21-16, in the fourth quarter, including a 12-3 run to end a contest that lived up to the hype.
"As a Boston player, you never want to lose to the Lakers," said Celtics forward Paul Pierce, the 2008 Finals MVP, who had 20 points and 10 rebounds. "But it is what it is. Fans, family, and people out there had a great game to watch. Weâll have a chance to see them again.
"It's a long [season] and we knew the streak had to end. We didn't want it to end tonight. But, hey, it ends."
Lakers guard Kobe Bryant, who scored a game-high 27 points, said, "It was a good measuring stick for us to show how much we have progressed since the Finals."
The loss was the Celticsâ first since Nov. 14 against the Nuggets in Boston and first away from home since the Nov. 1 road opener against Indiana. The Celtics (27-3) have little time to fret, though, as they play at Golden State tonight.
The Lakers (24-5) won their 12th straight home game and earned Phil Jackson his 1,000th career coaching victory.
Asked about the oddity of losing, Celtics forward Kevin Garnett said, "It's pretty odd. We haven't lost in a while. Tonight I feel like we missed assignments, missed communication. Things that we are known for, I feel like we took a step back on tonight.
"Our hat's off to a good Laker team. The guys played hard."
Prior to the announcement of the Lakers' starting five, a giant white drape running from the scoreboard to the floor showed highlights of this storied rivalry.
While renowned Lakers fan Jack Nicholson wasnât at the sold-out game -- brokers were getting more than $10,000 for a ticket -- such celebrities as Mark Wahlberg, Kevin James, Snoop Dogg, Dustin Hoffman, Samuel L. Jackson, Denzel Washington, George Lopez, and Adam Sandler were in attendance. Three Garnett fans also were here: singer Prince, world champion boxer Manny Pacquiao, and brother-in-law/music producer Jimmy Jam.
"It was a beautiful day," said Garnett, who had 22 points and 9 rebounds. "Obviously, we lost. You donât like that. But there was a lot of energy in the building. LA was LA. That felt good. The celebs. The seats were filled. I hope everybody enjoyed the show. It was a great game. Both teams played extremely hard."
Said Bryant, "They are a team that has been playing so well. But at the same time they did win 19 in a row so they were due for one loss."
The Celtics finished the first quarter with a 24-23 lead after shooting 61.1 percent from the field, though they did not attempt a free throw and allowed 7 points off six turnovers. Bryant had 10 points in the first quarter, making 5 of 8 shots. Pierce had 12 points at halftime, while teammate Ray Allen had 11.
The Lakers outscored Boston, 28-21, in the second quarter to take a 51-45 halftime lead. In the first half, the Celtics' bench had 2 points on 1-of-10 shooting, no free throw attempts, 6 fouls, and 2 turnovers.
The Celtics responded in the third quarter with an 8-0 run finalized by a Pierce jumper to retake the lead at 64-62 with 3:32 left. It was Boston's first lead since 24-23.
But with Bryant resting, the Lakers finished the third with a 9-3 run (two treys and a 3-point play) to take a 71-67 advantage.
"They came back at us in the third quarter," Jackson said. "We didnât lose the third quarter by much, 2 points. But there was no momentum."
Four Celtics reserves and Allen were on the floor at the beginning of the fourth quarter. Bryant was back on the floor for Los Angeles, too.
A 21-foot jumper by Celtics reserve guard Eddie House tied the game at 75 with 8:08 remaining. With 6:46 left, starters Rajon Rondo, Pierce, and Garnett were all on the floor with reserves Tony Allen and Glen Davis with Los Angeles up, 77-75. Starters Kendrick Perkins and Ray Allen returned shortly.
Boston's bench finished with 13 points on 5-of-19 shooting.
Garnettâs alley-oop dunk on a fast break with 3:56 left in the game gave Boston an 81-79 lead. But two straight Pau Gasol baskets on assists from Bryant gave the Lakers an 85-81 lead with two minutes left.
Garnett's 23-foot jumper with 1:44 left sliced the Celtics' deficit to 85-83. But Gasol's 3-point play with 1:28 remaining pushed the Lakers ahead, 88-83. Following a Gasol block of an Allen jumper, Trevor Arizaâs fast-break reverse dunk pushed Los Angeles ahead comfortably, 90-83.
The Lakers scored the final 7 points of the game and Gasol scored 9 of his 20 in the fourth.
"You always want to get a win whenever you play a basketball game, whether it's at home or on the road here," Pierce said. "We lost to a team that played better than us tonight. Give them all the credit.
"We just have to play better down the stretch. Certain points of the game, we didn't execute. That was the difference in the ballgame."
Said Rivers, "We will give the Lakers their due. They won the game. We'll see them again."