The Los Angeles Lakers headed into enemy territory on Thursday, traveling to Boston to take on their long time rival Celtics; a team with just as many issues as titles so far this season, which the Lakers understand all too well.
Looking to build upon the small glimpse of hope they have left for a playoff spot, Los Angeles were willing to work with anything to make a victory more probable. They got that directly from Dwight Howard, who finally decided that his sore shoulder was not enough to keep him from returning to the Lakers lineup after missing each of LA’s last three victories, as 20 minutes before tip off it was announced he would be back on the court.
Despite both teams losing important figures to major injuries before Thursday nights match up, the Boston Celtics were the team coming into the game with an over .500 record, and an even more impressive record at home. After Rajon Rondo suffered a torn ACL and all hopes, if any were even remaining, of Boston making the playoffs, their team banded together and won five of five, pushing their season record to 25-23.
The Lakers, who were without Pau Gasol due to a torn plantar fascia in his right foot, were in desperate need to discover the rhythm that the Celtics had achieved in their previous five games. Kobe Bryant has found success distributing the ball rather than looking for the plethora of shots he usually does, but big games from both Bryant and Dwight Howard are needed to slow down the Celtics momentum and push LA even closer to an over .500 record that they’ve been starving for.
Los Angeles didn’t have the start they were looking for, coming off the tip off slow and allowing Boston to take the first lead of the game with the help of a Paul Pierce basket. The Celtics looked like they were only going to push farther and farther ahead, but they continuously shot themselves in the foot by committing unnecessary fouls and sending the Lakers to the free throw line. This decision turned out to be not as bad as expected, however, as the Lakers only shot 5-12 from the line, a disastrous 41 percent.
Dwight Howard looked alert and hungry for the ball almost automatically, grabbing a few rebounds and showcasing his size in the paint. The Lakers look from the perimeter was a different story, especially defensively, as a missing Rondo was nothing to be excited about versus this energetic Boston team.
Paul Pierce continued to find no problem coming off of the screen and sinking the outside baskets, showing that their lack of Rondo in the perimeter means nothing to their offensive game. The absence of Gasol became clear within the final two minutes of the quarter, as Bryant was kept on the floor rather than taking a seat on the bench like he usually does to prepare for the second batch of 12 minutes. The Kobe Bryant that Lakers fans have seen in recent weeks seemed ancient history as the clock ran down, with Bryant taking multiple shots, and sinking them, rather than finding passes and increasing his own assist count.
The Lakers missed two of their field goal attempts and two free throw attempts from Steve Blake within the last minute of the quarter, and Boston finished ahead 27-23.
Kevin Garnett nailed a 17-foot jumper to give the Celtics their largest lead of the game at six within the first 30 seconds of the quarter, and it only went uphill for Boston from there. Garnett continued to find success from jumpers, and the Lakers giving away turnovers and not converting trips down the court into baskets only put the ball back in Garnett’s hands. Boston also took advantage of their ability to actually make free throws, moving towards the basket looking for contact to keep getting the whistle blown in their favor.
Antawn Jamison was a breath of fresh air for the Lakers offense, putting away five consecutive points. The Lakers defense continued to showcase a lack of discipline and hunger for the ball, and the Celtics forced a few turnovers to establish a comfortable lead before heading into the locker room. Steve Nash began finding his rhythm within the final five minutes of the half, shooting 3-5 including an uncontested three-pointer.
It continued to be the Kevin Garnett show in the TD Garden, as a jumper locked down the 25,000 career point for the future Hall of Fame inductee. Jeff Green and Jason Terry also added a few points to the Celtics growing lead, and L.A. couldn’t find any answers on either end of the court, missing seven consecutive shots just before the end of the half. Kobe Bryant was able to somewhat salvage a hideous first half by putting away an 18-foot jumped with seconds remaining, but the Lakers still had a lot to do in the second half, walking into the locker room behind Boston 44-58.
Los Angeles needs to wake up defensively if they have any hope of slowing down Boston in the second half, and needs to focus on making free throws, as they missed a whopping 10 of their 18 attempts from the line in contrast to the Celtics making 9-14.
The Lakers still were unable to find the answers to their defensive struggles as soon as the half started, allowing Kevin Garnett to score back to back buckets and keep the Celtics ahead. Turnovers became an issue for the Lakers early, handing Boston more fast break points and wide open three-pointers. Steve Nash continued to play with composure and didn’t rush into any foolish shots unlike the rest of his roster, calmly putting up a two point jumper to cut the Celtics lead to 11.
A rough foul by Dwight Howard on Avery Bradley forced Howard to take a seat on the bench half way through the quarter, calling for better defense in the post as neither of the Lakers typical big men could take the court. The Lakers found themselves isolating Bryant and not looking toward anyone else to put away baskets, while the Celtics were giving the ball to the open man and discovering that distribution was coming into their favor. Bryant had scored seven of the Lakers 12 points in the quarter with five minutes remaining in the third, and a lack of production from Metta World Peace only made matters worse.
World Peace scored his second field goal of the game to push the Lakers behind 61-72, but Paul Pierce went right down the other end of the court and answered with a bucket of his own. Pierce hit another fade away from the elbow less than 30 seconds later. Boston continued to kill Los Angeles in regards to ball movement and conversion of points on each trip down the court, while L.A. looked stiff with absolutely no flow or real desire to protect the ball.
The Celtics had their loud fan base behind them, and only continued twisted the knife in the already deceased Lakers defense. On a huge play to close out the third quarter, Jeff Green put away a dunk off of a fast break, then immediately went down the other end of the floor and blocked what looked like an easy layup by Jamison. Pierce then brought the house down with a 25-foot three-point jumper, increasing Boston’s lead to 26, as they closed out the quarter ahead 95-69.
Although it looked as if things couldn’t get worse for the Lakers, the Celtics proved that it could. The Celtics had better statistics in every aspect on the game, even destroying L.A. in fast break points with 17 in comparison to the Lakers two. Metta World Peace tried driving into the paint to put up easy layups, but on multiple attempts found it difficult for the ball to even make contact with the backboard.
Jeff Green and Avery Bradley paved the way for the Celtics to rout the Lakers in the second half, creating trips to the line and putting away big buckets while the Lakers starters were unable to compete. Steve Nash, Antawn Jamison and Kobe Bryant were the only real glimpses of light the Lakers had to offer in Boston, with Earl Clark even finding some spots of greatness. A poor performance by World Peace and Jodie Meeks only added to the previous issues stemmed from a missing Pau Gasol. An uninspired performance by the Lakers allowed the Celtics to snap their three game win streak, and Boston walked away with an easy win 116-95.
With Gasol out for the season things might get tricky for the Lakers. But they certainly don’t have a lot of time to digest the loss, as they’re back in action on Friday night in Charlotte.