Lakers Gameday | 06/05/08 | Lakers 88, Celtics 98 (Celtics lead 1-0)
Pierce’s Heroic Return Steers Celtics to Game 1 Win
BOSTON(AP) Big moments have defined the Lakers-Celtics blood feud, and in their first get together in 21 years, a kid from Los Angeles gave Boston one to remember.
Paul Pierce, who used to sneak into Lakers games as a youngster, came bounding out of the tunnel from the locker room after leaving with an injured knee and led the Celtics to a tense 98-88 victory over Los Angeles on Thursday night in Game 1 of these tradition-soaked finals.
Pierce's dramatic return after being carried from the court and then wheeled down a hallway for treatment will be added to the annals of Celtics-Lakers lore, taking a spot alongside Magic Johnson's baby sky hook and Kevin McHale's clothesline of Kurt Rambis.
Kevin Garnett scored 24 points, Pierce finished with 22 - 11 after getting hurt - and Ray Allen, the third member of Boston's Big Three, added 19 for the Celtics, who are chasing a 17th NBA championship. The trio was making its first finals appearance, and for a short time it appeared only two of them would finish their long-awaited debut.
In the third quarter, Pierce was deep in the lane when teammate Kendrick Perkins crashed into him from behind, crumpling Boston's No. 34 to the court. The 10-year veteran, who last summer thought his days with Boston might be nearing an end, had to be carried from the court in extreme pain and was taken to Boston's locker room in a wheelchair.
"When I came down I thought I felt a pop, I thought I tore it,'' Pierce said.
The sight of Pierce leaving drew gasps from some Celtics fans and coach Doc Rivers' heart sunk.
"I thought the worst,'' Rivers said. "When they carried him off, I just though it was the knee.''
However, everyone's worries were soothed just moments later when Pierce returned to Boston's bench and checked back in with 5:04 remaining. As Pierce jogged onto the court with a black elastic wrap on his knee, Garnett clinched a fist and screamed, "Yes!''
Soon, more than 18,000 others were screaming as Pierce made two 3-pointers in just 22 seconds to give the Celtics a 75-71 lead.
"When I got in the back I could put some weight on it,'' Pierce said. "I knew I needed to be out there for my team.''
Kobe Bryant led the Lakers with 24 points, but the regular-season MVP was just 9-of-26 from the field as the league's top defensive team kept close tabs on him. Bryant had numerous shots rattle out and spent most of his 42 minutes in the game searching for a rhythm.
Derek Fisher and Pau Gasol had 15 points apiece and Lamar Odom added 14 for the Lakers, who had won the first two games of their previous three series this postseason. Los Angeles will try to even the series in Game 2 on Sunday night.
This is the 11th meeting in the finals between the Celtics and Lakers, and the first one since 1987 has been treated like the return of a lost friend by basketball fans aching for the days when Magic Johnson and Larry Bird went sneaker to sneaker.
Game 1 lived up to the hype as both teams challenged every shot, sprawling for loose balls and intensely defending their baskets. Bill Russell, Bob Cousy, Jerry West and the rest of the greats who made the rivalry special would have been proud.
With their crowd breaking into the familiar "Beat L.A.'' chants from the outset, the Celtics led 77-73 after three quarters and quickly pushed their lead to eight in the fourth following a 3-pointer by James Posey. Fisher and Sasha Vujacic scored to get the Lakers within 86-82, but Pierce countered with a jumper and made two free throws to put Boston up 90-82.
The Lakers again got within six, but Garnett, who missed nine shots in a row, followed up a miss with a ferocious dunk to crown Boston's win.
Unable to find his shooting touch in the first half, Bryant decided to focus on his defense. After 16-year veteran Sam Cassell came off Boston's bench and scored six quick points at the start of the second quarter, Lakers coach Phil Jackson switched Bryant onto the 38-year-old with the aching back and one of the few Celtics who knows his way around the finals.
Although their superstar wasn't doing his usual thing, the Lakers stayed close, and when Pierce had to sit down after picking up his third foul with 5:14 left, Los Angeles went on a 14-6 run - Gasol and Odom scored four points apiece - to open a 51-46 halftime lead.
Surprisingly, it was Fisher, not Bryant, who led Los Angeles with 13 points and Gasol had 12.
Despite their collective lack of finals experience, the Celtics didn't display any nervousness early. Strangely, it was Bryant who appeared to have some jitters, starting 1-for-7 from the field and not getting any clean looks at the basket.
