Merry Christmas, Los Angeles … The Lakers beat the Celtics.
Nearly six months after the result was flipped towards Boston, the two heavyweights slugged it out in STAPLES Center on a dreary L.A. day, and boy what a finish.
After 44 minutes of back-and-forth basketball featuring 13 lead changes found the score tied at 81 with 3:37 to go, Pau Gasol helped deliver a Christmas ending that served as a present both to the city and to Phil Jackson, who became the fastest coach to record 1,000 victories in NBA history.
The Spaniard had struggled through much of the game in shooting 3-for-11 from the field and at times he chose to pass instead of aggressively take the ball at his defender, but that all changed thanks in part to Boston’s focus on Kobe Bryant. First came a silky 15-foot jumper, next a 7-foot jump hook and finally a lay-up plus the harm as Gasol’s seven-straight points put L.A. up 88-83 with 1:28 to play. All three buckets came courtesy of Kobe assists, and all three were plays that simply didn’t happen in last season’s NBA Finals.
Nearly as important as his shot-making were two crucial defensive plays from Gasol, blocks of a Ray Allen three-pointer at the 1:17 mark that resulted in a reverse jam from Trevor Ariza, and a swat of Paul Pierce on the next possession that helped put the game on holiday ice. Thus, in the final three minutes and change of the game, the Lakers outscored Boston 11-2, and snapped the Celtics’ 19-game winning streak in the process.
Gasol finished with 20 points, five assists, three boards and three blocks, while Bryant chipped in a game-high 27 points, nine rebounds and five assists.
A few other key numbers, before we get to the postgame quotes:
Free throw attempts for Kobe Bryant.
Free throw attempts by the Celtics, as the Lakers were very effective in playing pressure defense without committing too many personals. Derek Fisher was the only Laker with more than three fouls (four).
Lakers turnovers, resulting in only 11 Celtics points, far below average. The Lakers also rebounded well defensively, ceding just seven offensive boards to Boston.
Bench points by the Celtics, who seemed a player or two short off the pine (can you say pre-deadline deal?). L.A. got 10 points each from Lamar Odom and Sasha Vujacic, and a big defensive contribution from Ariza, whose two loose-ball saving plays resulted in important Lakers hoops.
Assists for the Lakers, who really moved the ball well to get to 36 field goal makes. Fisher led the way with seven dimes, while Luke Walton (who had his best game as a starter), Gasol and Bryant added five helpers each. Boston had only 22 assists on 36 makes.
If Kobe’s going to shoot the ball 23 times against one of the league’s best teams and the Lakers are to win, he’d better make more than half … And he did. Bryant shot 13-of-23 from the floor, including a put-back bucket with 26.2 remaining to really bury the Celtics.
Shooting percentage for Kevin Garnett on 11-of-14. KG added nine boards, a steal and a block, but was held to only two assists. Rajon Rondo led the way in that category with 12, but struggled from the field, shooting 3-for-11 and often being influenced not to shoot at all with Andrew Bynum lurking in the paint.
Career wins for Phil Jackson, who became the fastest head coach to that mark.
Click over to the next page for postgame quotes:
Phil Jackson Postgame Quotes
On tonight’s game:
“Well they came back at us in the 3rd Quarter. We didn’t lose the Quarter by much—two points—but there was no momentum. They closed the gap, took the lead. We were able to overcome that with some really good defense and figured out some things offensively. Got some things accomplished. I’m really happy with Pau. He stepped up in that 4th Quarter and we really needed him to step up.”
On Pau Gasol having some difficulties with Kevin Garnett but subsequently recovering with a big performance down the stretch:
“Yeah, especially in a situation where we had a little post up opportunity. He tried to back up Garnett and Garnett dumped him on his butt, took the ball and went down and scored and took the lead in that situation. I felt that was really a critical time for him to step up and he did.”
On what the Lakers did defensively:
“They played their pace of the game. They inflicted their tempo on us. They made us play their pace of a game where they will survive it. I thought our defense was very good down the stretch. We did some good things. We forced some turnovers. It was a big turnover game for them and that’s something we’ve always emphasized about winning that turnover battle. We stayed out of foul trouble. Over the course of the game we played aggressively but stayed out of foul trouble.”
On bouncing back from a difficult road trip:
“We really put some emphasis back on it again. I think the players got back into playing with high energy defensively. I think that’s always the key. Offense is easy. Defense is work. Guys have to work twice as hard defensively to stop the team from scoring because that’s their pleasure. We have to always know that we have to outwork guys and we forgot that.”
On the impact of having Andrew Bynum, who missed the NBA Finals against the Celtics:
“I thought Andrew—his blocked shots—were really helpful for us in the second half. His ability to clog up the lane. He didn’t have the best offensive game but he’s a threat. They had to really notice and register on his rolls and take care of him.”
Lakers Players Postgame Quotes
Lamar Odom on what a big win tonight’s game was:
“This was a great game for the fans of L.A.! And for us it’s a big game because this team (Celtics), I guess had a streak going. But I mean it is just another game against another great team.”
