Success is short-lived
The hype was definitely there. The Lakers simply weren’t.
They spent the first two months of the season collecting quality victories, one after another, but they aren’t of the caliber of the Boston Celtics, no matter how much the Lakers, their fans and the NBA might wish otherwise.
The Lakers scored the first basket and never led again on the way to a one-sided 110-91 loss to the Celtics on Sunday at Staples Center.
Kobe Bryant experienced a miserable shooting night, making six of 25 shots while scoring 22 points. Andrew Bynum fouled out with eight points and two rebounds in 22 minutes. The Lakers’ reserves were woefully quiet, totaling eight points into the fourth quarter, when the Celtics led by as many as 25.
The early atmosphere was more electric than any other regular-season game since Shaquille O’Neal’s return with the Miami Heat in December 2004, but the crowd was severely deflated by the time it all ended, many fans slipping away quietly during a timeout with 5:27 to play and the home team down, 98-78.
And to think the Celtics were playing the second of a back-to-back and their fourth game in five nights, all on the road, and went without starting point guard Rajon Rondo because of a hamstring injury.
“Well, that was a rather long, laborious night for us . . .” Coach Phil Jackson said.
Paul Pierce had 33 points, Kevin Garnett had 22 points, 12 rebounds and six assists, and Ray Allen had 19 points. Rondo’s replacement, Tony Allen, had 16 points for the Celtics, who improved to a league-best 26-3 after winning for the 15th time in their last 16 games.
The Lakers (19-11) made a season-low 35.4% of their shots. Lamar Odom had 14 points on six-for-17 shooting. Jordan Farmar had nine points on three-for-nine shooting. Bryant never found a groove.
“They have a good defensive team,” Jackson said. “Obviously, I haven’t seen Kobe have a shooting night like that. After playing two really stellar games and shooting well, this is not a game we could put down next to those.”
Said Bryant: “I had good looks. I just missed them. You are going to have nights when you can’t put the ball in the ocean sitting on a boat. You just move on to the next one.”
The buildup was hard to avoid for this one, with NBA TV trotting out nine hours of old Lakers-Celtics footage to commemorate the day, including Game 6 of the 1987 Finals, a title-clinching Lakers victory over the Celtics.
The Lakers wore short shorts from that era in the first half Sunday. Jerry West was the honorary team captain for the night, which included a brief acknowledgment at midcourt before the game, and it seemed more than appropriate that assistant coach Kurt Rambis donned his old Clark Kent glasses for the game.
Then the game actually began and the Lakers’ four-game winning streak ended.
Along the way, the Celtics beat the Lakers for the second time this season -- 107-94 on Nov. 23 -- and kept Jackson from passing Celtics legend Red Auerbach with what would have been his 939th career coaching victory.
Five technical fouls were called in a rough and rugged first half that saw the Lakers trailing, 53-45, after Bryant made only three of 15 shots.
The Lakers now have a mild stretch ahead of them after facing Phoenix, Utah and Boston the last five days.
They don’t play again until Friday against Philadelphia, followed by Sunday against Indiana, then a quick trip to Memphis and New Orleans before two more home games against Milwaukee and Memphis.
After that is a game in Seattle, which means six of the Lakers’ next seven games are against teams that currently have losing records.
Until then, they can only relive what happened in their last outing, where the hype outlived the home team.
“I thought the focus on the game maybe was a little bit too much,” Jackson said. “They got self-conscious when they went out there to start the game.”