With Lakers in town, it will be a crazy night in Boston
From the ashes of embarrassment, there arose the scowling face of rage.
From the depths of humiliation, there sounded the thick beat of a heart.
Eight months later, the Lakers finally punched back.
“Sometimes you’ve just got to make a stand,” said Lamar Odom, his expression still tight an hour after this brawl. “Tonight, we made a stand.”
They stood with elbows crashing and shoulders plowing. They stood amid cascading boos and chanted jeers.
They stood for four quarters in the home of the defending NBA champions and then, when that wasn’t enough, they stood some more, hit some more, hurt some more.
In the end Thursday, it wasn’t how they were standing, but where they were standing: on the parquet necks of the Boston Celtics, whom the Lakers defeated in overtime, 110-109, in a game that doubled as a billboard.
“Lots of teams think that without Andrew Bynum, we’re soft,” said Odom. “Tonight we showed everyone that we are not.”
It was more than a night that gave the Lakers, for now, the best record in basketball over the Celtics.
It was more than a night that ensured the Lakers will have the postseason home-court tiebreaker against Boston by virtue of winning both games against the Celtics this season.
It was even more than a bit of vengeful comfort after the 39-point loss suffered by the Lakers the last time they were here, in the clinching game of last year’s NBA Finals.
“This was not a statement to anybody else, this was a statement to us,” said Kobe Bryant.
That statement was, whatever Eastern muscle the Lakers might encounter in the postseason, even without Bynum, they are no longer afraid to stick their necks in it.
Thursday night was different, which means this year is different.
“Last year they took it from us, and I’m not going to live with that,” said Bryant. “I’m not going to sit here and let this team get punked any more.”
Last summer at this same TD Banknorth Garden, this same team cowered against the Celtics.
This year, on the very first play, Odom drove the lane, collided with Rajon Rondo, drew a foul, screamed.
“We had to make our mark right away,” he said.
So it continued, the mark being made on the Celtics’ bodies, Pau Gasol grappling with Kendrick Perkins, Bryant hanging on Rondo, Odom charging again and again into Kevin Garnett.
“It was an ugly game, a grinding game,” said Bryant, smiling.
It was a Celtics game, a Pistons game, a Cavaliers game. But the Lakers somehow turned it into a Lakers game, their biggest win not only of this season, but perhaps the last several seasons.
They won even though Bryant made just 10 of 29 shots. They won even though the team missed 12 of 29 free throws.
And, of course, they won without Bynum, which should tell that if he somehow does return at full strength in time for the NBA Finals, goodness, the Lakers should win the trophy unopposed.
“All those things said about the Lakers not being a physical team, you just have to expect they’re going to come around and hold their chests up high,” said the Celtics’ Paul Pierce, who was hounded into missing eight of his 13 shots.
Perhaps, but who would have expected this?
Even playing the second night of back-to-back games, the Lakers forced the Celitcs into four more fouls, while taking nine more foul shots, with Garnett actually fouling out of the game.
“We came out with a different attitude than last year,” said Trevor Ariza. “We’re not scared of them anymore. We’re not scared of anybody.”
Last summer, at the first push from the Celtics, the Lakers collapsed, including blowing that 24-point lead at home in Game 4.
On Thursday, well, just look at Odom, who picked up three quick fouls and scored just two points in the first half.
He came back to score 14 points in the second half, and four in the overtime, ending with the eventual game-winning free throws with 16 seconds left.
If the Lakers are to survive with Bynum absent, this is the Odom who must show up.
“Basketball is a humiliating sport, it can humble you right in the middle of the game,” Odom said. “But tonight I just left all that behind.”
Last summer, the Lakers could never make the big defensive stop, consistently being swallowed up in Celtics screens and shoves.
On Thursday, Derek Fisher fought through a screen from wide Glen Davis to stick with Ray Allen on the game’s final play, just in time for Gasol to give long-armed help. Together they forced Allen to throw up an off-balance wounded duck that didn’t even make it to the basket.
Said Fisher: “I was like, ‘I’m getting through that hole.’ ”
Said Bryant: “Last year, we were shell shocked. Not this year.”
This year, it was the Celtics who looked confused. It was the Celtics who appeared stunned.
It was the Celtics who were, um, er, soft.
“They give it to you, you’ve got to give it right back,” said Bryant.
Eight months late. Right on time.