Odom on this being a huge win for the Lakers:
“We definitely wanted to play well against a team that is doing great. Teams like this will make us play scrappy.”
Sasha Vujacic on taking the Celtics’ poise away from them:
“Well before I answer that, I would like to step back to last year they (Celtics) caught up momentum in the finals and they were able to carry it to the end. It was their time. And now we know who we are and we have our own identity. We know what we need to do and it is our time.”
Vujacic on how the team felt about today’s game:
“We knew it was going to be fun! That win was for the fans and for everyone that supports us. They (fans) got a good gift for today’s day [Christmas]!
Kobe Bryant on how it feels to have won today:
“Well, this was just another win; you know it was a good measuring stick for us to show how much we have progressed since the finals.”
Bryant on whether it is meaningful to have broken the Celtics’ streak:
“Yes, just for the challenge of it. They are a team that has been playing so well. But at the same time they did win 19 in a row so they were due for one (a lose).”
Bryant on difference between this game and the Finals:
“Well, I think that we have gotten better. We added Trevor and Andrew, we are healthy, we have a better defensive system and I think we are just a better ball club.
Bryant on the Celtics playing impatient tonight:
“Well we just stuck to what we do. We moved the ball well and defensively we tried to make them take low-percentage chances. Defensively, I felt like we had a good rhythm.”
Doc Rivers Postgame Quotes
On the Lakers’ performance:
“They played great, give them credit. The game was physical. It really was well played. It was very sloppy but they were less sloppy at the end. They made their shots.”
On tonight’s showdown:
“It was great; two teams who have the best record in the NBA, both teams are doing well, the two teams that made it to the finals last year. We wanted to win but this game doesn’t change our minds on what we feel we can do. It was a fun game to be a part of. Good lesson for us. We have to give the Lakers their due, they won the game. We’ll see them again.”
On his team’s performance:
“For a team that has been phenomenal down a stretch of games, I didn’t think we were very good tonight. I think that we took early shots on the clock. There was two minutes and twenty seconds left and we’re jacking threes up with contested shots. The one thing we haven’t been is that. We’ve been as composed as any team that I’ve seen in a long time and I thought quite honestly that we lost it a little bit at the end. Sometimes you want to win the game so bad, each guy starts taking what we call the hero shots. I thought that we had a boatload of hero shots down the stretch of the game.”
On the bench’s performance*:
“The bench was phenomenal. Between the end of the third they came down four and left up one with that crazy shot that Rondo drove and the hook that was about fifteen seconds too late. That was a big call in the game and that was our bench guys, minus Rondo. I thought the bench was absolutely fantastic.”
*Editor’s note: We may have to disagree here. Boston’s bench made just 6-of-20 shots (30 percent) for 15 points, notched only two assists and turned the ball over five times.
On the impact of tonight on tomorrow’s game:
“We lost tonight and we have to start a new streak but other than that. Like I said before the game was a big game. We play tomorrow and we’re going to get in a tough atmosphere I’m not worried about the physical fatigue, I’m worried about the mental fatigue tomorrow.”
Celtics Players Postgame Quotes
Rajon Rondo on his thoughts about the winning streak that ended:
“Nothing at all really, just try to start another one. We got Golden State tomorrow, give them (Lakers) credit, they played well tonight, and we just have to get ready for Golden State.”
Rondo on Andrew Bynum’s presence being a factor for the loss:
“For me none, I still try to attack the rim. He was a factor, he played well tonight but I think Gasol played well too. He made plays down the stretch.”
Rondo on what ultimately lost the game for the Celtics:
“Execution…execution. Wirth two minutes to go we didn’t execute down the stretch, we came out of the timeout and did not know what play to run and that just blew the game right there.
Kendrick Perkins on the Lakers performance:
“They all made big shots at different times at the game. Kobe was Kobe tonight he made plays, Gasol made good plays down the stretch and big buckets. Lamar Odom at the end of the third knocked down two 3-pointers for them that kind of pushed it up and slowed our tempo down a little bit. Tonight they just out hustled us and worked harder I think. They were just hungrier than us. But we didn’t shoot the ball extremely well, but that’s not an excuse, our defense was breaking down and guys were missing coverages.
Perkins on getting their winning streak broken:
“You don’t really care about the winning streak, you care about the win.”
Paul Pierce on his thought on the loss:
“You always want to get a win when you play a basketball game whether it’s at home or on the road, but you know we lost to a team that played better than us tonight. Give them all the credit. We just have to play better down the stretch. I thought we were in the game most of them time but some points in the game we didn’t execute and that was the difference in the ball game.
Pierce on his team’s performance:
“We just didn’t execute like we wanted to. I thought we had some turnovers that we shouldn’t have. Were usually a better team especially down the stretch even thought we turned the ball over a lot. Were usually a team that executes well when it comes to ball games but we didn’t do it tonight.”