Allen's 3-pointer from the right wing gave the Celtics a 19-14 lead, but the Lakers got a basket from Jordan Farmar, a 3 by Vujacic and Bryan't second bucket to pull within 23-21 after one quarter.
As the clock ticked down toward tipoff, Celtics fans, some who weren't even alive the last time the NBA's two marquee franchises clashed, scooped up T-shirts and bought other finals souvenirs marking the fierce rivalry's rebirth.
On a section of Union Street, adjacent to historic Faneuil Hall and not far from statues of patriot Sameul Adams and hoops patriarch Red Auerbach, Bostonians young and old warmed up their voices with chants of "Let's Go Celtics'' and lubricated their throats before walking en masse toward the new "Gah-den,'' which had never hosted an event of this magnitude.
Notes: Jackson isn't a fan of the 9 p.m. tipoff. "I don't enjoy it at all,'' he said. "I think it takes guys out of their rhythm and out of their lifestyle. I know (the NBA) is trying to reach both audiences on the coasts, but there's another way to do that.'' ... Fueled by five players from outside the U.S. on the Lakers' roster, the series has drawn a record 280 international media members from 35 countries and territories. The finals are being televised to 205 countries. When the teams met in the 1987 finals, the games were televised to 28 countries. ... This is the Lakers' 29th finals appearance with the first six coming when the franchise was in Minneapolis. ... Among the celebrities in attendance were actor Bruce Willis and New England Patriots stars Randy Moss and Tedy Bruschi.Copyright 2007 by STATS LLC and Associated Press. Any commercial use or distribution without the express written consent of STATS LLC and Associated Press is strictly prohibited
They're like long, lost fraternity brothers who left college with bad haircuts and wearing those thigh-hugging short shorts that were fashionable during the Reagan years. They drifted to opposite coasts and barely kept in touch.
Well, they've reconnected and are getting back together.
The Boston Celtics and Los Angeles Lakers are going to a reunion in a place they both know so well -- the NBA finals.
It's about time, huh?
"I feel like a little kid," said Celtics forward Paul Pierce, who grew up in L.A. and used to sneak into the Lakers' home arena. "Now I understand that, hey, I'm going to be a part of history. This is something I grew up watching, the Laker-Celtics rivalries."
Following a 21-year separation, pro basketball's pillars of power will revive their bitter rivalry starting Thursday night at TD Banknorth Garden for Game 1 of a best-of-seven series drenched in nostalgia and stuffed with enough history to fill every playground hoop from Springfield to Southern California.
The famed franchises, who have combined to win 30 of 61 championships, are squaring off in the finals for the 11th time and first since 1987. These finals figure to deliver a needed jolt of excitement to the league, which began the 2007-08 season entangled in a gambling probe involving one of its referees and whose signature event has strained to recapture the sporting spotlight since the '80s, when Celtics vs. Lakers, Bird vs. Magic was a rite of spring.
Television ratings are expected to jump dramatically thanks to a finals loaded with juicy storylines: Kobe Bryant's run toward a fourth championship ring -- and first without Shaquille O'Neal; Boston's Big Three of Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen shooting for their first ones; and Lakers coach Phil Jackson trying to win his record 10th title, one more than Red Auerbach, the Celtics' late legend whose presence hovers over the team like smoke from one of his victory cigars.
On the short list of celebrated rivalries -- Hatfields-McCoys, Yankees-Red Sox, North Carolina-Duke, Ohio State-Michigan -- Lakers-Celtics stands near the top.
"I think this is a great thing not just for the NBA, but just for sports in general," Lakers guard Derek Fisher said. "I think it's a great thing when the best gets a chance to compete against the best, and whoever comes out on top, they earned it. I think both teams should be proud to be here."
A year ago, it would have been impossible to imagine these hardwood Goliaths in the playoffs, never mind clashing for a title.
The Celtics won 24 games last season, and all the mystique and charm that makes them special had seemingly vanished. Last year, Boston's immediate future looked bleak after the club failed to win the NBA lottery, a devastating blow for a team in full rebuild mode.
But the green-and-white began its rebound on draft night last June, when general manager Danny Ainge traded first for Allen and later managed to land Garnett, a superstar stuck with the Minnesota Timberwolves, and a player, as it turns out, who almost became a Laker.
