Having not faced off since June 17, 2010 – or the night the Lakers capped off their 16th championship run, the Boston Celtics returned to Staples Center in search of avenging their game seven loss.
The Lakers, on the other hand, entered the game on the heels of an embarrassing home loss to the bottom-dwelling Sacramento Kings on Friday night, and they were looking to pick up a big win that would undoubtedly act as a momentum builder as the purple and gold move further into the second half of their regular season schedule.
While the recent playoff match ups and the years of storied history between the two teams already creating enough tension coming into the highly anticipated contest, the battle of two of the NBAs’ best carried even more weight, with former Lakers’ great, Shaquille O’Neal having become a member of the Celtics.
Donning their throwback jerseys, the Lakers took an early two-point lead after Andrew Bynum knocked down a pair of free throws. However, baskets from Paul Pierce and Ray Allen keyed an 8-2 run by the Celtics to give the green an 8-4 lead.
Kobe Bryant halted Boston’s run by scoring the Lakers’ next five points to put the scoreboard at 10-9 in the Celtics’ favor. Unfortunately for the Lakers, Bryant would pick up his second foul with 6:46 remaining, forcing him to the bench and the Lakers proceded to undergo a scoring drought, and they saw Boston jump out to a seven-point lead.
Powered by five quick points from Bynum a late-quarter run, the Lakers were able to cut into the Celtics’ lead and after the first 12 minutes of play, Boston’s lead was down to one, 22-21.
A strong move inside by Lamar Odom gave the Lakers a 23-22 lead 20 seconds into the second period, but back-to-back triples by Nate Robinson and Allen put the Celtics back on top, 28-23.
The Lakers’ defense could not seem to stop the Celtics from scoring, and Boston used a 12-2 run over a two-minute span to take a nine-point lead over the defending champs.
A 10-foot basket by Steve Blake ended the Celtics’ run, but the two teams continued to trade baskets and Boston built their lead up to as much as nine.
However, similar to the end of the first period, the Lakers would end the second quarter on a run of their own, and eight points from Bryant, sparked a 13-2 run to put the Lakers on top, 44-42.
Bryant continued to power the Lakers’ offense and he scored 17 of his 22 first-half points in the second period to give the Lakers a 54-48 lead.
In an uncommon sequence of events, Boston’s Glene Davis was fouled by Odom on a half-court attempt as time expired and he hit two of three at the charity stripe to end the half with the Lakers holding the advantage, 54-50.
Picking up where he left off in the first half, Bryant knocked down a 3-pointer to put the Lakers up seven, but the Celtics refused to be pushed under the table.
Pierce kept Boston within striking distance by scoring 14 of the team’s next 18 points, and he helped the Celtics take back the lead, which was extended to six, 68-62, with 5:18 remaining.
Bynum and Derek Fisher combine for five points over a one minute span to bring the Lakers within three, 70-67. Allen knocked down a two-point basket to put the Celtics back up by three, but Odom found a wide-open Bryant, who nailed a trey to cut Boston’s lead to two, 72-70.
A turnaround jumper by Bryant following a bucket by Garnett brought the Celtics lead down to two again, however, Robinson sank a contested 3-pointer from the corner to give the Celtics a five point lead heading into the fourth and final period.
Steve Blake pulled the Lakers within three to start the final 12 minutes of play, but the Celtics slowly began to pull away from the defending champs.
Bryant scored seven straight points for the Lakers, but it was not enough to overcome Boston’s variety on offense. With 4:03 remaining, Garnett scored down low to give the Celtics an 11-point advantage.
Bryant scored his 39th point of the game to cut the Lakers’ deficit to single-digits, but Allen drilled a contested 3-pointer, putting the Celtics up by 12.
Refusing to give up, Bryant came down again and scored his 41st points of the game, but Allen’s sweet-shooting stroke prevailed yet again and a long two extended Boston’s lead back to 12.
Despite Bryant’s 41 points, the Lakers were not able to mount a late-game comeback and the Celtics came out victorious, 109-96.
The Celtics were on fire the entire night, and they shot 60.3 percent for the game, which proved to be too much for the Lakers, who fell to 33-15 on the season as the Celtics improved to 36-11.
Pierce paced the Celtics’ offense with 32 points on 11-18 shooting and Rajon Rondo finished with 10 points and 16 assists.
Despite the loss, Bryant surpassed yet another scoring milestone in the contest – amassing 27,000 points for his career on a 3-pointer late in the third period.