This will be the first of two games between the Boston Celtics and Los Angeles Lakers, for a repeat of their showdown in last seasons finals, where the Celtics mopped the floor the with the Lakers. Celtics are on an absolute tear this season, with the best start in NBA history at 27-2, and this game will really be a test of how each team stacks up this season. Celtics are looking for their 20th win in a row against an offensively-charged Lakers team, that is 23-5 overall, and 14-1 at the Staples Center in Los Angeles. To start the game, Paul Pierce, of the Celtics, and Kobe Bryant, of the Lakers, are doing whatever they want offensively. Rajon Rondo, of the Celts, picks up two quick fouls within the first three minutes of the game, but Celtics coach Doc Rivers elects to keep him in the game. Neither team is doing anything on the offensive glass to start the game, nor are they containing dribble penetration. First quarter is pretty even, with the Celtics up 24 - 23. Bryant finished the first with 10 points, even though Ray Allen played him extremely well on defense. Neither big man - Kevin Garnett, of the Celtics, or Pau Gasol, of the Lakers - had much of a first quarter. Celtics only starter on the floor to start the second quarter is Pierce, while the Lakers have starters Bryant and Andrew Bynum. The Lakers also have Trevor Ariza and Lamar Odom on the floor who are both easily starters if they played on any other team in the NBA.
What I love about Ariza, besides his athleticism and court awareness is his hustle. After a huge hustle play, from Ariza, the Staples Center crowd went absolutely nuts. Bryant and Allen are shooting lights out to start the second quarter. Two beautiful alley-oop play from Rondo to Garnett quiet the crowd momemtarily. Near the end of the half the Lakers finally start getting some offensive rebounds, and start playing a more physical brand of basketball. Very clear that when the starters for both teams are on the floor, the Celtics have the edge, but when the benches are out there, the Lakers were outplaying them. Strange that the Celtics first trip to the follow line was with 13.5 seconds left in the first half while they average 29.6 per game. The Lakers clearly out-hustled and played better defense than the Celtics. Bryant finishes the first half with 16 points, and Garnett has 12 points. Going into half-time, the Lakers up 51 - 46.
To start the third, Luke Walton dishes a pretty bounce pass to a back-door cutting Bryant who slams the ball home, energizing the crowd. Pierce starts extremely hot on the offensive side and playing inspired, while the Lakers are getting a nice lift from Bynum's physical play. As the third quarter reaches the half-way point, the Celtics are playing a bit sloppy on both ends of the floor, with missed assignments on defense, and terrible passing on offense. What is impressing me the most about the Lakers is their beautiful ball movement, and their ability to play good defense without fouling. After the Celtics show some signs of unraveling, Doc Rivers takes a well-placed time out, to get his team back on track. This leads to a 15-5 run from the Celtics, where Pierce and Allen start really taking over on offense, and the Lakers are not getting any second chances on their trips down on offense. To close the third, Odom hits two three pointers back-to-back, which is pretty unusual for the 6' 10" forward. Lakers reclaim their lead, with a 9-3 run, with Bryant on the bench to end the third. Going into the fourth quarter, Lakers are up 71 - 67. Now Phil Jackson, Lakers head coach, is only 12 minutes away from his 1,000th career victory.
Celtics intelligently start the fourth by running their offense through Allen, to bring it within two points three minutes into the fourth, and a few minutes later it is as though they forgot about Allen. Neither team is really in sync offensively half-way through the fourth; they are playing with lots of emotion, but the skill level has gone down drastically. With under five minutes left in the game, Ariza charges up the crowd with yet another huge hustle play, diving out-of-bounds and saving the ball. Garnett is having a big fourth quarter on both end of the floor, while Kobe Bryant is relatively quiet. Under three minutes to go, and the game is dead even, meaning that every trip down the floor is that much more critical. Ray Allen has lost his range in the fourth quarter, throwing up more three point bricks. Gasol turning the heat up to bring the Lakers up by four with two minutes left in the game; Lakers on a 6-0 run. The big men for both teams are taking over, with Gasol and Garnett trading off brilliant plays. Gasol scores the Lakers last 7 points, with all three of his baskets coming off of assists from Bryant, putting the Lakers up 5 with 1:38 to go. Gasol comes up big again with a huge block on a Ray Allen three point attempt, which essentially caps the game. Lakers finish the game on a 13 - 2 run, and get the win 92 - 83.
Celtics winning streak ends at 19, and Jackson gets to his 1,000th career victory the fastest in NBA history. It was incredible hearing how loud the crowd was getting in the last few minutes of the fourth quarter. Lakers win this game on the shoulders of Gasol's big plays and Bryant's excellent ability to spread the offense. This wasn't a playoff game, but it definitely felt like it, and it came down to the defense and hustle play from the Lakers to pull off this huge victory. Garnett played extremely well for the Celtics for the entire game, but Pierce and Allen definitely tapered off in the fourth quarter, when it really mattered. Nonetheless, if both teams keep up this type of intensity for the rest of the season, there's no doubt that they will have a re-match in the finals.