Lakers – Celtics Running Diary

As always, feel free to refresh your browser for live updates throughout the game … On second thought, I guess they wouldn’t technically be “live” updates since you have to press refresh. But whatever.

Inactives
Lakers: Jordan Farmar, D.J. Mbenga
Celtics: J.R. Giddens, Bill Walker

The buzz in the arena began well before the game started, even in the visiting locker room as Ray Allen in particular answered reporter’s questions for a good 12 minutes.

Allen, long known as a well-spoken, interesting interview, talked about the differences between this year’s team and last (consistency of effort and in game preparation), his comments at the ESPY’s last season about winning again in L.A. (no big deal, just natural) and about how incredibly better and offseason is after winning the championship (obviously).

Upon seeing Sam Cassell in the locker room, and after watching the entire 2008 Finals again last night, I asked him if the Celtics’ young players would be able to take on the crucial playoff roles played by P.J. Brown, James Posey and, to a lesser degree, Cassell. Sam predictably said, “Of course they will.” A player generally isn’t going to argue otherwise, but it’s really hard to argue that Boston’s bench (Tony Allen, Glen Davis, Eddie House and Leon Powe) is as good as last season’s bench. So far this season, however, Boston’s starters have been so good that the bench hasn’t needed more than one guy to play decent. We’ll see if that changes tonight.

One thing’s for sure – crowd support won’t be an issue. Even as the Lakers came out for warmups, the STAPLES Center roar was already in general fourth quarter decibels.

Yet and still, after all this build up, not much more needed to be said on either side. Both teams, the fans, the media and ABC’s executives (the ratings can’t be bad, huh?) are primed and ready to go, so here are your expected starters:

Lakers Fish, Kobe, Luke, Pau and Bynum
Celtics Rajon Rondo, Ray Allen, Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Kendrick Perkins

First Quarter
11:34 Ray Allen’s stroke wasted no time in giving the Celtics a 3-0 lead, after Bynum’s shot over Perkins rimmed out. Allen got a great look since L.A. wasn’t back in its halfcourt defense.

10:23 Fisher triple. Cash (not Warren). Walton had cleverly spun around Rondo for a lay-in on the previous possession, and L.A. led 5-3.

9:21 After Boston’s first turnover, Rondo picked up a cheap foul in the backcourt for his second of the game, but Doc Rivers chose to leave him in. We’ll see if that backfires … Though even if Rondo avoid’s foul No. 3, he will probably have to be less aggressive on defense than he usually is.

7:59 Dunk. Bynum. Fierce, to make it 10-7 thanks to a pretty Walton pass. Bynum did commit his first foul on the next possession, and Rondo got to the hoop for the second straight time for the Celtics to cut the lead to one. Boston’s offense barely ran through Rondo at all last season, particularly in the Finals, but he’s been the man so far this season, and today.

6:15 Perkins and Allen scored back-to-back to put Boston up 13-10 heading into the game’s first timeout, which gives us occasion to look at the special X-Mas Day footwear (pictured).

Lakers Christmas Shoes One shoe is Kobe’s special version of his “Nike Zoom Kobe IV’s” (below) while the rest of the team is wearing Nike Hyperdunks (above). I have one of each on up in press row.

5:30 As Rondo misses another shot in the lane, I’m wondering to myself why Boston hasn’t posted KG up on the block yet? That and Pierce’s isolation plays were probably the most effective in the Finals last season. Meanwhile, Bryant nailed back-to-back jumpers to put L.A. back up one.

Pau? Is 0-for-3, all on missed jumpers. We don’t see that too often.

3:16 Pierce hits his second straight jumper, and it’s Odom’s fault. After LO cleared an Eddie House miss, House picked his pocket and fed an open PP. Gasol then missed again, and KG scored in the lane for his first points to put Boston up 19-16.

1:44 Luke Walton for three. Any unexpected points L.A. can get today will go a long way. Walton triples are like presents you find hidden under the tree after you thought you’d opened all your gifts already.

35.8 Finally Gasol makes a shot after missing his first four, and Odom follows with a steal heading into a timeout.

0:00 Fisher and House missed respective jumpers to close the quarter with Boston up 24-23.
The Celtics were on fire from the field (11-of-18, 61.1 percent), but their six turnovers helped even things out. L.A. made half their shots (10-of-20) including 5-of-8 from Bryant (10 points).

Generally, it’s a good sign to be so close in score when the other team’s made 60 percent of their shots, since that number is sure to fall. Particularly hot was Allen, who made both his three-point attempts, which I suppose the Lakers expect when he has even a sniff at an open look.

Alas, here are your lineups to start the second quarter:
Lakers Vujacic, Bryant, Ariza, Odom and Bynum (Kobe hasn’t sat yet)
Celtics House, Tony Allen, Pierce, Leon Powe and Big Baby (Pierce also hasn’t sat)

Second Quarter
10:58 Kobe just broke Allen’s (sorry, that’d be Tony) ankles going left to the hoop and finished with his right hand off glass … On the previous possession, he dropped a deep two. That’s 7-of-10 for Kobe, who may have just told Phil: “Nah, I’m good, I’ll play. No really, I’m not sitting out. Thanks though. You see my stroke today? Peace.”

