Tag:Celtics-Lakers
Posted on: February 8, 2011 1:12 am
Edited on: February 8, 2011 1:35 am
 

Defense sets the tone as Lakers back on track

Following disappointing losses to the Celtics and Spurs, the Lakers have won two straight after downing Memphis in an ugly slobber-knocker. 
Posted by Matt Moore




It's pretty simple, really, and that's what makes it so frustrating. When the Los Angeles Lakers execute with focus and intensity, they win. That may sound like it could be true for any team in the National Basketball Association, but it's not.  Many teams give the good effort but don't have the talent, don't have the size, don't have the experience. Nowhere was that more evident than in the Lakers' 93-84 slugfest win over Memphis to put the Lakers back on a winning streak headed into Thursday's rematch with Boston. 

Before the game, Phil Jackson commented that despite L.A. having lost the last two to this upstart Grizzlies team, that the key to beating Memphis wasn't about Memphis at all. 

"I'm not so much concerned about Memphis," Jackson said, "as I am concerned about us." 

Nothing new for Jackson, who thrives on undermining opponents and focusing on being the most talented team in basketball, which he's almost always coaching. And after the Lakers bludgeoned the Grizzlies' frontline, Jackson commented that controlling the tempo was a key to taking control of the game after a Grizzlies run in the third quarter. It's really that simple. The Lakers are a superior team, and when they focus, and execute, there's not a team in the league outside of Boston who can stop them. 

Funny, the Lakers seem to be headed to face that test back on the right track.  After disappointing losses to Sacramento, Boston, and San Antonio, the Lakers have won two in a row and seem to be playing with more cohesion, especially defensively. But the biggest advantage is still their team makeup, which features superb talent wrapped in size and length that's nearly impossible to combat for 48 minutes. 

Versus the previous losses where Kobe Bryant took over the lion's share of the offense and continued to force things, this win featured equal contributions from the entire Lakers' arsenal. But really? It was the three-headed monster of Lamar Odom, Pau Gasol, and Andrew Bynum, a 20'10'' beast that when functioning, swallows opponents alive. Odom, who has been the most consistent Laker this season (if you thought you'd ever say that sentence out loud, please buy yourself an ice cream cone), was huge against Memphis with 15 points, 11 rebounds, 2 assists, 3 blocks, and zero turnovers. It was his three-point play late in the fourth that put the game out of reach for good. 

Jackson commented post game that he had actually decided to draw up a play for Odom instead of just having the ball given to Kobe Bryant and the Lakers watching him dribble around. After the play resulted in a three-point play, Odom remarked that they should draw that play up more, Jackson remarked, laughing. But it cuts to the center of the Lakers' problems this season, and why Jackson has remained calm, cool, and collected throughout the struggle. When they execute, when they have the energy, they are the most talented team in basketball. And no one can match up with their size and length, let alone their versatility. 

Lamar Odom said after the game, however, that it's not their size that really makes the Lakers so tough. 

"We've got so many different lineups we can play, so many guys who can play different positions. The strength of our team is our depth." 

Against the Grizzlies, that was apparent, as the combinations Lionel Hollins employed never seemed to spark a run, and the Lakers used varying combinations to constantly put the Grizzlies off-balance. For example, Pau Gasol started on, and played primarily against Zach Randolph, and Gasol's gangly reach kept the normally surefire offense or Randolph at bay, forcing a dreadful 2-14 performance that sealed Memphis' fate. You will not beat L.A. if you do not get frontcourt scoring, and the Lakers' three-headed beast outscored Randolph, Rudy Gay, and Marc Gasol 43-36, and that's before you factor in an aggressive Kobe Bryant. 

Perhaps most pertinent heading into the more hyped game Thursday was that the Lakers showed a real sense of toughness in a gritty win. There was no flashy burst of offense in this one. It was messy, ugly, and brutal. The Lakers out-muscled and out-worked the Grizzlies at the defensive end.  Ron Artest took a shot to the mouth from Marc Gasol, but the Lakers' bigs spent the rest of the night bullying the younger Gasol and company. 

The swagger is back, even as they have not poured in a consistent blowout effort yet. It doesn't have to be. All this team has to do is play to a reasonable percentage of its potential and they'll be back vying for a top-two seed. And if they don't get it, that's fine, as long as they're in a position to execute as they did tonight. But don't expect the same kind of talkative swagger you expect from Boston about this "revenge game." When asked about what the Lakers hope to do against the Celtics, Jackson cracked that cocky smirk of his and said...

"Hopefully it's not going to snow and we won't get trapped in with the ice and we'll be fine." 

