Trust me, this game meant a lot more to the Lakers than it did to the Celtics.
Just as Boston received nothing of value for winning 19 consecutive games and embarking on the best 29-game start in NBA history, neither do the Lakers receive any trophies or other meaningful accolades for stopping it with a 92-83 victory Thursday.
Sure, the Lakers can build off a game in which they (finally) defended for 48 minutes and got key contributions from Andrew Bynum (who missed last year's Finals loss to Boston with an injury) and Pau Gasol (who was too often missing in key moments against the Celtics last June). But while they may not realize it now, the Lakers' stirring performance against the defending champs Thursday -- by far the most anticipated game of the NBA season to date -- will refocus the Celtics and alleviate the unnecessary pressure of the streak.
It was tied for the fourth-longest winning streak in NBA history -- a noteworthy accomplishment, and one that will mean diddly squat come June. Had the Celtics won Thursday, their efforts to repeat as champions would've been unnecessarily sidetracked by ever more sweltering national attention on something that ultimately means nothing. As Kevin Garnett said Tuesday night after the Celtics beat the Sixers for their 19th straight win, all of these records and milestones are nothing but steam that will simply evaporate if Boston doesn't win the title.
Imagine the distraction of going to Portland on Tuesday with the possibility of passing the 2007-08 Rockets for the second-longest winning streak in NBA history (23). Then, with victories over Washington, New York, and Charlotte, the streak would've been at 26 when Boston hosted the Rockets on Jan. 7. If they won, they would've been at 27 when they visited Cleveland on Jan. 9 -- inching ever closer to the longest winning streak in NBA history, 33, by the 1971-72 Lakers.
And so on, and so on. The Celtics should be glad it's over. Now they can just continue doing what they've been doing. Now they can take an unbiased look at their team and start thinking about what, if anything, needs to be added before the Feb. 19 trade deadline.
They're still on pace with the 1995-96 Bulls, whose 72-10 record was the best in NBA history. They still have a shot at surpassing the Celtics' franchise record of 68 victories, set in 1972-73. But that record, too, means little; the '72-'73 Celtics lost to the Knicks in the Eastern Conference Finals.
If anything, this loss exploited the Celtics' bench, which got outplayed by the Lakers' reserves. It showed that Doc Rivers will have to come up with an answer if the Lakers choose to close games in June with Bynum and Gasol on the floor at the same time. If Gasol makes big shots -- and he made a couple down the stretch Thursday, and also blocked a 3-point attempt by Ray Allen as the Celtics were trying to cut it to 88-86 with 1:21 left -- it's a formidable matchup problem for Boston. Gasol's block resulted in a five-point swing as Trevor Ariza got free for a dunk that made it 90-83 with 1:10 left.
But this game, beamed to our TV sets on Christmas Day, also proved something else. It proved something else to me, anyway. It proved that Lakers-Celtics in the Finals again wouldn't be as repetitious and boring as I thought it would be. If it's anything like Thursday, then we've all been reminded how much we have to look forward to in June.