Lakers’ motto for Finals: Seriously, folks

Times Staff Writer

One team put the hammer down, the other almost got nailed.

While the Lakers were ripping through Denver in four games, Utah in six and San Antonio in five, Boston needed seven games to beat lowly Atlanta, another seven to slip past one-dimensional Cleveland and six to oust Detroit.

Somehow, the Celtics’ regular-season dominance (66-16) hasn’t translated to postseason prowess (12-8), but here they are in the NBA Finals, ready or not.

And yet, the Lakers are keenly aware of them, even if the Celtics needed five more playoff games to get this far.


“They beat us pretty bad,” forward Lamar Odom said of the Celtics’ easy regular-season victories over the Lakers, a continual talking point leading up to the Finals. “This is a team that everybody expected to be in the championship round. It’s a team with three All-Stars, great coaching, a great bench. They handled us pretty well the first two times.”

Or, as Coach Phil Jackson said of the Celtics’ emergence from two Game 7s thus far, “You learn something from that. They’ve learned more than we have learned perhaps in these playoffs.”

The Lakers were in a hurry Tuesday, tearing through interviews at their practice facility on the way to their early-afternoon charter flight to Boston. Beyond brief, they were serious, even solemn.

Kobe Bryant gave a quick, unemotional interview in which the only significant thing was an acknowledgment that his feud with Ray Allen had indeed ended.

Odom continued to provide the team’s top quotes, mixing in metaphors with insightful analysis, even a touch of humor . . . but not enough to dislodge the tenor of the day.

How serious are things? The title of the movie Jackson has decided to splice into video sessions says it all: “Judgment Night.” (A synopsis: Four buddies witness a murder and then have to band together and protect each other when the killer comes after them.)

Meanwhile, the legacy of the franchises continued to pop in and out of the picture, with Magic Johnson and Larry Bird holding a Tuesday morning conference call in which each relived memories of past clashes. (“The cities disliked each other, the teams disliked each other, but we respected each other,” Johnson said.)

For the most part, though, Tuesday contained talk of present-day matchups as Thursday’s Game 1 loomed ever closer.

It looks as though the Lakers have settled on frontcourt matchups in which Pau Gasol guards Kevin Garnett, Vladimir Radmanovic takes Paul Pierce, and Odom gives up 34 pounds in trying to stop physical Celtics center Kendrick Perkins.

The key for the Lakers, other than Odom’s becoming an offensive lineman by trying to drive Perkins out of the key, will be Radmanovic on Pierce.

Radmanovic has been foul-prone in several playoff games, leading Jackson to revisit the theme. His advice to Radmanovic when taking on the six-time All-Star?

“Not foul him,” he said. "[Pierce] is a guy that gets to the foul line a lot. Make him take shots. Keep him off the foul line.”

Gasol also has an intriguing matchup with Garnett, whose arrival in Boston jump-started one of the most dramatic turnarounds in league history.

The Celtics won 42 more games this season than last, with Garnett averaging 18.8 points and 9.2 rebounds. He has spent a little more time outside the key during the playoffs, drilling jump shots and freeing up the middle for Perkins to roam.

It’s Gasol’s problem now.

“Another big challenge,” Gasol said. “I’ve guarded [Carlos] Boozer, guarded [Tim] Duncan, now it’s Garnett. At this point, you’ve got to guard the best of the best . . . to be the best. I’m going to try and contain him as much as I can.”

Gasol knows he’ll often be lured outside the key but will probably be back in the paint as the game progresses.

“He’s pretty effective shooting jumpers, spreading out the floor and letting Perkins duck in and cover the paint,” Gasol said. “Although, [Garnett]'s a great post-up player and he does an excellent job, especially down the stretch, of trying to get buckets close to the basket and in the paint. He’s a guy who can mix it up.”