Same old Lakers.  Except this time, they seem ready to throw a few punches as well as those flashy smiles. 
*******************
Notes:
  • The crowd at FedEx Forum was split evenly between Grizzlies fans and Lakers fans (particularly Kobe Bryant fans as few of the other Lakers received genuine cheers).  The game had the feel of a neutral site game for both teams. 
  • Jackson said he had not yet showed the team tape from the Boston loss a little over a week ago. He planned to do that on the two-day break between games. 
  • Shannon Brown said that the Triangle forces the team concept on the Lakers, and eliminates the drive to get your stats. He also mentioned that his improved shooting wasn't on account of working with a shooting coach, but more reps inside the flow of an offense last summer. 
  • Bryant received treatment on an ankle sore after the game and was walking pretty gingerly in the locker room. 
  • After I promised not to ask Marc Gasol about his brother and the overhyped cliche-fest stories they're always billed around when these two teams meet, Gasol was appreciative, admitting that the questions were "getting a little old." As a younger brother, I completely understood. 
  • Jackson credited Ron Artest from walking away from the confrontation with Gasol, but in reality, it was a little overdramatic. It was an obvious accidental hit, and Artest seemed ready to detonate in a very Ron-Artest way before calming down and heading to the free throw line, bricking both free throws, and coming out to get treatment. Can't blame him for clanking those, though, considering the shot he took.
  • Speaking of clanging free throws, the Lakers missed as many free throws (14) as the Grizzlies hit. 
  • The Lakers refrain was pretty simple as to what won the game. Bryant, Odom, and Artest all said the same thing: the Lakers winning ways begin with defense. 
  • Snoop Dogg and Warren G were both in the house. If you have never seen Snoop Dogg interacting with SuperGrizz, the Grizzlies mascot in a superhero outfit, you have not truly experienced life. 
Posted on: January 28, 2011 2:56 pm
Edited on: January 30, 2011 3:20 am
 

Celtics at Lakers: What it means for Boston

What Sunday's Celtics-Lakers game means for the Boston Celtics in the first rematch since the 2010 Finals. 

Posted by Matt Moore



On Sunday, Boston travels to L.A. for Modern Celtics-Lakers XX.  The 20th time these two have met since the 07-08 season (twice in the regular season for three years, plus 13 playoff games) will still represent what many feel is a clash of the two best teams in basketball currently, as well as the resumption of the oldest and greatest rivalry the sport has ever known. With Los Angeles at 33-13 and the Celtics 35-10, the two look every bit ready to see each other once more in the Finals, even with challengers like San Antonio and Miami in their path. 

This rivalry extends beyond the history and legacies of their franchises, though. There's a genuine dislike between the two teams, even if they share a mutual respect.  The Celtics' brutally tough, bullying defense and marksman like precision clashes organically with the Lakers' smooth ball movement and overpowering height and athleticism run through the Triangle.  Doc Rivers' explosive motivational coaching approach runs in contrast to Phil Jackson's zen-like trust in his players and press-conference tweaking.  And at the end of it, they just don't like one another. 

But as the two meet in the rare regular season game that actually does seem to matter (although afterward the loser will predictably dismiss such claims), what does this matchup actually mean for Boston? 

Just for Kicks

Kevin Garnett has never been one to back down from an opportunity for dramatics. As much as his reputation is for visceral toughness and unbridled intensity, he is also a showman.  While the legitimacy of his stanchion-smashing, cobra-weaving, "Anything is possible" lunacy is up for debate, he does know how to send a message in outright terms. Nothing proves that like the shoes it was announced Garnett would be wearing for the game. Yes, his shoes. Have a look, courtesy of Nice Kicks /Aaron Knows and The Basketball Jones :




On the tongue there? That's the Celtics all time record against the Lakers, 152-120. The shoe is delicately titled "Beat L.A.."  Kevin Garnett had shoes produced for one game.  If that doesn't serve as proof of Garnett's intentions in this game, nothing will. It's just his feet, but in basketball terms, that's as good as wearing a T-shirt that reads "I plan on kicking your face in because that's what my team does to your team."  It's an outright signal of the Celtics' entire attitude, which isn't just "We're going to win" but "We're going to win because we're better than you, our franchise is better than you, and our collective being in every way is superior to yours."

It's why the Celtics don't really respect Orlando, nor do they show real signs of respect for anyone. It's part of their own personal code of conduct. But it's amped to another level with L.A. That will always be part of it as the players seek to carry on the legacy of the game built into the rivalry. But it's even more prevalent because of how things were the last time these two stepped on a court together. 

