So the Celtics want to play rough again? Kobe Bryant and the Lakers look ready this time around, and they barged into an early lead in the NBA finals.
Bryant scored 30 points, Pau Gasol had 23 points and 14 rebounds, and defending champion Los Angeles got tough in a 102-89 victory over Boston in the NBA finals opener Thursday night.
Ron Artest scored 15 points after tumbling to the ground in a tangle with Paul Pierce in the opening minute of the 12th finals meeting in the NBA's most scintillating rivalry. Bryant and Gasol then led a gritty physical effort against the Celtics, who memorably pushed around the Lakers while winning their 2008 finals matchup in six games.
“They were the more physical team by far,” Celtics coach Doc Rivers said. “They were more aggressive. They attacked us the entire night. I didn't think we handled it very well.”
Pierce scored 24 points and Kevin Garnett added 16 after a slow start for the Celtics, who might not want to know Lakers coach Phil Jackson's teams in Los Angeles and Chicago have won 47 straight playoff series after winning Game 1.
“I wish I had put it in the bank, so to speak,” said Jackson, the 10-time champion. “We've got to play this out. … Our defense stiffened at various points in the game, was very effective. We've got a lot of work ahead of us, but it's nice to know that (the 47-0 streak) is on our side.”
Game 2 is Sunday night at Staples Center.
If the first 48 minutes of the rematch are any indication, this series again will be a knockdown, drag-out physical confrontation — and the supposedly finesse-oriented Lakers held their ground early.
Ray Allen scored 12 points in just 27 minutes, saddled with constant foul trouble while trying to guard Bryant. Pierce also picked up early fouls, while Garnett simply struggled, going 7 for 16 from the field and grabbing just four rebounds — even inexplicably missing an open layup with 5½ minutes to play.
That's mostly because of Gasol, the Spanish 7-footer determined to assert himself after admittedly getting pushed around by Garnett two years ago. Gasol capped a strong game by sprinting downcourt and catching a long pass in stride for a dunk with 6:21 to play.
“Pau played a big game tonight,” Jackson said. “I thought they did a good job on him in the post, but his movement and his activity was important.”
This one was rough from the opening tumble.
Just 27 seconds in, Artest and Pierce got double technical fouls after crashing to the court back-to-back with elbows locked. The mood didn't improve much in a game featuring 54 fouls, but Bryant's playmaking and the Lakers' inside advantages drove them to a 20-point lead after three quarters before surviving Boston's final run.
“You can't ease into the game, espeically in the finals,” Pierce said. “That's one of the better rebounding teams in the NBA. We've just got to do a better job rebounding the ball, eliminating easy opportunities. When I look up and we've given up 100 points, I haven't seen that in a while.”
Los Angeles outrebounded the Celtics 42-31 and put up a strong shooting percentage until a fourth-quarter slump, again excelling at the their two biggest areas of strength in this postseason.
Andrew Bynum scored 10 points on his injured right knee as the Lakers improved to 9-0 at home in the playoffs, with 12 straight postseason home wins dating to last year's championship run.
Rajon Rondo had 13 points — just three in the second half — and eight assists as Boston went 1 for 10 on 3-pointers, but forced 15 turnovers with active hands in passing lanes.
Bryant scored just four points in the fourth quarter, but hit a 3-pointer in the final seconds. He added seven rebounds and six assists in his 12th 30-point game of the postseason.
Pierce and Artest set a resonant tone for the first quarter, which featured 18 personal fouls and 20 free throws, 12 by Boston. The Lakers took a 50-41 halftime lead, but Rondo kept the Lakers close with 10 points, including a buzzer-beating jumper.
Los Angeles took charge in the final minutes of the third quarter, when Bryant led an 11-2 run to an 84-64 lead heading into the fourth. Boston swiftly sliced that lead with a 10-1 run in the first four minutes, but the Lakers kept their lead in double digits throughout the fourth.
Boston had homecourt advantage in the clubs' 2008 meeting, but these Celtics will have to win at least once at Staples Center, where the Lakers have won 12 straight playoff games since last season's Western Conference finals.
The arena was packed well before the opening tip for the Lakers' third straight appearance in the NBA finals, and several thousand fans actually deigned to put on the giveaway gold T-shirts handed out by the team. The T-shirt stunt failed miserably the past two times Los Angeles tried it in the playoffs.
NOTES » An entertaining jump ball occurred midway through the second quarter when 5-9 Nate Robinson tied up the 7-foot Gasol. The Spaniard won the tip. … Celtics C Kendrick Perkins didn't get his seventh technical foul of the postseason, which will result in an automatic one-game suspension, but technical-foul legend Rasheed Wallace got one for arguing late in the third quarter. … Fans near courtside included Jerry West, Leonardo DiCaprio, Charlize Theron, David Duchovny, Will Ferrell, boxer Floyd Mayweather Jr., Terrell Owens, Steven Spielberg, Snoop Dogg, Mike Epps and Hilary Swank. Chris Rock, David Spade, Kevin James and Adam Sandler sat together at courtside to promote their “Grown Ups” movie, opening in three weeks. … When the Staples Center trained its KissCam on Dustin Hoffman and his wife for their usual smooch, Hoffman instead turned the other way and kissed actor Jason Bateman.