Doc Rivers called the back-and-forth buckets between Paul Pierce and Kobe Bryant a gunfight. If that’s what it was, Pierce put his gun back in the holster after three quarters and let Bryant shoot himself silly. Bryant finished with 41 points, following up a 38-point night against Sacramento on Friday. But those two games ended the same way: in Lakers’ losses. Pierce scored a team-high 32 points and got reinforcement from Ray Allen (21 points), Kevin Garnett (18 points, 13 rebounds) and Rajon Rondo (16 assists, 15 in the second half).
The Celtics shot 60.3 percent for the game, and a staggering 69.4 percent in the second half. Meanwhile, the Lakers missed 23 of their 38 second half shots.
“We understood Kobe was going to get his points,” Garnett said. “The last couple games, he’s been aggressive as far as taking over games, being aggressive as far as scoring,” Garnett said. “So we knew if we could control everybody else, we had a decent chance of winning this game.”
For the second straight year, the Celtics won in the Staples Center, planting the same seed in the Lakers’ mind as they did last year. Althought there’s nothing the Celtics can do about Game 7 of last season’s Finals, after a couple of disappointing games in Portland (where they won despite a season-high 21 turnovers) and Phoenix (where they lost their composure and then lost the game) beating the defending champions on their home floor had a certain value.
“It is another game, but it’s definitely an emotional game,” Pierce said. “The thing is when you win a game here now, it’s not for the championship. It’s definitely a regular season game, but when we play against the LAkers it really gets our juices going. They’re our rivals. It’s a big game just knowing that we can come into this building and get a win.”
A sight rarely seen in Celtics box scores: Rajon Rondo finished the first half with one assist. He doled out 15 more in the second half, playing every second after halftime looking more like the JUGS machine everyone’s used to. After the game, Celtics coach Doc Rivers made it a point to tell the team that it was one of Rondo’s best games of the year.
“I thought he called an absolutely perfect game,” Rivers said. “He’s our pitcher. I thought he called a sensational game. Coming out of timeouts, he made sure guys were in their spots … I thought Rondo tonight played with a great speed. When he plays with speed, he has power and I thought he did that tonight.”
After turning the ball over a combined 13 times the past two games, Rondo said that if the Celtics’ offense was going to get any sharper it would have to start with him. He gave it away just three times this afternoon. The Celtics turnover issues remained (17 cough ups that cost them 15 points), but Rondo limited his to just three and the Celtics offense thrived, shooting 60.3 percent. The Celtics shot an unsightly 34.2 percent against Phoenix, and Rivers and Rondo agreed that most of the reason for it was poor pacing, which wasn’t an issue against Los Angeles.
“We just tried to up the tempo,” Rondo said. “We got stops so we could push the ball.”
The Celtics most significant offseason additions — Jermaine and Shaquille O’Neal — were both a direct response to the biggest problem the Lakers created for them in the Finals a year ago. Between Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum and Lamar Odom, Los Angeles had skyscrapers in the paint at all times. It cost them the rebounding war and ultimately cost them the Finals.
Shaquille O’Neal played just 13 minutes this afternoon, but he grabbed six rebounds and as a team, the Celtics dominated the glass 43-30.
“It helps a lot, man,” said Garnett, who in the process of grabbing his 13 rebounds took five stitches over his left eye courtesy of an elbow from Gasol. “Bynum’s huge. Bynum, I thought, was the big difference in the Finals last year. He kept a lot of balls alive, especially when Perk went down. He’s long, athletic and he’s very skill full — and he’s young. So just having the size to match up with that if not even it out a little bit. Having Shaq and then hopefully, JO will be back soon, we’ll be full throttle playing some of these teams that have big guys.”