1. Lakers Show Celtics What They Have Learned
LOS ANGELES -- Yes, it means more against the Boston Celtics. Nothing to do with Bird, Russell, Hondo or anyone else you'd find on ESPN Classic. This is about scoring 102 points right out of the gate against the 2010 Celtics, a team that yielded triple digits about once a series in these playoffs. This was the Los Angeles Lakers using Game 1 to declare that these NBA Finals will be played on their terms. Given the stakes, the opponent and, yes, the history (recent edition) this 102-89 victory ranks as the most impressive Lakers playoff game of the season.
In the two years since they last met in the Finals it seems the Celtics have aged while the Lakers matured.
The Lakers all said the beatdown the Celtics gave them in 2008 gave them the drive to get the championship in 2009. I asked Kobe Bryant before the series what they took from beating Orlando.
"Just the poise," he replied. "The poise of playing through [adversity] and getting to our ultimate goal, that's something we've carried with us. You don't see us get rattled by anything."
Poise. The perfect word to describe the Lakers Thursday night. While the Celtics got bent when calls didn't go their way, Pau Gasol reacted to a couple of fouls whistled on him with that same disbelieving smirk flashed by Armando Galarraga when the umpire cost him a perfect game. Nor did he get out of character and flex after dunks or yell in Kevin Garnett's face. He made his point with a 23-point, 14-rebound stat line.
"It was important just to play hard, be aggressive and help as much as possible out there," Gasol said. "That was my mindset tonight. There was no statements to be made."
All of the eight men Phil Jackson called upon to play the bulk of the minutes were up to the challenge, whether it was Ron Artest getting all Greco-Roman with Paul Pierce in the opening minute or Gasol outplaying Garnett and even Jordan Farmar and Shannon Brown taking turns blowing past the immobile Michael Finley.
Bryant, of course, did what he's been doing. Kobe scoring 30 points is as regular a part of these playoffs as those Auto-Tuned commercials. He had 30 more on Thursday, even if it took him a 3-pointer on the final possession of an already-decided game to get there. But the Lakers deserved to have the honor of breaking the century mark against Boston, given how hard it's been to achieve lately. More impressively, they had 84 points through three quarters against a team that yielded 86 points or less in seven games this postseason.
"That was surprising," Bryant said. "That's not something we were hanging our hats on, to score 100 points. We hang our hats on defending and rebounding."
They did plenty of that as well, outrebounding Boston 42-31 and holding the Celtics without a single second-chance point. Whenever the Celtics did manage an offensive rebound or a close-range shot it seemed as if the Lakers blocked the attempt, whether it was Bryant elevating to swat a Tony Allen dunk try or Artest blocking a Glen Davis shot, leading to a Gasol fast-break dunk while Artest turned and stared into the crowd.
Artest made his mark early, when he and Pierce wrestled each other to the ground (Pierce went for the pin) and received double-technical fouls. Artest admitted "At that point I probably was a little emotional," but he quickly calmed down and maintained his job duties, holding Pierce to 11 points through the first three quarters.
The Lakers got more of Ron the defender than Ron the agitator. They got 10 points and 6 rebounds from Andrew Bynum, which were 10 more points and 6 more rebounds than he was able to contribute in the 2008 Finals when he was injured.
"Guys chipped in at different times, helped us out," Phil Jackson said. "I was particularly happy about [Bynum] being able to play the minutes he was able to play tonight and support us because of foul trouble that Lamar got in."
The Lakers were so dominant that Odom's five measly points weren't an issue. That's because they got out of the triangle offense and focused on using high-low passing to get the ball inside from the outset. Their shot chart was clustered in one area, like the cell phone ads mocking the competition's coverage zones. They scored 48 points in the paint and attempted only 10 3-pointers, far from the 3-happy group that jacked up more than 30 on multiple occasions in the playoffs.
It's as if they're finally comprehending the message about what's their best method of winning games. The Lakers had the better game plan and now the onus is on the Celtics to make the strategic adjustments, while their bodies have to adjust to less time off between games as the series progresses.
It's too early for the Lakers to plan a parade, even if Jackson has gone on to win the previous 47 times he won the series opener.
The whole emphasis from the Lakers in the buildup has been that this series isn't about history. Their debut performance, however, did contain at least one nod to the past.
"They were ready," Magic Johnson said as we walked out of the arena. "Just like the old days."
J.A. Adande is a regular contributor to the Daily Dime.
