June 04, 2010
Showcasing an active attack that relied on brute strength as often as the team's typical finesse game, the Los Angeles Lakers struck first in the NBA Finals, winning Game 1 102-89.
It was a contest marked by whistle after whistle, with a Joey Crawford-led crew calling 54 personal fouls and three technical fouls, infractions that led to some rather stilted play. But no group of zebras were taking this game away from the defending champs. Phil Jackson's crew came through with their typically stout third quarter, outscoring the Celtics 34-23.
Kobe Bryant(notes) led the Lakers with 30 points (with seven rebounds and six assists), but he had help from all angles. Pau Gasol(notes) absolutely dominated Kevin Garnett(notes) on both ends, finishing with 23 points while sitting out only 86 seconds all night. Gasol's 14 rebounds (eight on the offensive end) highlighted a clear Laker advantage on the glass, as the Lakers were getting offensive boards on over 40 percent of their misses well into the third quarter.
"The Lakers were clearly the more physical team today," Celtics coach Doc Rivers said. "They were more aggressive. And the team's that's more aggressive gets more calls."
The Celtics actually attempted (36 to 31) and made (30 to 24) more free throws than the Lakers in the loss, but Rivers was right in his take on the level of activity his team showcased.
"The 50/50 game was 17-4, [Lakers]," Rivers said, referring to the loose balls that can go either way, loose balls that Los Angeles came up with 17 times out of 21 chances.
"Before the game we told them the key to the game was rebounding, and [stopping] dribble penetration. We didn't do either one. They killed us on the glass."
Rebounding was the recurring theme. Boston big men Kendrick Perkins(notes) and Kevin Garnett combined to play more than 59 minutes in Game 1, and yet they still managed to team for seven rebounds, with three of those coming in the final nine minutes of Garnett's fourth quarter. The Lakers had a 16-0 advantage in second-chance points, which is a startling mark at this level. The Celtics missed 38 2-point shots and nine 3-pointers, and yet they couldn't score a single point off of an offensive rebound.
Some of that credit had to go to the Lakers' start. In a postseason that had seen the Celtics striking first against previous opponents, startling them with physical first-quarter play, it was the defending champs who drew first blood on Thursday, leading by nine points by halftime.
"I knew it was going to be physical," Gasol said. "That's a given. We did a good job getting into the paint and finishing, and controlling the rebounding on the defensive end."
During the regular season, the Celtics were actually the third-worst team in the NBA in pulling in offensive fouls per-possession, but that was mainly a function of the importance the team places on sending players back on defense than it is activity levels or rebounding acumen. But in Game 1, Doc Rivers' team had no excuses. The Celtics were simply not ready to compete on Los Angeles' level.
Boston did make a comeback of sorts, pulling within 11 points in the fourth quarter, but most of that run took place with Kobe Bryant off the floor. Following Bryant's return, Phil Jackson was displeased with the way Los Angeles "fell into the habit of dropping the ball into Kobe's hands" and letting him work one-on-one. Bryant made a 3-pointer in the game's final seconds, but it was his first make of the fourth quarter in six tries from the field.
Bryant's relative troubles and Boston's improved defensive play wasn't nearly enough, though. The Celtics simply could not string together enough scores in the fourth, as even their big comeback quarter -- the chance to make a game of it -- saw the team miss 10 of 17 shots from the floor.
"I know my team. I'll know we'll bounce back."
If that's going to be the case, his team will have to play completely different than the one we'd come to know on Thursday night.
An extended Behind
the Box Score covering Game 1 will follow on Friday morning.