The Los Angeles Lakers, at some point, needed to take one of these games – those against the league’s other elite teams – to make a statement to the rest of the league. They needed to take a stand, if only for a night, just they could stop hearing about their supposed demise. The same rumblings were around last season and when the Lakers had had enough of it, they went out and sent a message. In a similar situation tonight, the Lakers went out and convincingly handled the Celtics for a half en route to a 92-86 victory over their most bitter rivals.
The Celtics started off the game with the momentum, with their fans jacked up about the possibility of Ray Allen breaking the NBA record for three-pointers made. Allen’s first three attempt was errant, but the fans were still up, going crazy in anticipation. Allen ended up tying and breaking the record in the first quarter, which may have been the worst thing for the Celtics. They had a 15-point lead in the first half, but because Allen had already broken the record – and because Allen had to sit out a good chunk of the game because of foul trouble – the Garden crowd never got into in the second half.
Allen hit a few mid-range jumpers in the first half as well, as Rajon Rondo, Kevin Garnett and even Von Wafer helped to grow the Celtics lead. But once the second half begin, the Lakers took control of the ball game. Entering the third period down five thanks to a spurt at the end of the first half, the Lakers scored the first 10 points of the quarter thanks a three from Derek Fisher, a pair of nice finishes from Kobe Bryant and a Pau Gasol mid-range two. The Celtics would cut the lead to four to start the fourth period but the Laker reserves would keep them at bay – a Lamar Odom three, a Shannon Brown tip-in and a few nice plays from Steve Blake on both ends would help the Lakers maintain their cushion.
Phil Jackson may have went with his reserve unit a bit too long in the fourth, as Kobe and Pau sat until the five minute mark in the period. By then, Ray Allen and Paul Pierce had already returned, with Allen hitting a triple and Pierce getting to the bucket to cut the lead to three. But when Kobe checked in, the game was all but over. Bryant channeled Mamba mode for the first time all season and flat out dominated Boston down the stretch.
He started things off with a 19-foot turnaround over Ray Allen, then he swished a 20-footer coming off a curl, then he took the ball to the basket for an easy deuce, then he drove baseline, drew the double team and gave Pau Gasol a beautiful pass for an easy two, and he finished things off with an isolation destruction of Ray Allen, taking him the half-court line to the free throw stripe, with Allen guessing every which way before Kobe pulled up and knocked down the jumper to seal the deal.
More on the game after the break…