Posted by hiphopmama on February 5, 2009
LA Lakers 110, Boston 109 (OT)
I’m not gonna lie. I didn’t hold out much hope for this game. I started watching it tentatively, trying not to get fully involved because that way the disappointment would be lessened. Then my sister hinted on the phone that the outcome might have been favorable (I was watching it from the DVR) and I started to sit up and pay attention. What I noticed was this: even without Bynum, we are a much better team this year than last.
A number of little and not so little things caught my eye. The first was the absolute swagger in Pau Gasol’s step. It sounds weird to say it, but homeboy had attitude tonight. It was beyond satisfying to watch him give as good as he got down low, banging guys around on both offense and defense. On top of that, he looked the part of confident superstar. He never once backed down from a confrontation, either in the course of play or at a dead ball, when Celtics players would try to get one more smack in or make a snide comment. Each and every time, he responded in kind. I know the announcers were going on about keeping your composure, but I was satisfied with all the technicals we picked up. It was a statement that we would not back down, we were not intimidated, and every punch they threw, we were going to roll with it. Kobe was right in his postgame interview – for a team that likes to play physical, Boston deserved to get a taste of its own medicine, whether or not the calls always went their way.
The game was played on a knife’s edge all the way through. Neither team won any quarter by more than 4 points, and no one ever extended beyond a brief 8 or 9 point lead. We held the lead a little bit early on, but we spent most of the game trailing by between 2 and 6 points. Every time Boston would go on a mini-run, we would be right there to hit back and keep it close. Neither team was willing to budge an inch, so it made sense they would need more than 48 to decide it.
Even overtime was a deadlock, as both teams traded jabs but were unable to secure that knockout punch. Kobe was not his usual maestro self down the stretch, but the team rallied around him and gave him the support he has been needing to close it out. Kevin Garnett picking up his sixth foul in the fourth quarter certainly changed the complexion of the game as it left the Celtics with three dead weight players on offense, with Pierce and Allen the only true offensive threats. The Lakers were able to sag off Rondo, Davis, and Perkins with abandon to help on the two shooters. The Celtics, obviously, were tough enough to still gut it out, making scrappy shots and free throws to keep it knotted up, but in the end we were too deep and too talented for them. Would it have been different with Garnett? Possibly, but my money says the outcome would have been the same. I can’t say why exactly, except that the Celtics never looked to have full command of the flow of the game in the last 10 minutes or so, while we hit our (meager) stride at that time. To be honest, this one could have gone on another overtime or two and ended up either way – it was just that close.
Yet at the end the Lakers were the victors, having swept the season series with the Celtics. I know the Christmas day game was emotional, being our first rematch with them after the disastrous Finals, but this game was the real test, and it means more than the first. For one, we were on their home floor. The crowd was uber-involved from the beginning and both teams were keyed in the whole way, so the Lakers had to generate their energy and momentum entirely from within. That they believed in themselves, even short a seven-footer, enough to grit through it all speaks volumes. This was also a more tactical game, with both teams feeling each other out and adjusting on the fly. It was very much like a boxing match – one team would punch, the other would counter-punch, and they’d both have to resort to something new. (Maybe it was more Hegelian then, I don’t know.) Our ability to ride the ebbs and flows of such an evenly matched game proved how far we have come. Finally, it proved that Christmas was no fluke. In that game, we suddenly rediscovered our defense for the first time and made Boston pay for it. The question, at least for me, was whether we could replicate that effort when we needed to. Tonight proved that we could. It wasn’t a shut-down defensive effort by any means, but there were a number of positive signs. My favorite moment of the game was when, after a Laker miss, I looked up to see all five defenders back and in position well before the Celtics could come back and set up their offense. We have a tendency to get a little lackadaisical in transition D, but apparently not when it counts. Hell, I even caught myself complimenting the pick and roll defense, so you know it was a different kind of night.
As I said before, the only sliver of difference between the two teams in the end was our depth. Everyone knows how good our bench is, but what really hit home tonight was how many good role players we have. Luke Walton, despite his many detractors, fulfills a definite function for the team. He is a savvy players with great court awareness and exceptional passing skills. So what he’s a mediocre shooter? We don’t need that from him all the time with Kobe, Gasol, and Fisher hanging around. Ariza is a no-brainer, with his ridiculous intensity and all-out defensive effort. Bringing him into the game is like lighting a match to the fuse. Odom, even as a starter, brings playmaking ability for when Kobe and/or Gasol are on the bench; without him, we would have no way to generate offense without those two. And Farmar. Oh, Farmar, how we have missed him. He’s another energy guy who can knock down a shot and contribute in important moments. He changes up the offensive tone of the game and keeps Fish fresh for those key late game moments. The important thing about all of these guys, though, is that they know their role and play it well, and, with the possible exception of Ariza, they can all be considered decent offensive weapons that teams have to respect. The Celtics don’t have the luxury of calling on these kinds of players. That was made painfully clear when Garnett went out and they had to respond with a front court of Kendrick Perkins and Glen Davis. I suppose they could have gone with Leon Powe, but even he wouldn’t have commanded much attention. Eddie House is their only true weapon off the bench – and what a weapon he is, as he showed tonight – but that doesn’t begin to compare with the riches we are blessed with.
I guess what I’m trying to say with all this is that I’m hopeful. For perhaps the first time this season, I sincerely believe that we have a legitimate shot to shake these guys from their perch. That whole “soft” tag can officially be tossed aside, because the kind of hard-nosed performance they gave tonight, and in the previous Celtics game, proved that they have learned the lessons of being too nice. I’m sure fellow Lakers fans were all hurt by last year’s Finals loss, but it really got to me because, watching it, I couldn’t help but think how we had become the Kings: that really good, really talented team that couldn’t bang with the big boys or perform in key moments. I used to hate when Sacramento would whine about stupid officiating shit or physical play or “lucky shots” to explain away their defeats. When you lose, you lose. Period. At the end of the day, our only excuse was that we couldn’t get it done against a stronger, tougher team that executed almost flawlessly. On a night when Kobe was off, Bynum was out, and chants of “Beat LA” rained down from the rafters, the Lakers proved that there would be no more easy trips down the floor and demanded that if the Celtics were to win, they would have to forcibly take it from them. Boston couldn’t do it, and we walked off triumphant.