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Four Things We Learned From Lakers-Celtics

This should hold us over until June. (Photo by Brian Babineau/NBAE via Getty Images)

BOSTON -- I missed all the fun of being in Los Angeles on Christmas, but I had to be in attendance for the NBA Finals rematch between the Los Angeles Lakers and the Boston Celtics at TD Banknorth Garden on Thursday night. The game surely lived up to the hype -- especially since there wasn't much hype, with the NBA taking a decided backseat this week to the Super Bowl and scandals involving Michael Phelps and Barry Bonds.

But the Lakers eeked out a 110-109 overtime victory, which ended with some controversy over whether Derek Fisher bumped newly named all-star Ray Allen before or during his final desperation heave as time expired. The loss snapped Boston's 12-game winning streak and was the second time this season that the Lakers ended a Celtics double-digit winning streak (they broke the Celtics' franchise-record string of 19 wins in a row in December). And, it was obvious from the post-game chest bumps and hugs near center court that this game meant a whole lot to the Lakers, who where humiliated by 39 points on this floor eight months ago in Game 6.

If these teams were to meet up again in June, I don't think many people outside of Northeast Ohio (Cleveland fans) and South Texas (San Antonio fans) would be disappointed. These teams really go at each other -- hard. There were a few other things that I noticed about both teams after examining them pretty closely over the entire 53 minutes. Here is what I came up with:

I'm going to figure out these guys one day. (Photo by Brian Babineau/NBAE via Getty Images)

1. No Team Defends Kobe Bryant Better Than the Celtics
I have to give myself a pat on the back, because in my chat yesterday, somebody asked me how many points Kobe Bryant would score against the Celtics and I said he would get around 28 points on about 26 or 27 shot attempts. I came close: Bryant finished with 26 points on 10-for-29 shooting, and he would've had 28 points if he hadn't missed two free throws. But after scoring 97 points in his previous two games against the New York Knicks (who don't even try to act like they play defense) and the lousy Toronto Raptors, Bryant confronted a different monster altogether in the Celtics.

The Celtics threw different perimeter defenders on Bryant -- Paul Pierce, Ray Allen, Rajon Rondo and Tony Allen -- who started the game 4-of-8, but missed 9 of his next 12 shots. He got hot for a second in the fourth quarter, hitting three three-pointers. Bryant appeared somewhat gassed late in the game, possibly from playing back-to-back nights and traveling through customs early in the morning. But the Celtics' scheme against him, which includes making him a perimeter shooter, closing out the lanes and contesting each of his jumpers, has worked well the past two seasons. In 10 combined games against the Celtics (four in the regular season and six in the NBA Finals), Bryant is shooting just 39.7 percent (91-for-229) and he has shot better than 50 percent only twice -- in Game 3 of the NBA Finals (12 of 20) and on Christmas (13 of 23).

2. The Celtics Will Need Another Quality Big Man if They Are Going to Repeat
I know the Celtics have been rumored to be interested in Stephon Marbury, but Boston's most pressing need became obvious when Kevin Garnett fouled out with 4 minutes, 22 seconds left in the game. Celtics Coach Doc Rivers had two choices -- Glen "Big Baby" Davis and his huge body, or Leon Powe and his post game. Rivers went with Davis, although Powe played pretty solidly with 10 points and eight rebounds. But Davis, who missed his first six shots, didn't realize that he was wide open because the Lakers wanted him to shoot, and he kept shooting. Davis hit a huge jumper to give the Celtics a 109-108 lead, but got greedy and came back for more -- then Pau Gasol swatted his next attempt.

Davis is a decent player, but he seemed ill-prepared to handle the situation last night. Davis is a sensitive player who is really hard on himself, which could easily be spotted as he trudged out of the locker room, glum-faced after the game. Celtics Executive Director of Basketball Operations Danny Ainge has to find some way to get Joe Smith in a Celtics uniform before the trade deadline. Garnett plays at such a highly intense level that it's nearly impossible to keep that up for an entire 82-game season. The Celtics need a veteran coming off the bench to spell him from time to time. Smith would be the perfect piece for Boston, especially given his past relationship with Garnett in Minnesota. And if anybody has earned a shot at a ring, Smith is the guy. He's worked hard for a long time and finally won a playoff series for the first time in his career last season. He could be this year's P.J. Brown for Boston.

I need a better backup to back up my tough talk. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)

3. The Lakers Can't Be Punk'd Anymore
The common refrain after the NBA Finals was that the Lakers were too soft and the Celtics roughed them up for six games. Well, the Lakers can't be bullied by Boston this season. The Lakers were lacking their best interior defender on Thursday with Andrew Bynum forced to miss the next eight to 12 weeks with a torn MCL. Bynum provided some force and a physical presence, and was expected to be a difference maker should these teams meet again. He certainly was in December, when he altered several Celtics shots and blocked two others. The Lakers were overwhelmed by the Celtics' intensity last June, but you could tell from the way Pau Gasol and Lamar Odom ignored the constant trash talk from Garnett and others -- and how they were willing to mix it up for loose balls and rebounds -- that they aren't afraid anymore. That was clear on Christmas and again on Thursday, even without Bynum. If these teams meet again, the Celtics will have to back up the tough talk with more inspired play.

