Lakers defeat the Celtics, 102-89, in Game 1 of NBA Finals
OK, series over. Nothing to see here. Move along.
Well, that’s probably quite the overstatement but when you realize that Lakers Coach Phil Jackson is 47-0 when his team has won the first game of a series, then it’s not great news for fans of the Boston Celtics.
The Lakers’ 102-89 victory over the Celtics in Game 1 of the NBA Finals on Thursday night at Staples Center was not easy as the margin. Then again, after the third quarter it wasn’t that difficult. In the end the Lakers were able to win because of their ability to get the ball into the middle and, even more importantly, let Kobe Bryant shoot the ball.
Jackson dismissed the streak as any good coach would do.
“I wish I felt that way (confident),” Jackson said. “We have to play this out. … We have a lot of work ahead of us. … But ultimately it’s important but then the next game becomes the most important. But the first game sets the action and that is important.”
Game 2 is scheduled for 5 p.m. on Sunday at Staples Center.
Bryant has been on a mission since the fourth game of the opening series against Oklahoma City. The Lakers had taken a 2-0 lead and fallen into a 2-2 tie because of lackluster play. Bryant was clearly suffering from a knee injury that had bothered him during the season. He went to the trainers and had the fluid drained and he -- and certainly the opponents -- were never the same.
For the record: An earlier version of this report said the Lakers and Celtics didn’t meet in the NBA Finals between 1985 and 2008. They last played in 1987 before meeting again in 2008.
In Game 1 of the Finals, Bryant had his fifth straight game of 30 points or more. He finished Thurday’s game with 30 points on 10-of-22 shooting from the field while making nine of 10 free throws.
The game was close through the first quarter, although the Lakers at one point had a six-point lead they seemed unwilling to keep. But with less than five minutes to play in the second quarter the Lakers went on a 11-4 streak to build an 11-point lead with less than a minute to play in the half.
But the Celtics cut their deficit to nine on a Rajon Rondo jumper and the Lakers had a 50-41 lead at halftime. There were two telling statistics, the Lakers had a 28-12 advantage in points in the paint and an impressive 16-0 on second-chance points.
“Sixteen-0 is pretty remarkable,” Jackson said. “That was a big part of the game.”
Celtics coach Doc Rivers knew where to place the blame for the loss.
“We didn’t control the dribble at all,” Rivers said. “We told them before the game that the key to the game was rebonding and dribble penetration and we didn’t get either one. . . . But, it’s fixable.”
Bryant had 12 points in the first half and then went to work in the third quarter, when the Lakers essentially won the game by outscoring the Celtics, 34-23. Bryant had 14 of those points.
By the time the fourth quarter rolled around the Celtics were a defeated team, although they did show sparks of life by closing the gap to as little as 11. But it didn’t really matter.
The strategy of getting the ball into Pau Gasol worked for the Lakers as he scored 23 points. Ron Artest scored 15 and Andrew Bynum, whose knee was also in question, added 10.
And as long as the Lakers were winning underneath, they also had a 42-31 rebounding advantage. Gasol was tops with 14.
Gasol found some redemption Thursday after he was dominated in the Finals two years against the Celtics.
“Gasol was more aggressive,” Rivers said. “He attacked us. I thought he was the best player on the court. He shot when he should shoot. If you heard for two years what you couldn’t do . . . he proved a lot tonight .”
The Celtics were led by their expected trio of Paul Pierce (24 points), Kevin Garnett (16) and Rondo (13).
A Celtics-Lakers series does have magical appeal about it even though the Celtics hold a 9-2 lead in Finals series. (Do you think ABC really wanted a Phoenix-Orlando final, c’mon?)
“When I first became commissioner in the ‘80s,” said NBA Commissioner David Stern before Game 1, “I thought what you did every June is you went from L.A. to Boston and back again, and it was interesting to watch. And now here we are again.”
It certainly wasn’t a trip Stern had to make through the ‘90s and even into the 21st century. Of course, he did stop off in Chicago a lot during that time.
The Celtics and Lakers did not meet in the Finals after 1987 until 2008 when the Celtics embarassed the Lakers with a 39-point series-clinching win in Game 6. This came after the Lakers blew a 24-point lead in Game 4.
But still, one of these teams have played in almost two-thirds of all Finals. Some might point to this as a lack of parity -- and let’s face it a lot of people wanted to see the dream Kobe-LeBron final -- Stern simply sees it as an extension of two strong franchises.
“The Lakers have been in three years in a row, Celtics are back for two out of three,” Stern said. “They’re not here because of the green and purple and gold. They’re here because of the teams that have been constructed, the coaches they have and the systems they have.”
Thursday night the construction of this season’s champion was still, shall we say, under construction. The Celtics won’t go away that easily. But for at least the first night the system belonged to Lakers.