You’d think no way, since regardless of what day or channel the game was on or the snowflakes on the jerseys, it was still just a regular season game in December. However, this game wasn’t just important for the Celtics because it was their third loss, but because today shined a light on Boston’s weaknesses.
With all the talk about Andrew Bynum returning, it was the play of Pau Gasol (and to a lesser extent, Lamar Odom) that may have implications on Ainge’s player acquisitions throughout the rest of the season.
Boston is much smaller this year than last. Part of that is due to the departures of P.J. Brown (retired, but contemplating a return) and James Posey, whose defense and length were an integral part of last year’s title run. Also, the Celtics have created one of the smallest benches in the NBA. Danny Ainge hoped Patrick O’Bryant would serve as the team’s lone backup center, but the Notorious P.O.B. has proven again to be strictly a garbage-time player, even lower on the totem pole than the Celtics’ resident ginger. Leon Powe seemed to be on his way to an expanded role after he outworked everyone in the Lakers’ frontcourt in the Finals, but he and Big Baby are the eighth and ninth men in Doc Rivers’ rotation, each getting only 15 minutes or so per game.
With the streaky (and possibly insane) Tony Allen and Eddie House the first two players off Boston’s bench, the Celtics have some work to do if they expect to win 16 games in this season’s playoffs. That is, unless they feel like exhausting their starting five, who seemed a little, um, relaxed on defense today. In fact, if the Lakers hadn’t missed so many open shots in the third quarter, this game would have been a Laker cakewalk (and the Notorious P.O.B. actually would have played). Sure, Boston started trapping Kobe in the second half, forcing him into a game that by all accounts should have been a struggle. Kobe didn’t shoot a free throw on Christmas day, but he went 13-for-23 (mostly jumpers) and frequently passed out of those double-teams to Pau Gasol for easy interior buckets that weren’t there the last time these teams faced.
That was probably because Gasol didn’t really have to deal much with Garnett, who shot well (11-for-14) but coasted through most of the game. Kendrick Perkins (who seems to injure his shoulder every time he plays against the Lakers) did an admirable job defending Andrew Bynum, who had trouble asserting himself in a quiet 35 minutes. Bynum still looks like he’s not sure where to go on defense, and wasn’t quite the interior presence the Lakers were missing last June. That was okay though, because Trevor Ariza fit the bill perfectly. Ariza only scored once on that cherry-pick windmill dunk, but he out ran the Celtics on several occasions and harassed Ray Allen into a terrible shooting night (5-for-14).
Rajon Rondo is the only Celtic with the type of athleticism Ariza brings, but Phil Jackson made an outstanding adjustment after the first quarter. Instead of having Rondo’s defender (often an overworked Derek Fisher) fight through screens that inevitably led to a Rondo layup, Jackson had his team switch on all those baseline plays Rondo likes to run. Rondo’s shooting didn’t quite match his Monta-esque field goal percentage with a hand in his face, although he did end up with 12 assists (and admittedly was totally screwed over on that offensive foul when he tried to dunk over Kobe, one of the most obvious make-up calls I’ve seen in a long time).
Make no mistake, the Celtics were going to lose at some point after 19 straight victories, and playing on national television in L.A. against a Lakers franchise that hasn’t been this motivated to beat the Celtics since 1987. And Jeff Van Gundy can talk up the Cavaliers all he wants, but Boston is still the top team in the league until proven otherwise in the playoffs. By then, the Celtics will probably have at least one new SCC for the Cavs and/or Lakers to contend with (either Brown or Dikembe, probably). For their sake, there better be. Unless the Celts are saving Powe for the playoffs like they seemed to last year, this isn’t a team with near enough size or depth to repeat as champions.
More Lakers/Celtics Aftermath
— Something about Kendrick Perkins and his facial structure makes me wonder if he really said enough to deserve all the technical fouls he’s been getting. He could ask me where the library was and I’d think he was trying to start a fight.
— I was wondering when Phil Jackson would realize that Vlad Radanovich — who played 41 seconds today — can never, under any circumstances, be trusted. Paying him the midlevel exception was pretty much the equivalent of the contract the Warriors gave Ronny Turiaf (good on the surface due to a perceived need he fills, but a complete waste of money in the long run).
— Radman’s replacement, Luke Walton, played perhaps his best game of the season (2 blocks!). Even so, has anybody ever airballed so many threes?
— Derek Fisher: 7 assists, 0 turnovers.
— Did Kevin Garnett talk this much trash or throw so many cheap-shot elbows (like that one he did to Sasha Vujacic) while in Minnesota? KG, the first Masshole-transplant.
— I don’t know if it was his recent concussion, but Big Baby looked rather cross-eyed today according to SGL. Maybe it’s an LSU big man thing.
— No Shaq, I will not taste your ass for making the previous comment.
— Anybody else get the feeling that if Ray Allen was traded to the Lakers, he might retire? KG seems like a jerk to everyone else, and Paul Pierce just wants to prove he’s on par with guys like Kobe, Wade and LeBron. I think Allen really hates the Lakers. We all know he hates Kobe, but I bet he’d even throw a drink in Fisher’s face if they ever met in a bar. Allen’s utter disdain for the Lakers might just be the best running subplot in the resurgent rivalry between the two teams.
— If Rondo existed in the late-1980s, Bill Laimbeer would have knocked him on his ass at least a dozen times by now.
— And yes, you could definitely say the same thing about Vujacic.
— Don Nelson has to watch Celtics games and think, “Man, if I were the GM I’d go after that Eddie House kid. Wait, I am the GM? I keep forgetting…”
— Why are jump balls such a difficult part of the game to navigate for officials? You’d think as an official, you’d be able to keep players outside of a painted circle. You’d also think it would be fairly easy to throw a basketball straight up in the air. Can’t we have three points hanging above the floor (over halfcourt and both free throw lines) that always have a ball ready to drop from 30 feet above to the floor for jump balls? It would be sort of like a pinball machine — once a ball drops, another falls into the holder where it sits until the next jump ball. Then officials could just concentrate on making the players stand in the correct places, and we’d get the comedy of watching awkward centers swing and miss trying to tip a ball falling from above. And on that note, Merry Christmas!!!