The Boston Celtics left Los Angeles with a split in the back-to-back at the Staples Center. Any Celtics fan would take one of two on the road against quality competition, after a cross country flight. While I'm certainly not complaining about the overall result, I would have strongly preferred the inverse.
The Celtics lost a matinee game on Sunday against the Los Angeles Lakers after leading by five points with 2:47 left. The next two minutes were excruciating and familiar. Kobe Bryant hit some deep, contested three pointers, while the Celtics found little more than the rim at the other end. Particularly disappointing was the conclusion of a beautifully drawn up play that left Brandon Bass with the ball wide open in his office at the elbow. The shot rimmed out and the Lakers never looked back.
My biggest issue with the game wasn't the loss itself. Heading into the game I didn't give the Celtics much of a chance. The first game of a west coast road trip, early in the afternoon against a bigger, more talented team isn't exactly the recipe for success for an aging, ailing and undermanned team. My issue is that the Celtics had a better than good chance to win the game. After the first quarter I wasn't sure if the Celtics even wanted to be in the building? Was it jet lag? Were they hung over? Did Kendrick Perkins have another birthday party? Whatever it was, it seemed like the Celtics were going to fold up shop early. Sasha "White Flag" Pavlovic even mad an appearance early. The Celtics showed the gritty fight that has defined them since coming together in 2007 and fought back to claim a late fourth quarter lead against a better team. The last 2:47 played out like countless other games in the past few years; with the Celtics unable to connect on a single clutch bucket and me on my couch in the fetal position mumbling over and over, "if Perk played in Game 7, if Perk played in Game 7..."
If Bass knocks down the jumper and the Celtics get a stop on the other end, the Celtics take home what presumably will be the final match up against the Lakers as currently constituted, on a shot from a player who will play a part in the era to follow. It would have been a perfect punctuation (for Celtics fans) to a hard fought series between the two most dominant teams of the last decade. Instead, the Lakers win, Kobe boosts sales of creepy face masks, and all is wrong with the world.
Stranger still is the fact that the next night, on tired-er legs, the Celtics beat a younger, deeper team on the second night of a back-to-back after trailing late in the fourth quarter.
The contrast of the two games was interesting. The first played like a playoff game. The old guard, fisher, Kobe, Gasol, and Bynum battled hard for the win. There was no pretentiousness or mockery on the Lakers faces as they made the winning plays, but rather the giddy combination of exuberance and relief when you eek out a close win against a bitter rival. The disappointment on the Celtics sideline wasn't the resigned shrug-and-what's-for dinner looks you see after an off night in Detroit, but rather the exhausted realization that they left it all on the floor, played above their heads, and still lost the final showdown with a team that you've lost and won titles against.
The next night, against the next "hot" team in the league, was quite different. The Clippers, who have yet to win a meaningful game in the NBA, showed no respect for the Celtics. It was evident earlier that they thought they could push around Boston on the way to an easy victory. Blake Griffin, widely regarded as lovable and goofy off the court, and a high flying future super star on the court, looked to embarrass and intimidate the Celtics at every turn. He was called for a technical after trying to humiliate veritable nobody Greg Stiemsma. He got into it at different times with Rajon Rondo, Brandon Bass, and Mickael Pietrus. Griffin quickly backed down after Pietrus snapped around looking for a confrontation. I get that young, cocky teams take older, less flashy teams for granted, but I was truly surprised at the cheap, punk-y antics on display by one of the league's future stars. I was well aware of his gratuitous showboating after a solid dunk, but the cheap, hollow intimidation act came was an eye opener.
Oddly enough it was the Clippers decision to try and out-tough the Celtics that played right into Boston's hands, and led to a win. But at least Blake threw down a couple of a sick 'oops!
As a Celtics fan I am satisfied that they were able to win one of the two games in Los Angeles. I just wish the last time Pierce, KG, and Allen came together to "Beat LA," it was against the Lakers.