9:51 With the Celtics finally deciding to double Bryant with Powe, Kobe found a cutting Odom, who drew a foul and made both to put L.A. up 29-26. Boston’s really struggled to score without Rondo, KG and Ray Ray in the game.

9:19 Crowd in a frenzy after Ariza beautifully saved a loose ball that Kobe had tipped to the far end of the court, with Vujacic streaking in to catch and finish plus the harm at the other end. Free throw good, Lakers by six. That extra hustle is a reason why Lakers fans love Sasha, and everyone else hates him. An excellent defensive stretch continued with Bryant gathering a loose ball, and the Celtics taking a timeout at the 8:49 mark.

7:30 Another reason why Lakers fans love Vujacic … Swished triples. That one gave L.A. its biggest lead, 37-28. Sasha was fantastic throughout the playoffs and into games one and two before tapering off a bit last season, and has been more outspoken than anyone about his Celtics hate this season. I’m wondering if Slovenians now refuse to eat beans in his honor? Or if all Slovenians love the Yankees? Alas, on the ensuing timeout, L.A.’s fans contributed the first “Boston Sucks” chant. Always a crowd pleaser.

The pleasure level rose a bit when the kiss cam shined on Adam Sandler and Kevin James, who obliged by faking a make out session. Also next to them was Mark Wahlberg, just for good measure.

7:01 What could have been a huge play ended up a disappointment for L.A. as Ariza lost the ball going up after Bryant found him open in transition. Oops. They’d get a big play moments later when Vujacic drew Rondo’s third foul in transition and converted both free throws, capping a 16-5 run to start the quarter.

5:06 Good answer from Boston, first on a KG alley-oop and then KG’s feed to Rondo for a 4-0 run as the green started to pick up its defense.

These timeouts are getting ridiculous. Let’s entertain ourselves:
Top Five Christmas Movies
1) Christmas Story
2) Home Alone
3) Miracle on 34th Street
4) Die Hard
5) Love Actually

3:41 A 17-foot jumper from … you guessed it … Bynum puts L.A. up 46-37. That actually looked really good coming out of his hands. After Perkins scored and Fish missed, Bryant returned after sitting out for just 2:08.

2:12 Some good triangle offense produced an easy dunk for Gasol, which is poetic justice of sorts since Pau looked to be mugged on a dunk attempt the previous possession.

58.8 Easy buckets from Garnett and Perkins cut the lead to five before Gasol threw the ball away to give the C’s the rock back. Gasol had probably his least effective half of the season, making just 3-of-9 shots and amassing a team-worst -6 for the Lakers. In contrast, Lamar Odom was a game-high +13.

24.9 After L.A. drew consecutive charges on defense, Gasol found Walton alone in the corner for his second three. Big shot to make sure Boston didn’t carry any momentum into the second half from Luke.

The Celtics pulled two points back with Pierce free throws to trail 51-45 heading into the third quarter. Overall, it was a solid defensive quarter for the Lakers, who held Boston to 21 points. Bynum and Gasol were both solid defensively, gathering six total boards with just one personal foul, but neither was particularly aggressive offensively. Bynum ended up taking just three shots in 17 minutes (not that he had many opportunities) and Gasol didn’t seem thrilled about his prospects on the low block. That L.A. was able to hold a lead despite having no advantage on the block is a credit to excellent halfs from Bryant, Vujacic and Walton, who combined for 32 of L.A.’s points.

That point about the low block is emphasized by this stat: Boston outscored L.A. 28-16 in the paint.

Third Quarter
11:30 F.Y.I., StubHub had courtside seats going for $10,000 tonight. Um, yeah. If you were one to pay that much, you just saw KG hit his seventh shot … in seven attempts. Lakers by four.

10:38 Huge slam on the baseline from Kobe after a backdoor cut past Ray Allen. Walton set it up with a nice bounce pass after blocking Rondo for a 24-second violation on the defensive possession. Walton’s had, by far, his best game of the season already: eight points, five assists, a steal and a block.

8:20 A three from Pierce, again in transition after a Lakers’ miss. L.A. isn’t doing a great job of getting back in transition and contesting those threes … In fact, the first three of the game came on almost exactly the same break, only Allen was the one cashing in. Lakers 57-54.

7:08 Bryant with the triple. The answer (not Allen Iverson).

6:16 I mentioned Kevin James (“Hitch” must have been hist best movie, yeah?) earlier since he’s sitting three seats away from Phil Jackson, next to his boy Adam Sandler. Well, his new movie, “Mall Cop,” must have put several mill into advertising for this game, because the Laker girls just did a dance while wearing “Mall Cop” t-shirts. Plus it’s been all over ESPN’s commercials.

