LA rounding into form
So much for the endlessly discussed Laker “troubles.’’
Of course, Doc Rivers dismissed the issue before the game even started.
“I’d like to be in ‘disarray’ with that record,’’ observed the Celtics coach. “I’m not paying any attention to that stuff.’’
The game at TD Garden last night was the Lakers’ third of a seven-game road trip, a journey that opened with triumphs in New Orleans and Memphis. You can now put them down at 3-0 after last night’s eminently satisfying 92-86 victory over the Celtics, who have now lost three of four. Perhaps they’re the ones in disarray.
That would be a bit harsh, because what they are is a team in need of more useful bodies. They began the game without Shaquille O’Neal, Marquis Daniels, and Semih Erden, and ended it without Nate Robinson, who hopped off the court with a bruised knee in the second quarter. Von Wafer had to play 20 minutes. Even Avery Bradley got into the act. This is not what anyone in the Boston camp had in mind.
The truth is that in their current state the Celtics cannot sustain any thing. It’s a very nice starting five, all right, but no team wins in this league with five guys.
It was a complete reversal of the game in LA back on Jan. 30. In that one the Celtics assumed control in the fourth quarter, making big plays at both ends. This time the Lakers had all the answers, many, but not all, supplied by Kobe Bryant.
Let the record show there still was a game with 5:04 to go. That’s when Phil Jackson inserted Bryant for the first time in the fourth quarter, with the Lakers leading, 82-79. His first official act was to make great use of a Lamar Odom strip of Kevin Garnett on an inbounds layup attempt by canning a turnaround at the other end. He followed that with a jumper off a curl and a slashing drive. Boom, boom, boom . . . three quick hoops, an 88-79 lead, and time to start thinking about the Knicks in Madison Square Garden tonight.
Long forgotten at that point was Kobe’s 3-point first half or the 15-point deficit (49-34) the Lakers were facing with 3:32 remaining in the half. At that point the Celtics were doing pretty much whatever they wished offensively (including Ray Allen’s record-tying and record-breaking 3-pointers), while the Lakers looked very much like a team in, well, disarray.
But anyone who follows the NBA knows how quickly things can turn around.
There was nothing dramatic in the 10-0 run covering a scant 2:20 that got the Lakers back into the game. Pau Gasol (20 points, 10 rebounds as he continues his outstanding play since the last Celtics game) hit a jump hook. Shannon Brown knocked the ball away from a startled Kendrick Perkins and cruised in for a slam. Andrew Bynum and Derek Fisher each made a pair of free throws. Fisher hit a little floater. It all added up to the Lakers being in business for the first time in the game.
“We got back into it at the end of the second quarter,’’ Jackson said. “We started feeling comfortable out there.’’
The Celtics pulled it back to 53-45 at the half, but the Lakers hit them with a 10-0 run to start the third quarter. Now the Lakers really were feeling it.
“We were more aggressive offensively, and I thought our defense really stepped up and played a lot better,’’ Jackson declared. “We were holding onto the ball too much in the first half.’’
There had been a lot of, well, stuff swirling around the Lakers as they hit Boston. No one seemed interested that they had just won games in New Orleans, which has been playing well again, and Memphis, which can be a troublesome team to play. No, it was all about the fact the Lakers had been 0-5 against the NBA iron (Geez, did anyone note they lost to San Antonio on an Antonio McDyess tip-in?), the residual effects of the infamous Jerry West declaration they could no longer play quality NBA defense, and the new rumors about them being interested in Carmelo Anthony at the possible expense of Bynum.
Kobe had dismissed talk of Laker vulnerability as foolish, advising people to wait until a more appropriate time to analyze his team; i.e. April, May, and June. Jackson, who pretty much floats above everything, says he was never particularly worried, either, and he downplayed any thought that the sight of the Celtics was extra motivation for his team.
“I hope we are motivated every night,’’ he said. “It was just one of those things that was said, we’ve got a 1-7 record against power teams, this is important. What is important is playing our game and finding ourselves in a game in which we were highly competitive, and not losing ourselves, and having our identity.’’
Jackson knows his team, and he also knows that if he happens to find himself coaching against the Celtics in June — not even a remote guarantee given the presence of San Antonio in the West and Miami in the East — it would be a very different Celtics team than the one he saw last night. The Celtics are not going far in the playoffs if Rajon Rondo has to play 44 minutes, Paul Pierce has to play 40, Allen has to play 35 (foul trouble kept it from being more), etc.
So the truth is it would have been very bad for the Lakers to have lost this game last night. It would have been bad in the standings and worse in the head. The Lakers did what they had to do. And now the caravan moves on.