When the final buzzer sounds at the end of the Lakers/Celtics game tonight in Boston, David Stern will not be handing out trophies. The season will not end. The outcome of this game has no bearing on the outcome of a game in June.
But it doesn’t feel that way, does it? The Lakers/Celtics rivalry does that to us here in Los Angeles. Just like it did to our fathers.
Lakers fans got a cathartic lift from the a big win at home over Boston on Christmas Day. Tonight’s game has the potential to be the reverse of that — there are bad omens surrounding the game like it was being played up the road in Salem.
First, the Celtics are rested while the Lakers played last night in Toronto, flew in red-eye to New York and did not get a good night’s sleep. This will be the Lakers fifth game in seven nights, and that is especially taxing on someone like Pau Gasol, who has seen his minutes jump to 43 a game since Bynum went down.
And then there is the lack of Bynum. Last year in the Finals, Paul Pierce and Rajon Rondo waltzed into the lane with impunity, the Lakers long but more finesse front line of Pau Gasol and Lamar Odom could not stop their scoring binges. Bynum changed that dynamic on Christmas day, but he won’t be able to do that from a seat on the bench tonight as his knee recovers. It falls back to Gasol and Odom.
This time around, the Lakers do have Trevor Ariza, who along with Kobe Bryant will cover Pierce (and maybe Rondo at key moments). And this time around the team will have a little more experience, maybe they are not the kind of team that let’s up ahead by 24 points now.
If the Lakers are going to win this, they will have to do what got them that 24-point lead last year and has them with the best offense in the NBA this year — crisp passing, lots of player movement in the offense and unselfish play. The Gasol & Kobe show of the last two night was good enough to beat the Knicks and Raptors, but this is a different animal.
Who knows if they can do that tonight? Who knows if they could have done it with Bynum? Tonight (and the Cavaliers game on Sunday) are certainly nice regular-season tests, nice measuring sticks.
But this is not the Finals. Even if it feels like it at times.