The main ingredient needed for a great rivalry is for the teams to be competitive.
After years of the Lakers being great while the Celtics struggled, Boston showed that is no longer the case, leading by as many as 22 points before prevailing, 107-94, at TD Banknorth Garden.
Boston earned its 10th win of the season, including 7-0 at home. The Celtics didn’t win their 10th game last season until Dec. 16. Four Celtics scored at least 18 points — Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, Kendrick Perkins, and Ray Allen.
Boston now owns a 96-80 lead in the series over the Lakers, who fell to 7-5.
There hasn’t been a more-storied NBA rivalry than Celtics-Lakers. But since Larry Bird and Magic Johnson retired, the matchup had lost its luster.
But with the Celtics possessing Garnett, Pierce, and Allen, and Lakers star Kobe Bryant in the house, the excitement was back, at least for a night.
Celtics fans sported vintage ‘‘Beat LA’’ T-shirts. There were several celebrities in the crowd, including Arnold Schwarzenegger and wife Maria Shriver, several Patriots, music producer Jimmy Jam, who is Garnett’s brother-in-law, and former Celtic and Laker Rick Fox, who was booed.
Bryant entered the game as the NBA’s No. 2 scorer behind Cleveland’s LeBron James with an average of 26.9 points per game. 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?
Unless they needed to, the Celtics didn’t plan on double-teaming Bryant, according to coach Doc Rivers. Rivers also didn’t seem concerned about the possibility of Allen and James Posey getting into foul trouble while guarding Bryant. The Celtics entered the game as the NBA’s best defensive team, allowing league bests of 88.7 points per game and a field goal percentage of .401.
‘‘We have enough guys,’’ said Rivers of guarding Bryant. ‘‘Paul, Tony Allen … We’ll be able to move guys around. I’m not concerned about that.’’
Celtics fans booed Bryant every time he touched the ball. Bryant had only 2 points as Boston raced to a 23-10 lead on a Ray Allen layup with 3:05 left in the first quarter. Bryant scored the final 6 points of the first for the Lakers, who were down, 25-16. Good defense by Ray Allen just before the buzzer kept Bryant from getting another shot off. The Lakers shot 25 percent (5 of 20) in the first and were 1 point from tying a season low for the opening quarter.
With Bryant and three other Laker starters on the bench, the Celtics went on a 10-0 run to take a 40-25 lead on a Pierce layup with 7:15 left in the second quarter. With a little less than five minutes left before halftime, some Celtics fans began chanting, ‘‘Beat LA’’ for the first time, but it didn’t catch on throughout the arena. The Lakers fell behind, 47-28, with 3:32 left in the second as Garnett scored 7 straight points for Boston. It was Derek Fisher, not Bryant, who took the Lakers’ last shot of the half, as the buzzer sounded with Boston up, 53-35.
Bryant had 8 points on 3-of-9 shooting in the half and didn’t take a field goal or free throw attempt in the second. Fisher was actually the Lakers’ leading scorer at halftime with 10. The Celtics limited Los Angeles to 32.5 percent shooting through two quarters. Pierce had 12 points at the half, Garnett 10.
Bryant scored 11 of his game-high 28 points by the 6:37 mark of the third quarter to slice the deficit to 67-54. But the Celtics responded with an 8-0 run to take a 75-54 lead on a 3-point play by Perkins with 4:24 left in the quarter. Boston finished the third strong to hold an 84-66 lead.
The Lakers trimmed the deficit to 94-85 on a Jordan Farmar 3-pointer with 4:53 remaining. But the Celtics cruised to the win.
Marc J. Spears can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org