"We gave a great chase to Garnett last year," Jackson revealed Wednesday before his team practiced. "We put a lot of pressure on the Minnesota franchise and felt like we had the inside track on that, and that we could end up missing out on that opportunity and still be here in this challenge, the finals, is really kind of a great story in itself."
For the Lakers, though, nothing trumps what Bryant has done to get the franchise within four wins of a 15th championship. After the club was bounced in the first round of the playoffs last season, a frustrated Bryant challenged the team's front office to upgrade the roster.
By summer, he was demanding a trade while at the same time enhancing his reputation as a selfish, arrogant, egomaniacal player. In truth, Bryant just wanted to win -- badly -- and didn't want to be on a team that didn't share his drive.
However, in his 12th season, Bryant has matured on and off the floor. He has led by example, mentoring the Lakers' younger players and winning his first MVP award, an honor he probably deserved in the past but never received in part because of his perceived me-first, team-second image.
"He's the captain of this team, and we follow his lead," Lamar Odom said. "Kobe is the first one in the gym, the last one to leave. He's the first one in the weight room, the last one to leave. You try to compete against him and there's no competing against him. If we have a 10 o'clock practice, Kobe is there at 8:45 preparing to be the best.
"And some of that has rubbed off on me and my teammates, and that's the only reason why I'm sitting here talking today."
Beyond Bryant, Los Angeles' acquisition of center Pau Gasol in a midseason trade with Memphis changed the course of its season. The Lakers went 23-5 with the All-Star in their lineup and certainly could have used him in two regular-season losses to the Celtics, who won 107-94 in Boston on Nov. 23 and 110-91 in Los Angeles on Dec. 30.
Jackson isn't putting much stock in those matchups.
"We had Thanksgiving Thursday here, played on Friday. We were full of turkey," cracked Jackson, 9-1 in the finals. "The game in late December was much more reflective of the team. However, we wore those short shorts that night and lost our attitude early. I think the guys got a little tight."
Boston's lack of experience in the finals -- none of its starters have played in one previously -- could be a factor. But Garnett, who led the Celtics to 66 regular-season wins and an Eastern Conference title in his first season with them, isn't worried about his teammates becoming rattled in their first trip to the big stage.
"At the end of the day, it's just basketball," he said. "You play the way you know. You bring what you bring, play with your heart and soul and play together, play as a team."
The Celtics' Big Three have waited their entire careers for their first shot at history. Bryant knows that to keep them from raising a 17th banner to Boston's rafters, the Lakers will need to be the quicker team, the smarter team, the better team.
"From my experience, you have to execute," he said. "You can want it worse than anybody on the planet, but if you don't have a group of guys or a team that executes well enough to win, you're not going to win."Copyright 2007 by STATS LLC and Associated Press. Any commercial use or distribution without the express written consent of STATS LLC and Associated Press is strictly prohibited
(Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE/Getty Images)
NOTES & CONNECTIONS
The Lakers lost their 2007-08 season series with Boston 0-2 after having swept last season’s series 2-0. Now in their 28th season since Dr. Jerry Buss purchased the team prior to the 1979-80 season, the Lakers dropped just their sixth season series to Boston since 79-80 and first since losing the 2001-02 season series 0-2. The two teams have met 177 times since the Lakers moved to Los Angeles prior to the 1960-61 season with Los Angeles trailing the all-time series 80-97, marking the lone losing record the Lakers have to another NBA franchise in the regular season. The Lakers are 6-4 against the Celtics in their last 10 overall meetings. At STAPLES Center, the Lakers are 6-3 all-time against the Celtics while in Boston, the Lakers are 6-4 in their last 10 games at TD Banknorth Garden. Under head coach Phil Jackson, the Lakers are 10-6 against Boston. In 19 career games against Boston including 16 starts, Kobe Bryant is averaging 24.9 points (25.0 points in two games this season vs. Boston). Celtics forward Paul Pierce grew up in Southern California, attending Inglewood High. Lakers center Chris Mihm was acquired by the Celtics 12/15/03 and played 54 regular season games with Boston, averaging 6.1 points and 5.1 rebounds before being acquired by the Lakers in August 2004. Phil Jackson and legendary Celtics head coach Red Auerbach each have nine NBA championships apiece as head coaches, an NBA record, while Jackson (976) surpassed Auerbach (938) this season in all-time victories. The Lakers and Celtics have met in 10 NBA Finals dating back to Minneapolis in 1959 with Boston taking the first eight before Los Angeles won in 1985 and 1987.
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