Special teams on the stage
Lineup of headliners continues with Lakers
The players and coaches can say otherwise, but fans know better. Not all games within the Big 82 are created equal.
While it’s certainly true there is no way of telling in advance when a truly great game will break out, there is no denying that some games are far more anticipated than others, and anticipation is the lifeblood of being a sports fan. The thought that a special game will take place can get someone through a dreary workday.
On very rare occasions, circle-your-calendar games come in little bunches. That’s very much the case with the current home schedule of the Celtics. It started Friday with a visit from the dangerous Dallas Mavericks (who proved to be very formidable), continued with an appearance by the Orlando Magic, hits another gear entirely when the ancient rival Lakers take to the parquet tonight, and, amazingly, ascends to yet another height Sunday afternoon when the hated/loathed/despised/reviled Miami Heat show up.
That’s a heavy emotional load for any fandom to carry. I mean, how much venom can one set of fans spew? In matters like these, fans might have to think about pacing themselves.
But there is no doubt they will be spiking the venometer tonight, this being their first up-close-and-personal look at the Lakers since Game 5 of the 2010 Finals when the Celtics moved to a 3-2 series lead with a 92-86 victory. The return trip to Los Angeles was not very pleasant for the Celtics and their fans, and particularly for center Kendrick Perkins, who sustained a knee injury in Game 6 and was unable to play in Game 7, not to mention the first 43 games of the current season.
Kobe Bryant shot a dismal 6 for 24 in Game 7, but the Celtics still lost as Pau Gasol went for 19 points and 18 rebounds and Ron Artest threw in 20 points to supplement some excellent defense on Paul Pierce. The Celtics led by 13 in the third quarter, so the Lakers and their fans don’t want to hear about there being no Perkins in Game 7. Sorry if you can’t hold onto a lead, is what they’re thinking.
But the Celtics partisans will always bemoan the lack of Perk’s inside presence on a night when Gasol was helping himself to nine offensive rebounds, and so for many in these here parts the Lakers are considered to have the NBA title on loan. The Celtics are fond of saying that the starting five of Perkins, Pierce, Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen, and Rajon Rondo has yet to lose a playoff series, and that happens to be the truth — for what it’s worth.
It’s all conversation, of course, because injury is as much a part of the game as a referee’s bad call; it’s something you must work around. So, yes, it would be nice if the Celtics had Shaquille O’Neal, Marquis Daniels, and Delonte West available tonight and Sunday for these certified Big Games, but they don’t, and Doc Rivers will not make any public pleas for sympathy.
The first challenge in their current circumstance came Monday night in Charlotte, where the Celtics could not sustain a 48-minute effort against Paul Silas’s scrappy Bobcats. The fact is that in the absence of both West and Daniels, the Celtics have no backup small forward/3 man for Pierce, the closest thing being Glen Davis, who tonight may find himself guarding everyone from Andrew Bynum to Gasol to Lamar Odom to Artest to Luke Walton to maybe even Phil Jackson himself.
The Lakers can never seem to avoid making news, whether it’s Phil criticizing Kobe or Jerry West criticizing everyone or general manager Mitch Kupchak saying he may have to make a trade or Artest saying he doesn’t want to be traded or someone floating a rumor that the Lakers may be interested in Carmelo Anthony, even if it means sacrificing Bynum, the 23-year-old 7-footer with the balky knees.
They come here to play Game 3 of a seven-game trip that has begun with victories in New Orleans and Memphis, and will continue with games in New York, Orlando, Charlotte, and Cleveland. You may even hear someone suggest, therefore, that this is just one game in a demanding run of seven away from home.
No way. If no one else wants to beat the Celtics just because they’re the Celtics, Kobe does. And that goes in triplicate for his coach, whose antipathy for all things Boston goes back more than 40 years. The Lakers are just 2-6 against contenders San Antonio, Boston, Miami, Dallas, Chicago, and Oklahoma City, and they need a quality W for self-respect. They would also, I’m sure, rather not lose the season series to the Celtics, just in case . . .
In fact, victories over the Lakers and Heat would ensure season series advantages over both foes, which is something to think about.
There is no chance the Heat will waltz in here feeling it’s just one of 82, either. They would like to show Boston that the Boston victories on Oct. 26 and Nov. 11 have no relevance now that the Heat have gotten themselves properly calibrated at both ends of the floor.
Since bottoming out at 9-8, the Heat have gone 29-6, with a 95 percent guaranteed W in Auburn Hills tomorrow night. LeBron James is at the peak of his game and the auxiliary players such as old friend Eddie House (26 of 54 on threes in his last 12 games) are in a groove.
This is the NBA struttin’ its best regular-season stuff, with Marv, Steve, and Reggie here tonight for TNT and Mike, Mark, and Jeff here Sunday for ABC. The savvy Boston fans aren’t the only ones who know these games are anything but routine.