The rivalry that produced Jerry West versus Bill Russell, Magic Johnson versus Larry Bird and Kobe Bryant versus Paul Pierce offered a new matchup Friday night:
MarShon Brooks versus Jerryd Bayless.
It was actually more enticing than it sounds, Brooks nudging a proud but wayward franchise ahead of its archnemesis, if just for one night.
Brooks sparked an 11-point comeback in the fourth quarter of his Lakers debut, helping his new team blow past the hated Boston Celtics in a 101-92 victory that had Staples Center rocking for one of the few times this season.
The guard did a little bit of everything, diving on the floor to force a jump ball and converting a steal into a dunk while scoring 10 of his 14 points in the final 12 minutes as the Lakers ended a franchise-record eight-game losing streak at home. Fellow newcomer Kent Bazemore had 15 points for the Lakers, including two late three-pointers.
“Everybody got energized by these guys,” Lakers Coach Mike D’Antoni said. “It was nice to see some people competing.”
Of course, it almost seemed a given the Lakers couldn’t escape more grim news on the injury front.
The team announced that Bryant was still experiencing pain, soreness and swelling in his left knee and will be re-evaluated in three weeks, putting him in jeopardy of missing the rest of the season.
Even if Bryant was cleared to resume practicing by mid-March, there would be only about a month left in the season. He hasn’t played since Dec. 17 after breaking a bone in his knee and has appeared in six games all season. That number might not change.
The Lakers had Pau Gasol back against the Celtics after he missed the previous seven games because of a strained groin, but he didn’t play in the fourth quarter and finished with 16 points and seven rebounds in 23 minutes.
Jodie Meeks and Chris Kaman added 16 points apiece for a Lakers team still missing Bryant, Steve Nash, Nick Young and Xavier Henry. Young is expected to return Sunday against the Brooklyn Nets and Henry has been cleared to resume basketball activities.
Brooks and Bazemore were part of a group of reserves that played the entire fourth quarter and outscored the Celtics, 38-18. Brooks scored 10 points in a span of 3:07 early in the quarter on a floating jumper, a layup, a short jumper and a dunk.
“I was real tired, honestly,” Brooks said after playing a season-high 23 minutes against the team he spent the first 21/2 months of this season with before being traded to Golden State, “but D’Antoni gives you that confidence that he just wants you to go out there and play your game, so I felt free doing that.”
Jeff Green scored 21 points and Brandon Bass had 20 for the Celtics, who became the first visitors to lose at Staples Center since the Utah Jazz on Jan. 3.
The matchup hardly stirred reminders of great moments in the rivalry considering the iconic franchises entered the game with slightly more victories (37) than NBA titles (33).
The only active players still left from their last Finals meeting in 2010 were the Celtics’ Rajon Rondo and the Lakers’ Gasol and Jordan Farmar, with Farmar having returned this season after a three-season getaway.
D’Antoni paused five seconds earlier in the day when asked what the rivalry meant to him.
“You know, I wasn’t here” for the heyday, D’Antoni said. “I was a Jerry West fan, so I grew up hating Boston, so it means a lot in that aspect. But right now our biggest focus is not on the rivalry, it’s on trying to win a game and trying to develop some guys.”
Bazemore could use a refresher on the history of the franchises, saying the Celtics trailed only the Lakers in championships. Actually, it’s the other way around.
“Oh, my fault,” he said.
Bazemore can be forgiven. It’s certainly easy to get disoriented the way things are going for these teams now.