Last year’s Lakers would not have won this game.
Boston was physical, but this time the Lakers pushed back. The Celtic crowd was loud, chanting “Beat L.A.” long before the opening tip, the Lakers turned a deaf ear. Kevin Garnett is the heart of their defense and Lamar Odom went right at him in the second half and fouled him out.
There are no easy wins in Boston, so this one had to go to overtime, where the Lakers proved that even without Andrew Bynum they are gritty, tough and not the team that lost so badly in this building to end last season. Pau Gasol blocked a Ray Allen three pointer at the buzzer and the Lakers win 110-109. The Lakers are now 40-9 on the season, the best record in the NBA.
“I think the growth that we had from last year to this year, when they went on those 8-0 runs we kept our poise, last year 8-0 runs turned into a 15-2 run,” Kobe Bryant said afterwards. “That is something that we couldn’t weather and I think we’ve grown tremendously in our execution and our poise.”
Last season’s Lakers would not have won a game like this where they came in with so many excuses to lose. No Andrew Bynum. Second night of back-to-back games. Fifth game in seven nights. And a team on a 12-game winning streak that wanted revenge for a Christmas day loss.
And the Lakers played far from their best game of this season. Kobe Bryant had a tough night shooting, hitting just 10 of 29 attempts. As a team the Lakers made 17 of 29 free throws (58.6%). Trevor Ariza had a very ineffective game, shooting just 1 of 5 in 11 minutes of play.
But down the stretch, they did all those things right. Kobe hit three fourth-quarter three-pointers right in Paul Pierce’s face that were key. Lamar Odom sank two free throws to give the Lakers the final margin of victory. Luke Walton, long maligned for his defense, stepped up on Paul Pierce in key stretches of the fourth quarter and overtime and held last season’s Final MVP in check.
When the game got tight at the end, it was the Celtics that struggled to execute and the Lakers looked like champions. Kobe led the way with 26 points, Pau Gasol added 24 and 14 rebounds. Lamar Odom finished with 20 and got to the line 11 times.
The other thing that had to make Lakers fans happy was signs of real toughness. At times the game more than the feeling of a chippy Boston Bruins vs. Los Angeles Kings game, with physical play and everything short of the gloves being dropped.
Kevin Garnett tried to intimidate and Lamar Odom got in his face. Rajon Rondo was talking until Kobe made him feel small That kind of instigation and physicality is what the Celtics use to throw off teams, but tonight the Lakers pushed back. They were just as tough, and that was without Bynum in the lineup.
This is not a win in June, it was technically just one of 82. But it didn’t feel like February in Boston with the crowd and the team. And the Lakers sent a clear message this is a new season.