2. Lakers' Bench Comes Up Big
LOS ANGELES -- It was but one first-half stretch in a game that was decided largely by a run after the break, but it was a telling one that revealed how much more prepared and focused the Lakers were for Game 1 than the Celtics.
For nearly the entire first half, the Lakers used lineups that no self-respecting L.A. fan would ever have expected to see together on the court in an NBA Finals game. Sasha Vujacic the first sub off the bench two minutes into the game? Luke Walton and Shannon Brown manning the wings together? Jordan Farmar and Derek Fisher in the same backcourt?
It all happened, as L.A. had to go 10 deep in the first quarter for the first time in memory. With sixth man Lamar Odom picking up three quick fouls and playing only 5:43 in the first half, L.A.'s "7 through 10" players -- Farmar, Walton, Vujacic and Brown -- played 32:08 of the first half.
On paper, this should have been a huge advantage for Boston, as the Lakers' bench after Odom has been an open sore for much of the season. And it's not as if L.A.'s second group dominated. But while Brown (six points on 3-of-4 shooting) was the only one of the group to shine individually, collectively the reserves held down the fort well enough for the Lakers to take a nine-point lead into halftime, setting the stage for Kobe Bryant's third-quarter explosion that put the game out of the reach.
"Their bench outplayed our bench," said Celtics coach Doc Rivers, and given Odom's struggles (five points in 21 minutes) he clearly meant the other guys.
Vujacic had to hold down the fort in the backcourt from the 9:57 mark of the first to the 2:49 mark, as Derek Fisher picked up two quick fouls and the Lakers didn't want to match up small. L.A. led by two at the time and was tied when he checked out -- a victory of sorts for the Lakers.
Vujacic checked out at that point, but even deeper subs came in. Fouls and the need for substitutions combined to leave L.A. playing a bizarre Farmar-Brown-Walton perimeter trio -- one that played 45 minutes together the entire season.
"We had to match up with a small guard unit.," said Lakers coach Phil Jackson. "They came out with Robinson and Rondo, obviously they tried to energize their game a little bit with pace. [They] put Allen some at 3 even, that sequence ... I think we kind of weathered the storm out. With the fouls on Ron Artest, Derek and Kobe, all of them in foul situations, we had to do that."
Yet the subs gave the Lakers a lead. Brown and Farmar each took advantage of Michael Finley's waning footspeed to blow past him for easy layups, while Brown added a tough bank shot at the end of the shot clock. And they were about the only players to take the floor all night who managed to avoid fouling -- the group had only three personals in its 32:08 first-half stint.
"Those guys came in and played big minutes," said Boston reserve Tony Allen, who had four points in 17 foul-plagued minutes. "They were in attack mode."
By the time the starters came back in, L.A.'s unusual perimeter trio had taken a tie game to a four-point lead, one the starters would expand with runs late in the second and early in the third quarter. Nonetheless, for the Lakers to emerge from that first-half stint four points ahead of where they started was a huge boon to L.A. Beyond Odom, the Lakers' bench shaped up as a glaring weakness in this series. Thursday, it was a source of strength.
John Hollinger is a regular contributor to the Daily Dime.
3. Foul Trouble Limited Ray Allen
LOS ANGELES -- Ray Allen walked out of the shower, took a sharp right and climbed over an ice bucket to reach for the clothes in his locker, then headed for the opposite corner of the room and a doorway leading to a private place to get dressed.
Problem was, a cameraman who stood at least 6-foot-10 was blocking his path, and nothing was going to make that cameraman move. After an uncomfortable minute, Allen finally squeezed past.
Disrespect? For Allen, it was not confined to what happened on the court.
Allen was the victim of several questionable foul calls, limiting him to 27 minutes of playing time in the Celtics' 102-89 loss to the Lakers in Game 1 of the NBA Finals. He attempted only two 3-pointers and missed both, scoring half of his 12 points from the free throw line.
"Two in the first [quarter] and I sit down, then three in the second, so it was like playing from behind the whole time with the foul trouble. Once I got into foul trouble, the trend of the game took shape, and once that happened it was like I was on the outside looking in," Allen said.
Allen would not say how many of the five fouls were legitimate, but the fifth foul -- coming just 31 seconds after he checked back in with 2:10 left in the third quarter -- appeared to be the most egregiously bad call of any of the ones that went against him.
On that play, Kobe Bryant shot a jumper from the free throw line, Bryant's hand barely nicking Allen's hand at the end of the shot release.