4. The Rivalry Is Alive -- At Least With the Fans
At the conclusion of the game, a Lakers fan walked up the aisle, lifting Kobe Bryant's 24 jersey up and down, and taunting Celtics fans along the way. This one guy, wearing a Celtics' T-shirt with Jesus Shuttlesworth (Ray Allen's character in the movie "He Got Game") on it, stopped the guy in his tracks and shoved him. He told the Lakers fan that he didn't appreciate him disrespecting the Celtics' house like that (of course, he used more coarse language). The Lakers fan looked at the dude, and shoved him right back. Next thing you know, they are shoving each other, back and forth, until a friend of the Lakers fan, dressed in all black and wearing a black Red Sox cap, told the Celtics fan that he was from Boston and if he pushed his friend again there were going to be problems (of course, he used much more coarse language). The dude in the Red Sox cap and the Shuttlesworth T-shirt guy continued to shout at each other, so I decided to take a different route to the media room. Flailing arms aren't always on target, you know.

After the game, Garnett was asked if he'd like to play the Lakers again. "Hell yeah," he said. "We're the champs, right?"

By Michael Lee  |  February 6, 2009; 9:45 AM ET
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The Celtics could use Songolia. Too bad it would take a three team trade to make it work.

Posted by: Izman | February 6, 2009 9:52 AM | Report abuse

I was going to say the same thing, too, Izman. But a 2-team trade definitely can work -- the Celtics have a lot of small ($) contracts that expire this year or next that could make sense for the Wizards.

Posted by: disgruntledfan | February 6, 2009 10:41 AM | Report abuse

I was a sweet game and I thank the dvr for that but it is really depressing to see basketball played at such a high level when what the wiz put on the floor every night resembles a pick up game where no one knows what the other guy is capable of so they simply don't pass and jack em up, see antawn and to a lesser extent caron, at least he's turning it over trying to pass occasionally. Taps philosphy of simply giving either of them the ball and asking them to do all the work is horribly flawed, they are both flow of the offense guys, they are not creators, despite good assist numbers look how caron struggles to shake his man one on one before settling for a long contested j, what has quickly become our favorite shot, at least gil got us open jumpers, teams are now only guarding them considering they take half our team's shots every night regardless of whether they have it or not

Posted by: bford1kb | February 6, 2009 10:50 AM | Report abuse

The Lakers have no use for Songaila. They've already got two undersized big men in their rotation who are younger, more athletic and have championship experience. With Bynum out, what the Lakers need is size in the middle.

Posted by: kalo_rama | February 6, 2009 11:18 AM | Report abuse

Four things I learned in the game: Both teams are 1. good defensive team 2. they have "true" all-stars 3. 3 pt shooters and 4. good ball movement. I don't see any of these on the current wizards team.

Posted by: Dave381 | February 6, 2009 11:26 AM | Report abuse

Think you misread Izman, Kal. He said the Celts could use DSong, not the Lakers.

I personally don't think either could use him.

Posted by: original_mark | February 6, 2009 11:28 AM | Report abuse

I read it correctly. I just mistyped Lakers instead of Celtics in the first line. (The two "undersized big men in their rotation who are younger, more athletic and have championship experience" I was talking about were Powe and Big Baby, on the Celtics.)

The last line about the Lakers needing size was a separate point that I probably should have led into a little more.

Posted by: kalo_rama | February 6, 2009 11:43 AM | Report abuse

I will trade Darius for either Powe or Davis anytime. Songalia is a good player but age is finally catching up on him.

Posted by: Dave381 | February 6, 2009 11:55 AM | Report abuse

Please can one of these teams take Gilbert Arenas so my Bullets can REBUILD with sense. PLEASE!!!!!! DC Basketball has suffered ENOUGH. We are now writing about OTHER teams in this blog....God have mercy on this basketball team.

Posted by: ejharrisjr40 | February 6, 2009 12:46 PM | Report abuse

Dave381: "Four things I learned in the game: Both teams are 1. good defensive team 2. they have "true" all-stars 3. 3 pt shooters and 4. good ball movement. I don't see any of these on the current wizards team."

Interesting observation. Izzit true?
The Celts are certainly a good defensive team, but the Lakers? You don't normally associate shutdown defense with that squad. Kobe certainly has the ability, but not always the inclination. Gasol's contribution is mainly on offense. He seems at a disadvantage against players like Duncan, Rasheed Wallace, and Garnett. Odom's no great defender and their only inside shotblocker is the absent Bynum.
There's Derek Fisher, who's pretty small and not all that quick, and Luke Walton, who could be described the same way, except slower.

The Wiz can't play defense, I think everybody knows that. And when we do have a good defensive player on the court, the fans are yelling at the coach to sit him down and let some flashy kid play.

True All-Stars -- by that I'm guessing Bryant and Garnett, and no, the Wiz have nobody that good. But Gasol, like Jamison, is a mixed bag -- offensive productivity and rebounding vs. indifferent defense. Paul Pierce is better than Caron Butler but Ray Allen isn't, at this point in his career. Lamar Odom is a wonderfully talented player who's less productive than Jamison.

3 point shooters: Once the Wiz' strength, with guys like Arenas and Butler and Jarvis Hayes playing, and now... well, they've been weak. Definitely inferior to Boston or LA.

If you're looking for a big difference, this is it. The Celts shoot 39%, the Lakers 38%, the Wizards 32%. Meanwhile, due to lousy perimeter defense, the Wiz' opponents can almost 39% of their 3's (vs 34% for Celts' opponents and 35% for teams that play the Lakers.) Whuh Happen'? The Wiz lost a couple veteran shooters and the replacements -- Dixon, Stevenson, Young -- haven't been able to pick up the slack.

Good ball movement: Just looking at assists, the Celts average 4.5 more per game than their opponents, while the Lakers are dead even for and against, and the Wiz are 4 below the opposition. That suggests it's the Celts' defense as much as their ball-handling that keys their success.

Well, anyway, those are my thoughts.

Posted by: Samson151 | February 6, 2009 2:51 PM | Report abuse

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