Revenge and the Art of Maniacal Maintenance

Losing to the Lakers in the Finals was devastating for the Celtics. Losing a championship series is hard for any player, but these are the Celtics, a group of veterans trying to make good on promises to themselves as well as their fans that they would collect multiple rings once among players of their caliber. Beyond that, though, losing to L.A. creates a sense of failure beyond just disappointment. You've let down the players that came before you, the players who managed to beat the Lakers, who protected that legacy (despite the Lakers having won quite a few of their own throughout the years).  It's the darkest of all places, as Garnett told WEEI this fall about his mindset after Game 7: 
“Very dark, to be honest, dark. ‘Just leave me alone, let me be my myself. I don’t want to deal with anything right now. Let me just be in a dark place.’ Just the way I replay the game over and over in my mind, trying to get a resolution to some type of place to where you can settle with it. I never found it, but that’s what it is. I say it’s fuel to the fire. [Expletive? (Bleeped completely out] .“
via Sports Radio Interviews » Blog Archive » Kevin Garnett Goes To A Dark Place In The Off-Season .

Paul Pierce wasn't in a great place afterward either, when WEEI spoke to him about it: 
How long does it take a competitive person like you to get over a seventh-game loss in the NBA (Finals)? A week? A month? Ever?

“I still haven’t gotten over it. It’s tough. Because you envision back, and say, ‘If we could have done this different, that different in the game, it would have been a different outcome.’ So, it’s hard. You think about the what ifs and all of that. I don’t think you ever forget it.”

What’s the process? Do you go in your bedroom for a couple of days and sleep, and then don’t shave for a while, or don’t bathe, and then finally come out of the shell?

“I didn’t talk to people for a long time. I didn’t watch any basketball for a long time. I sort of kind of did go into a shell. I didn’t want to leave the house. I didn’t even want to go out and eat for a while, because you just felt that bad about the loss. But then as I got back into the gym and working out, I just used it for motivation and just sort of loosened up from there.”
via Sports Radio Interviews » Blog Archive » Paul Pierce on Losing Game 7 .

This is just speculation, but I'm betting Glen Davis' reaction was to eat a muffin. Or a boar whole, or something. Regardless, things were pretty rough for the C's after that loss. 

Nothing will really provide the Celtics with a satisfied feeling of revenge short of winning the championship, preferably over the Lakers this spring.  But this game is a chance to send a message.  It's an opportunity to go into the Lakers' house and show them that they are still every bit as tough as they have been, and even tougher with their improved depth. It's a chance to illustrate that they are the ones in control of this rivalry, even after last spring, and that even though this is just a regular season game, they can dominate at will. 

This isn't about just showing L.A. who's boss, it's about testing themselves. Being 35-10 means little to them because they don't care about beating the Nets, or the Bobcats, or even the Magic or Heat.  They want to show they can beat the Lakers.  Everything else is just a means to get there. 

And in part, the Celtics want the opportunity to show that they're right: Kendrick Perkins was the reason they lost. 

Man Down, Ring Down

Losing Kendrick Perkins before Game 7 hurt .  One of the Celtics' biggest advantages against the Lakers as opposed to nearly every team in the league is their ability to counter the Lakers' length with their own interior defense.  Perkins isn't a behemoth like Andrew Bynum, but what he lacks in height he makes up for in toughness, physicality, and savvy.  Losing him meant the Celtics lost just enough of an edge down low.

At the end of the matchup considerations, though, is this: the Celtics were without a starter for Game 7 of the Finals.  That's enough to prompt anyone to keep an excuse at the back of their minds, even if they'll publicly give the other team credit.  Perkins means a lot to this team, and even in limited minutes now that he's back, you can see what he brings the team.  

Sunday is an opportunity to showcase what they look like at full-strength, should they stay healthy till then (which is far from guaranteed, this is the Celtics, after all).  Even with Shaquille O'Neal nursing an injury and Jermaine O'Neal still struggling through his knee problems, this is the Celtics, at their core.  Sunday provides an opportunity to show the difference in the Celtics with and without Perkins. Perkins wasn't even expected to be available for this game, supposedly out another week.

But of course Tuesday he pops up healthy.  That's how this works. Some, like myself, never questioned that Perkins would be back for this game. This game matters to him. You'll have a hard time keeping him out of a game like this, even in the regular season. Because this is like a dress rehearsal.

Trial Run

There's no way to duplicate the intensity of the Finals, but this will be as close as it will get for a while, at least until the Lakers visit Boston in a few weeks.  And it's a chance to test things for future reference. How will Shaquille O'Neal do against Andrew Bynum?  How will Nate Robinson do as backup against Shannon Brown or Steve Blake?  What can a healthy Marquis Daniels do against Ron Artest

These are the questions that will be in Doc Rivers' mind, as they try and get a regular season win, but also try and figure out some things to rely on should these two meet again.  There's no way to block it out, though they may try. "It's just another game" will likely be a refrain at practice and shootaround. Don't be fooled. This is the setup, the first act of the 2011 chapter of Lakers-Celtics.  Let's draw the curtain, and see what happens.




 
 
 
 
The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com