"Ray didn't have a chance to play tonight," Boston coach Doc Rivers said. "He was in foul trouble the entire game and it just took his rhythm off. He actually started out the game like he was going to have a big game, but then he picked up the fouls.
"We have to make an adjustment there for sure."
And since Rivers does not determine who the referees will be or how they will call any given game, it sure sounded a lot like a hint that someone other than Allen will get the defensive assignment on Bryant in Game 2.
Chris Sheridan is a regular contributor to the Daily Dime.
4. Daily Dime Live Recap
ESPN.com writers and TrueHoop Network bloggers chatted with fans and gave their in-game opinions throughout Thursday's game -- all in Daily Dime Live.
5. Extreme Behavior
Kobe Bryant, Lakers
Pau Gasol had a great game, but it was Bryant who set the tone for the Lakers by taking on the task of guarding Rajon Rondo. Kobe still did his thing on offense, finishing with 30 points, 7 rebounds and 6 assists.
Ray Allen, Celtics
If the Celtics are going to win Game 2 on Sunday, they can't afford to have their star guard in foul trouble the entire game. He went 3-for-8 from the field and finished with just 12 points.
QUOTE OF THE NIGHT
"We've got a lot of work ahead of us, but it's nice to know that [the 47-0 streak] is on our side."
-- Lakers coach Phil Jackson on the fact he has won 47 straight playoff series after winning Game 1.
6. NBA Video Channel
7. Time To Regroup
8. David Stern News Conference
LOS ANGELES -- Well, that was quite the Mr. Mirth act from commissioner David Stern, who by my count cracked no fewer than 10 jokes and quips over the course of his 30-minute news conference Thursday prior to Game 1 of the NBA Finals.
If you missed it, you might have missed the last chance to see Easy Dave in action.
Because a year from now when the commissioner takes the podium prior to the Finals, Dark Dave will be the picture of doom and gloom as he tries to sell everyone on the idea that the NBA's economic model is broken, and the only way to fix it is through a lockout.
That's going to be a tough one to sell to the basketball viewing public, but Stern is determined to go down that road. And there will be very little levity when the subject turns to hammering out a deal with players' union director Billy Hunter, who recently said the commissioner's claim that the league is losing $400 million annually is "baloney."
"I grew up at Stern's delicatessen. He has his meat wrong," quipped Stern, who actually did work at his family's deli when he was a youngster.
The union has been hinting that the league's losses are actually only a small fraction of the $400 million figure that Stern was throwing around until mid-April, when he modified it to $375-$380 million.
Furthermore, the union isn't buying the commissioner's argument that the collective bargaining agreement is not working and needs to be completely overhauled. On the contrary, the union claims the current labor agreement is doing exactly what the owners wanted it to do, drastically reducing the amount of money committed to long-term contracts. (Case in point: Only one player, Anderson Varejao, signed last summer for six seasons -- the longest contract allowable under the current system.)
Players have already been told in meetings with union officials to save their money in anticipation of a lockout in July 2011, and it is fair to say that 95 percent of the people associated with the league -- from agents to general managers to scouts to marketing reps -- believe a long work stoppage is a fait accompli.
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9. Celtics Lose Battle Of Paint
ESPN The Magazine
Not with Rajon Rondo having a power forward's mentality when it comes to rebounding. Not with Big Bad Sheed owning as much street cred as anyone who's graced the league over the past 15 years. Not with Glen Davis having the skills and physique of a defensive end.
So we won't go overboard and attach the dreaded "S-word'' to the Boston Celtics. But know this: In Thursday's 102-89 loss to the Los Angeles Lakers, the Celtics certainly looked soft.
For all the talk about the delicate Lakers, all the chatter about their fairly peaceful stroll through the finesse-riddled Western Conference, all the questions about the tall, lean Spanish guy (because, you know, Europeans haven't always displayed the fortitude necessary to capture titles), it was the Celtics who appeared a bit dainty in Game 1 of the NBA Finals.
"I thought the Lakers were clearly the more physical team today,'' Celtics coach Doc Rivers said. "I thought they were more aggressive. I thought they attacked us the entire night. I didn't think we handled it very well. They killed us on the glass.''
As decisive as that quote was, it was an understatement. Every one of the following statistics has an element of pushing, shoving and hustling to it, and every one of them went the Lakers' way:
Second-chance points: Lakers 16, Celtics 0.
Points in the paint: Lakers 48, Celtics 30.
Rebounds: Lakers 42, Celtics 31.
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