Posted at 1:20 a.m., Monday, December 31, 2007
NBA: Lakers aren't ready for these Celtics
By Bill Dwyre
Los Angeles Times
The fans were ready. They stacked Staples to the ceiling and the noise cascaded down as well as up. They cheered the sights and sounds on the scoreboard, shocking Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in his seat with their huge applause.
They recognized Rick Fox, even with all that gray that's now sprinkled in with the curly black hair.
But last night, the Boston Celtics did what the Boston Celtics have done all too often to the Lakers. They wrecked the show. If this is to be a rivalry again, like the old days of Wilt and Russell or Magic and Bird, then the Lakers have a long way to go to hold up their end.
Let's call this concept the rivalry in waiting.
Or the rivalry of the wishful thinkers.
The Lakers had won four in a row and were on an 8-2 roll in their 19-10 season start. The Celtics, who thumped them in Boston a month ago in the only other game the teams will play in the regular season, brought a 25-3 record into the game, a five-game winning streak and a 9-1 run in their last 10.
The Celtics are so good this season that it's scary, especially considering how bad they were last season (24-58).
But the Lakers' recent surge brought back those glimmers of title-contending hope, and a win against the Celtics, especially with Boston playing the second night of a back to back, seemed achievable. Instead, it turned into a demonstration of a Lakers team that is still not quite ready for prime time.
The Lakers hung close for as long as they could.
They played physical defense. Andrew Bynum fouled out; the Celtics' Kevin Garnett had to leave the game for a few minutes with a cut over his eye that made him look as if he had been in the ring with Evander Holyfield.
They created a mood for hot competition. The referees called five technical fouls on individuals in the first half alone.
Lakers Coach Phil Jackson called the tone of play "jagged."
Celtics Coach Doc Rivers called it "chippy."
That meant that some things never change. Lakers don't like Celtics a lot. Celtics feel the same about Lakers.
The pre-game planners even pitched in with an introduction ceremony that featured the good old days of L.A.-Boston, including pictures of Red Auerbach and his cigar. There was the famous Celtics-Lakers motto that asked the rhetorical question: Can you imagine it any other way?
Well, this season, yes. How about the Celtics and the Phoenix Suns?
Rivers said he seldom watches pre-game ceremonies, but he couldn't much avoid this one because it was done on the huge curtains.
"It was right there, in my face," Rivers said. "I liked it. It gave everybody a good history lesson."
The final score was 110-91, and showtime in Staples was more show-off time for the Celtics.
The two teams have four gold-card players three are Celtics. Or, as an ESPN commercial has labeled them, the Boston Three Party.
Last night, the three gold cards were Celtics Ray Allen and Garnett and Laker Kobe Bryant. Paul Pierce, who first got the attention of the basketball world in the mid 1990s as a kid at Inglewood High who couldn't miss, was platinum.
Pierce, who just turned 30, had 33 points, made nine of 19 shots from the field (four three-pointers) and 11 of 13 from the free-throw line. He also had eight rebounds, three assists, four steals and probably drove the team bus back to the hotel.
Garnett had 22, on nine-for-13 shooting, and threw in 12 rebounds, six assists and three blocked shots.
Allen played only 28 minutes because of foul trouble and still had 19 points, 11 in the fourth quarter.
Kobe? He had 25 shots and 22 points and Jackson said afterward that he had had two recent stellar performances "and this wasn't a game we'd put down with those."
In the end, it turned out to be more a night of sartorial challenges. The Lakers, for reasons known only to their marketing people, came out in the old-time shorts, tight shorts, proving that, NBA players do, indeed, have thighs. Except for Trevor Ariza, who covered up with black spandex, yellow knee pads and long white socks.
Varicose veins, presumably.
The Celtics countered with Eddie House and Pierce in knee-high black leggings and Tony Allen with one leg of the same.
You wonder if Magic and Wilt and Kareem and Jerry West would have allowed the trivialization of a Lakers-Celtics game. You wonder if Magic or Wilt or Kareem or Jerry would have been trampled on the way the current Lakers were.
Actually, you don't wonder.
Celtics-Lakers is a rivalry for all seasons. Apparently, just not this one.