While we’re on this train of thought, here’s the celeb watch: Snoop Dog, Denzel Washington, Prince, Dustin Hoffman. Marky Mark, Samuel L. Jackson, George Lopez, Dirk Diggler.

I have to hand it to ESPN sideline reporter Lisa Salters, who got Snoop to come up with a freestyle rap that they just showed on the tube. Honestly, that may have been the best sideline reporting I’ve ever seen. Merry X-Mas, from Lisa to everybody watching.

4:46 Tremendous defensive possession by KG, which would eventually turn into a Pierce triple and a two-point game. 62-60. The tie game came moments later with an Allen layup.

3:32 Boston’s defense really started to dictate the game in the third, and Pierce’s jumper at the other end gave him 12 points for the quarter and a two-point lead. L.A. has made just 4-of-16 shots this quarter.

2:31 Vujacic jumper off a curl, with Allen contesting. Tough shot, tie game.

1:49 Three-pointer from Odom. Big shot, Lakers by four. Before I forget, I should mention Odom’s terrific stat line from the first half: two points (no FGAs), five boards, two dimes, two steals and two blocks).

1:04 Another triple from Odom, who had made just 8-of-26 threes (30.8 percent) heading into the game; both threes were from the same spot.

0:00 Isolated on Big Baby, Bynum couldn’t get a baseline J to go, and Rondo missed a jumper to close the quarter. Still, L.A. ended the quarter with a timely 9-3 run, thanks mostly to Odom, to take a 71-67 lead into the fourth quarter.

Sidenote heading into the fourth: Rivers had House and Allen in the backcourt to start the final quarter, which might make Lakers fans miss Jordan Farmar and his blow-by ability.

Fourth Quarter
11:06 Boston is owning the backboards, 33-26, as Big Baby seals another on a Sasha miss. But after an offensive foul on House, Odom converted one of his left drives off glass that sometimes doesn’t go down.

8:48 After two Tony Allen buckets (huh?), Boston’s within two at 75-73. By the way, Kobe hasn’t been to the foul line yet. Another point: Gasol and Bynum weren’t much more effective in that quarter than in the first half, and the Celtics still control the paint.

6:20 Not sure why Gasol didn’t go at Big Baby when he was isolated on the left block. Pau passed it out for a contested Vujacic three instead.

4:59 Another slick defensive save from Ariza had Fisher fast-breaking, and after Fish dumped it off to Pau, Gasol couldn’t quite get the five-footer to go. He was fouled, however, heading into a timeout with the score knotted at 77.

That timeout also rendered a “Hollywood Nights” from the game ops staff, when the celebs are all shown on the jumbotron. Since Jack’s not here tonight, I’d have to say Snoop won narrowly over Prince and Samuel L.

On the court, the Lakers came back in with the starters, matching Boston’s starting five for the final five minutes. Bynum immediately responded with to his first crunch-time move with a block of Rondo, though KG hit another deep jumper at the end of the shot clock to tie the game at 79.

3:56 After pulling the chair on Gasol on defense and getting a steal, KG ran the floor and ooped a Rondo alley for a Celtics lead that listed until Bryant’s contested fall-away jumper. Tie game, again. The teams are really evenly matched, though you have to hand it to Boston for hanging in so tough despite a great L.A. crowd. Clearly, winning the title last year has them playing with supreme confidence, no matter where they are.

Money time.

2:27 Gasol, despite struggling today, hit a big 17-foot jumper to put L.A. back up two. He was ready to shoot that time, and it looked good the whole way. Crowd on its feet after an Allen miss and Kobe rebound.

2:00 That shot felt so good, Pau decided to can another on the next possession after Bryant drew the defense away from him. That shot capped a 6-0 Lakers run to make it 85-81. Crowd feeling it, but plenty of clock remains.

1:44 Another KG jumper. He’s been fantastic with 11-of-13 shooting for 22 points plus nine boards.

1:28 Que fantastico! Pau again, plus the harm. After receiving the rock at the foul line, Gasol stepped to the hoop and finished with his left, then dropped the free throw. How about seven straight points from Pau in cash time after he’d really struggled for the first time this season? Lakers 88, Celtics 83. But you also have to hand it to Kobe Bryant for drawing most of the attention and letting Gasol have one-on-one defense. That’s three straight dimes from Kobe.

1:12 Gasol, again! This time on defense, with a swat on Allen’s deep three-point attempt. The loose ball eventually neared Bryant, who tipped ahead to Ariza. Buckle up for an up-and-under, on-the-hip reverse jam and a seven-point lead.

0:43 Eddie House’s desperation three missed after another great defensive possession for the Lakers in the fourth.

26.2 Dagger. Kobe on the offensive board, finishing his own miss at the rim. Lakers 92-83.

Hello to a great final two minutes from the Lakers, good-bye to Boston’s 19-game winning streak.