On paper this was a battle of seven seeds, a couple teams just a few games over .500 with a lot of potential but not really contenders.
But once the ball went up, it felt like it was the 2010 NBA finals again. Or maybe the 2008 finals. Or 1985. Or 1969.
Rivalries are what make sports fun and there was some real fire and some good old-fashioned dislike between the Lakers and Celtics on a Thursday night in February. That made for an entertaining game that was close the whole way, went into overtime — and down to a blocked shot in the final second of overtime — as the Lakers get out of Boston with an 88-87 win.
Let’s be honest here, it may have felt like 2008, but the level of play was nowhere near NBA finals level. Or even good playoff ball. Both teams were sloppy in their execution, particularly late in the contest. The best example was the Celtics had a chance for one play, one shot to get the win on the last play of regulation. They ran a Boston staple where Paul Pierce has the ball, Ray Allen comes up like he’s setting a high screen then slips the screen and slides out for a jumper — and it worked, both defenders went with Pierce. And he never made the pass. Allen stood there open. Instead the result was Mickael Pietrus having to come out and help Pierce, then take a 30-footer at the buzzer.
The difference in this game was the Lakers size — they made a point of pounding the ball inside all night, crashing the boards hard and taking advantage of their skill and size advantages. In the first half, 22 of the Lakers 33 shot attempts came from Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum.
Gasol responded to being snubbed for the All-Star Game by putting up 25 points on 12-20 shooting, plus grabbing 14 boards and having the game-winning block on an attempted Allen putback of a Pierce miss. Andrew Bynum (who will start in the All-Star Game) had 16 points — including the overtime tip-in putback that won the game — plus 17 rebounds and three blocked shots.
Kobe Bryant was Kobe, distributing early, putting on a display of impressive footwork in the midpost, knocking down jumpers and finishing with 27 points.
You know those three will be there most nights, but the Lakers got a solid contribution out of Matt Barnes as well. As for the point guard spot… let’s just say Derrick Fisher was so bad (0-7 shooting and getting abused on defense) that Steve Blake, in his first game back from injury, closed out the game. And Blake wasn’t good. The Lakers were 1-15 from three — if they can’t make teams pay for collapsing down on their big men they are in a lot of trouble come the playoffs.
Boston played good defense in this one — that has been their hallmark in winning five straight — but when faced with another good defensive team could not generate enough offense to get the win. They settled and shot just 39.2 percent on the night and only got to the free throw line five times. Ray Allen had 22 points, Pierce 18 but needed 18 shots to get there.
In the end, it may not have been pretty but it was fun. We fans got some free basketball in overtime, some dramatic plays from big stars, and some real passion. Rivalries are fun. Even on a random Thursday in February.