Commentary

Celtics can't stand up to Lakers' bigs

L.A.'s Andrew Bynum and Paul Gasol still too much for Kevin Garnett & Co.

Updated: February 10, 2012, 9:30 AM ET
By Peter May | ESPNBoston.com

BOSTON -- Back in the good old days, the Detroit Pistons made a visit to the Boston Celtics and were abused by their most persistent tormentor, Kevin McHale. That led to the following from their coach, Chuck Daly.

"I spent all summer trying to figure out a way to guard McHale. I didn't come up with one. He's still too tall," Daly said.

That, in a nutshell, is the problem Boston coach Doc Rivers faced Thursday night in the Celtics' 88-87 overtime loss to the Los Angeles Lakers. Los Angeles may have shed Lamar Odom, and the Lakers still have Kobe Bryant. But, with Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol, they are still too tall. They certainly were for the Celtics on this night.

Yes, folks, size does matter. Still.

[+] EnlargeKobe Bryant
AP Photo/Charles KrupaKevin Garnett shot just 6-for-23 as Kobe and Mike Brown's Lakers clamped down on the Celtics.

"People don't realize how big these guys are," said the Lakers' Troy Murphy after Bynum and Gasol combined for 41 points, 31 rebounds and 5 blocks in L.A.'s victory. "They touch the rim without jumping. It's tough for teams to match up against them. Just trying to make a pass against them in practice is an adventure."

The two Lakers giants dominated the glass and combined to make pretty much all the big plays down the stretch, capped by Gasol's block of a Ray Allen layup as time expired in overtime. Gasol had 25 points, 14 rebounds and 2 blocks Thursday in a classic, All-Star snub statement game on network television. Bynum? He went for 16 points, 17 rebounds and 3 blocks.

"They're really long and they're really good," offered Rivers after the game. That was about as much praise as Doc could muster because he was too upset with the overall play of his own team, be it the rebounding (55-45 Lakers edge), second-chance points (24-13 for L.A.) or the shocking lack of free throws (five in 53 minutes, all in the first half; Matt Barnes had more by himself).

What also bothered Rivers was that the Lakers got the loose balls above the rim and on the floor. When Gasol and Bynum weren't getting tip-ins, they were keeping things alive.

"Longer teams, you have to hit them," the Celtics coach said. "You've got to put a body on them. If you think you can just turn and rebound when a guy is five inches taller than you, it's not going to happen. I bet they got four or five rebounds when we were actually in position. They just reached over. If you drive them back, they can't get those."

Of course, getting hammered on the glass, especially on the offensive end, does not exactly constitute a news bulletin for the Celtics. Boston entered the game ranked 28th overall in rebounding, while the Lakers ranked seventh. But this game came down to a few plays down the stretch when the Lakers' length made the difference, both in second-chance points and on defense.

Bynum gave the Lakers an 80-79 lead with 2:39 left when he followed up a Gasol miss and got fouled in the process. He made the free throw. (He made another conventional three-point play in the final second of the first half, hooking in a shot following a Bryant miss and getting fouled by Jermaine O'Neal.)

After an Allen 3-pointer with 68 seconds left in regulation, the Celtics led 82-80. They still led 82-80 in the final 10 seconds and needed one stop. They appeared to get it when Kobe (27 points on 24 shots) came up short on the baseline. But there was Gasol on the proper side of the basket for the easy tip-in. No one was near him.

[+] EnlargePau Gasol
AP Photo/Charles KrupaPau Gasol had his way with the Celtics on both ends of the floor.

"We get one rebound there and we give ourselves a great chance of winning," Paul Pierce said. "That was a big emphasis for us coming into the game, and we just didn't do a good job."

Bynum and Gasol then made the two biggest plays at the end of overtime to secure the Lakers' win. After the Celtics had taken an 87-86 lead on a 3-pointer by Pierce (18 points), Kobe misfired again. But Bynum was there for the tip-in with 1:29 left. It would turn out to be the final basket of the night.

"The second-chance points hurt us," Kevin Garnett said, in the understatement of the evening.

The Celtics had three chances to take the lead, down to the final play when Pierce got off a decent shot. It rimmed out. Allen was right there for the rebound -- a layup -- and no sooner had it left his hand than Gasol swatted it away.

"I was in the perfect situation and he came out of nowhere," Allen said.

"You just have to play until the clock runs out," Gasol said. "I've been in situations where you just freeze and you catch yourself looking at the ball and somebody makes a play and you lose the game. I'm glad I was able to continue playing to the end."

It hasn't quite been two years since Gasol broke the hearts of Celtics Nation with his overpowering performance in Game 7 of the 2010 NBA Finals (19 points and 18 rebounds, including nine on the offensive glass). He wasn't that dominating Thursday; he didn't have to be. He had more than enough help from his frontcourt partner, Bynum.

The Celtics will get to see the Lakers again next month but unless something weird happens before then, the same problem awaits; not just for Boston, but for most everyone else. Gasol and Bynum are still too tall.

Longtime Celtics writer Peter May is a frequent contributor to ESPNBoston.com.

Peter May

Celtics reporter, ESPNBoston.com

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