The Lakers were playing host to the Celtics on Sunday, looking to revamp their slouching season and refocus on winning games to finally prove that they are a serious playoff team.
With both players and coaches verbally expressing their confusion towards Kobe’s recent shot selection, the Lakers have looked far from how they were playing exactly a year ago, when they came out of the All-Star break to win 17 of their 18 games. Although L.A. can boast about having a more impressive record as they enter the game today, the Celtics have won six of their last seven games, and Rajon Rondo continues to be impressive and a lot to handle throughout the season.
The Lakers snapped their embarrassing two game losing streak with a win over the Love-less Timberwolves on Friday, but in order for the Lakers to beat their rivals at the Staples Center, they were needing to rediscover what could bring back the motivation and teamwork that has made them so successful in the past years, and to focus on the game more than the trade rumors and drama buzzing outside of it. They also needed to dominate Boston in regards to size, with the combination of Gasol and Bynum down low always being a key to success rather than contested outside shots from Kobe Bryant.
The Lakers two big men got the first four points of the game, with a Bynum slam dunk followed by a Gasol jumper putting the home side ahead early. The Celtics were unimpressive offensively, giving up turnovers and were defensively unable to compete with the Lakers’ good ball movement. Metta World Peace was even able to drain a three over Boston’s slow-opening defense. Kevin Garnett finally got his side of the board with consecutive baskets, and this quickly turned the tables of the game as the Lakers began passing poorly and slacking on defense giving the Celtics an opportunity to come right back into the game.
Rondo’s athleticism allowed him to excel past the over-confident Lakers, who had their seven point lead snapped to a weak two, forcing a Los Angeles time out. With the Celtics’ point-guard continuing to prove that he is a threat with both his shooting and passing games, the Lakers had to search for a defensive answer if they wanted to keep him controlled throughout the rest of the game. L.A. had six turnovers within the first eight minutes of the quarter, and a Pietrus three-pointer tied the game for the first time.
The Lakers bench was looking to make a positive impression as they entered the game, and Troy Murphy led the way when he drained a three to retake the lead. Kobe Bryant took offensive control as the clock winded down to close out the quarter, and an impressive play from Matt Barnes gave the Lakers a comfortable-enough lead as they entered the second quarter. The Celtics were unable to contend with Los Angeles, and the score proved just that with the Lakers closing out the quarter on a 12-2 run to finish out the period up 21-14.
The Celtics entered the second quarter with intensified defense, double teaming Andrew Bynum and forcing the Lakers to run down their shot-clock. The Lakers bench accounted for both of their opening baskets of the quarter, with Steve Blake and Andrew Goudelock combining for their first four points of the quarter. Andrew Bynum began to surge through the visitors’ defense, dominating the paint, forcing the pick-and-roll down low, and eventually scoring six points in a row. The Celtics defense began to triple-team Bynum down low, which gave him the opportunity to feed Goudelock from the three-point line who drained the uncontested 26-foot jumper.
The Celtics were at one point 10-32 from the field and unable to find any offensive rhythm as the home side continued to drill the paint taking a farther and farther lead. Rajon Rondo and Ray Allen began ruling their offensive end of the court, sparking their team to go on a 10-2 run. Kobe Bryant picked up a technical foul in the closing five minutes of the quarter, giving the Celtic’s an even easier opportunity to get themselves back into the contest. Bynum continued to be triple teamed in the paint, and L.A. began looking to make baskets from the free throw line instead of trying to retake head to head control during game play. A few losses of concentration from the Lakers, especially Bryant, led to silly turnovers and the Celtics only trailing by three.
Lakers fans had to hold their breath with a little over 20 seconds remaining in the quarter, as Bynum went limping to the locker room early just before half time. Kobe Bryant faked and hit a beautiful three pointer to give L.A. a small cushion, but Rajon Rondo fired right back with a buzzer beater three on the other end of the court. The Lakers lead had disappeared as both teams headed to the locker room, with the Celtics trailing the home side 42-44.
The Lakers opened up the second half at a slow pace, and the Celtics captured the lead with back to back baskets after a forced turnover to gain a three point lead. Boston continued to surge past the Lakers, and Metta World Peace finally got his teams offense going with a three-pointer. A tussle between World Peace, Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce ensued underneath the Lakers’ bucket with fouls handed out as a result, sparking energy back into the fans inside of Staples Center. Another three from World Peace put the lead back in the Lakers hands, and we finally had a game on our hands.
Metta World Peace continued to prove he was a massive part to the Lakers game whenever they face Boston, getting steals and hitting baskets to continue putting the Lakers on top. With 10 points in the first seven minutes of the third quarter, Boston continued to have nothing to answer World Peace’s random spark of energy. All of the Lakers baskets for the next few minutes were produced from the free throw line, and Andrew Bynum began to find his groove again to hit another bucket in the paint. Ray Allen and Rajon Rondo offensively kept the Celtics nipping at Los Angeles’ heels, moving the ball around and once again retaking the lead, proving this game was going to be decided within the final quarter of the match up.
World Peace closed out the quarter with 13 points, and the Lakers were able to pull out with a small lead at the end of the third quarter. They entered the final quarter against Boston ahead 72-70.
The Lakers quickly took a four point lead as they entered the closing quarter, with Gasol hitting a slam off of a Kobe Bryant pass. He immediately blocked Dooling’s layup attempt on the other end of the court, proving that all of the trade rumors surrounding Gasol at the current moment in time had no phase on how he wanted to play this game. A bad pass from Gasol to Bynum produced turnover number 17 for Los Angeles, showcasing that the Lakers needed to take better care of the ball in the closing minutes if they wanted a season sweep of the Celtics.
L.A. started giving up poor fouls and losing the ball while they were on offense, and were unable to hit a basket for about four minutes. Andrew Bynum and Matt Barnes tied the game back up at 78 with back to back buckets, and Ray Allen put control back in the Celtics’ hands with another three pointer to force another L.A. time out. Kobe Bryant came out of the time out on fire, automatically draining a big three pointer and hitting a duplicate three on his next trip down the court. Unfortunately, Brandon Bass was there to answer consecutively, and Kevin Garnett hit a buzzer beating jumper to keep Boston ahead by one.
Metta World Peace continued to make the same impact he had in the third quarter in the closing minutes of the game, getting himself to the line and shutting down the Celtics’ offensive opportunities. Derek Fisher stepped up and proved why he was still getting minutes in close games such as this, collecting his rebound off of a missed three-pointer and working to get himself to the free throw line to drain two points. The game was tied at 89 with a little over three and a half minutes remaining in the fourth.
Ray Allen gave the Celtics a five point lead with another three-pointer, their largest of the game. Kobe Bryant was able to answer with a 10 point jumper, and then produced a beautiful assist to Andrew Bynum who smashed it home making it a one point game with a minute and a half remaining. Both teams were out of fouls to give, and the Lakers were needing to shut down Ray Allen and Rajon Rondo defensively to walk away with the victory. Los Angeles retook the lead of the game with the help of Pau Gasol making a huge defensive rebound, and Kobe Bryant scoring a jumper on the opposite end of the floor to put themselves up one. Andrew Bynum blasted by the double team in the paint on their next offensive play to drill another two points home, and the Lakers were up with only fifteen seconds remaining. The Celtics missed multiple attempts in their last possession, and the Lakers were able to pull off the win over Boston 97-94.