The Los Angeles Lakers got a measure of revenge for their loss in the NBA finals with a win over the defending champs their last time out.
The Golden State Warriors weren’t seeking any retribution, but they were more than happy to do the same.
Both coming off a win over the team with the league’s best record, Los Angeles and Golden State will meet for the first time this season Sunday night at Staples Center, where the Warriors have struggled for years against the Lakers.
Los Angeles (24-5) played five tightly contested games against Boston in the NBA finals last spring before being embarrassed in the Celtics’ championship-clinching Game 6 victory. Boston won 131-92, the largest margin of victory ever in a title-clincher.
So in the teams’ first meeting since that summer night in New England, the Lakers had more motivation than just stopping the Celtics’ franchise-record 19-game winning streak. In one of the NBA’s most-anticipated regular-season games in years, Los Angeles snapped Boston’s streak with a 92-83 Christmas Day win behind 27 points from Kobe Bryant and 20 from Pau Gasol.
“We’ve been waiting for that opportunity for a long time, and we won,” said guard Sasha Vujacic, who scored 10 points. “I don’t like them at all. A lot of people called us softies or whatever. It doesn’t matter at all. We know what we can do.”
Many felt Gasol’s strong play in the first three rounds of the postseason dropped off in the NBA finals against the physical Celtics front line, and his average dipped from 17.7 points to 14.7 in the championship series. Yet on Thursday, Gasol was the difference in the fourth quarter, scoring seven points in the final three minutes.
“I’m really happy with Pau,” said Phil Jackson, who became the sixth NBA coach to reach 1,000 victories. “He stepped up in that fourth quarter and we really needed him.”
The fourth quarter was also when the Warriors (9-22) were at their best in their latest game, a performance that led to one of their more improbable wins in recent memory. Boston had to bounce back from its loss in Los Angeles and travel to Golden State on Friday, and it looked to be in good shape at halftime, leading 51-39.
But the Warriors chipped away at their deficit in the third quarter, then dominated the final 12 minutes, outscoring the Celtics 35-17 en route to a 99-89 victory.
“We’re looking for something to get us going. We’re looking for something to turn things around,” said forward Stephen Jackson, who had a game-high 28 points in his return to the lineup after missing four games with a sprained left hand. “This should give us some momentum and some confidence.”
Golden State got Jackson’s 19.0 points per game back, but it’s still missing its two leading scorers. Corey Maggette (19.1 ppg) has missed the team’s last 11 games with a strained hamstring, and Jamal Crawford (19.3) has sat out the past two with a strained groin.
Crawford is expected back on Sunday, but Maggette’s timetable for a return remains uncertain.
Regardless of who’s on the floor, the Warriors will have the odds stacked against them at Staples Center. They’ve beaten the Lakers there twice in their past 18 visits, though one of those was a 115-111 victory on March 23 - their last trip - behind 31 points from Jackson.
Bryant has averaged 37.3 points in his last four home games against Golden State.
The teams split four meetings last season - two before the Lakers acquired Gasol, and two in late March with the Spanish center sidelined due to injury.