The Lakers had two full years to think about a 39-point loss to Boston in Game 6 of the 2008 NBA Finals.
Two years, during which time the Purple and Gold happened to grab their own NBA title, then make it back through the Western Conference for a third straight trip to the Finals.
But when looking at an Irish clover, Kobe Bryant still seethed, Pau Gasol still simmered, and Ron Artest just wanted to help.
On the other coast, Boston defeated the Heat, Cavs and Magic, giving L.A. what it wanted as the Celtics traveled to Los Angeles for the 12th end-of-season meeting between the two storied franchises.
Two years, and L.A. had its shot at redemption … and in Game 1 of the 2010 Finals on Thursday at STAPLES Center, the home team fired its first shot at the Celtics with a dominant 102-89 victory.
Clearly, the Lakers had forgotten nothing from 2008.
From the opening tip, L.A. flew around defensively, contesting everything Boston tried to do on offense. They moved the ball in crisp fashion around the perimeter and into the paint. They attacked the backboards at both ends of the floor. They dove on the ground. They did everything they’d learned in the last two years.
“We understand what a rival is, how they play, that you’ve got to compete and you’ve got to make sure you match that physicality,” said Gasol. “The most positive thing is that the whole team just brought an intensity and activity, especially defensively.”
“We just responded to the challenge,” added Bryant, a smile crossing his face not once in the postgame presser. “Played well, rebounded the ball well. That’s something we’ve done all year.”
Kobe was omnipresent with 30 points, seven boards and six assists; the Spaniard was tough at both ends with 23 points, 14 rebounds, three blocks and three steals; and Artest was bullish in holding Paul Pierce to 6-of-13 shooting while making 3-of-5 three-pointers himself en route to 15 points.
“I think (Artest) does a great job for us of setting the tone defensively with his intensity and with his energy,” said Bryant, who at one point in the fourth quarter leapt off the bench to hug Ron Ron. “I was just letting him know it was well appreciated.”
Artest’s effort typified that of the whole team.
L.A. grabbed 42 boards to Boston’s 31, used 12 offensive boards to outscore the C’s 16-0 on second-chance points, scored 48 points in the paint to just 30 for the visitors and scored 12 fastbreak points to Boston’s five.
“The Lakers were clearly the more physical team,” said Celtics coach Doc Rivers. “They were more aggressive. I thought they attacked us the entire night. They killed us on the glass. It was impossible for us to get any rhythm.”
The matchup with Bryant on Rajon Rondo worked quite well, Boston’s point guard limited to 13 points with eight assists, while L.A.’s bigs limited Kevin Garnett and Kendrick Perkins to just seven total rebounds. Ray Allen was in foul trouble all game and scored only 12 points on eight shots in 27 minutes, while only Rasheed Wallace made an impact off the bench with nine points and four boards in 18 minutes.
Losing Game 1 had never crossed L.A.’s collective mind. They just weren’t letting it happen from the opening tip.
“At this point the important thing is to win every game,” said Bryant. “A good start – that’s absolutely key. You want to take Game 1 and now it’s Game 2 … and so on.”
That they’ll head into Game 2 up 1-0 is also thanks to contributions from other Lakers, including Andrew Bynum’s 19 first half minutes mandated by foul trouble to Lamar Odom, during which L.A.’s center posted seven points and five boards. Jordan Farmar and Shannon Brown were both effective off the bench during spurts in the second and fourth quarters, combining for 10 points, while Derek Fisher added three boards and three assists to his nine points. And Gasol answered any remaining questions as to his toughness after Kevin Garnett got the better of him back in 2008.
“What I see from him is just the little actions that represent not backing down type of things,” said Lakers coach Phil Jackson. “Getting hit, taking the blow, absorbing it, not reacting to it one way or the other. Those are the things he’s learned in the last year and a half or two.”
“He was more aggressive, he attacked us,” added Rivers. “I thought he was the best player on the floor at times … if you heard for two years what you couldn’t do, you’re probably going to come in and try to prove that, and I thought Gasol proved a lot tonight.”
So to did the Lakers, if only for one game.
They’re well aware that an equal effort is mandated for Sunday’s Game 2.
Until then, your numbers:
2 Fourth quarter turnovers for the Lakers after 13 total in the first three periods, helping L.A. keep a 10-plus-point cushion throughout the final quarter.
8 Offensive rebounds for Pau Gasol, and the entire Celtics’ team. Gasol had a huge double-double with 23 points (on 8-of-14 FG’s) with 14 rebounds, plus three blocks and three assists.
16 Big-time edge in second-chance points for the Lakers, thanks to 12 offensive rebounds, eight of which came from Gasol.
30 Points from Kobe Bryant, thanks to a three-pointer with four seconds left in the game. It was the 11th time in 12 games that Bryant hit the 30-point mark. He added seven boards, six assists and a big block.
48.7 Shooting percentage for the Lakers, a solid mark against the usually terrific Boston defense.