The city of Los Angeles was still trying to come to terms with the loss of their basketball patriarch, Jerry Buss. The end of an era; maybe not, but Dr. Buss did start a legacy and revived the Lakers franchise that was tethering on the verge on anonymity. And if there was any way of paying a fitting tribute, it could be by the only way Dr. Buss cared for.
One of his most famous quotes of all-time: “One of the biggest reasons why I bought the Lakers was to beat the Celtics.”
Maybe it was destiny, or maybe another perfect ending to bid adieu to their legendary owner; an innovator who just didn’t change the face of the Lakers, but also revamped the league and added new dimensions to sports and entertainment. As the Gods would have it, the Lakers played host to the Celtics, and the greatest ever rivalry in the history of the sport was all set to be revived again.
Both teams may have been severely short-handed by injuries to their major stars, the Lakers missing Gasol and the Celtics missing Rajon Rondo, but the passion of a Lakers-Celtics encounter still could not be possibly subdued. In their last meeting, the Celtics were riding high on a superlative offensive performance by Pierce and company and had routed the Lakers by 21 points. The game today was supposed to be about payback, but in the light of the unfortunate demise of Dr. Buss, it had taken up a much greater level of importance. For Kobe personally, it was a very emotional moment, and he knew that the recent struggles of the Lakers bothered Dr. Buss as much as it bothered him. He was emotional, and driven to script the perfect farewell story. His teammates followed suit. With a new JB patch on their uniforms, and his memories in their heart, the Lakers were ready to play the way Buss always envisaged of the team.
The five talking points of the contest:
Lakers playing better under the SYSTEM:
The all-star break sure seems to have revitalized the Lakers, as they came out all guns blazing in the match. They passed the ball well, executed their plans superbly, and most importantly spaced the floor and shared the ball. All five starters garnered double-digits points, and with the offense flowing smoothly, we had a rare yet alluring showcase of the beauty of a Mike D’Antoni offense.
Howard coming up big:
Before the match, Mitch Kupchak was inquired about the possible trade of Howard. Kupchak retorted back claiming that he saw no reason why the Lakers should look to trade the best Centre in the game, and stated that he saw Howard as the face of the Lakers franchise after Kobe Bryant hangs up his boots. The Lakers management has put all its faith on the big-man, and despite the vague possibility of another Dwightamare, they still choose to believe and commit, rather than go rational and be speculative. Howard was quizzed about the same and he put up a committed yet non-committal front again, re-iterating his desire to win Championships with the Lakers, yet still keeping his options open. If anything, the statements made by Kupchak re-energized him and he came out a much belligerent and focussed player. He was again his busy self, setting great screens, rolling hard and fast to the rim, working himself out on the offensive glass, dictating and orchestrating the team’s defensive rotations, and most importantly showing a desire and hunger that was reminiscent of his days in Orlando. He posted up a lot, created plays off the block, and was also ready to sacrifice and shoulder the responsibility. He looked fresh, maybe the all-star break paying dividends, and was by and far the best player for the Lakers today. He finished the game with 24 points on 10-13 shooting and also garnered 12 rebounds. Phil Jackson had stated that Howard doesn’t get enough touches down-low, and the Lakers needed to feed him more. Well, today he did get a lot of touches and everything he touched turned to gold, or rather purple and gold.
Earl Clark had a great game as well:
Clark came in as a throw-in alongwith the trade that brought Howard to the Lakers. And his early days with the Lakers were certainly along similar lines. He didn’t get many minutes, and was by no means a feature in D’Antoni’s plans. But the Lakers coaching staff still raved about his dedication and work-ethics in training, and the fact that he always worked with a smile on his face. Ask D’Antoni now and he would tell you that Clark has been the singular success story for the Lakers all throughout the season. His quick-feet, agility and basketball IQ enables him to guard almost everyone on the floor, be it a guard of the caliber of Monta Ellis or a power forward like Kevin Garnett. Clark also can stretch the floor on the offensive end of the floor, as well as use his sound ball-handling skills to put the ball on the floor and get to the rim. In short, Clark is a lottery that maybe the Lakers didn’t deserve, but an asset that they can’t do without. And against the Celtics, he was exceptional again, scoring 14 points to go with 16 rebounds. Most importantly he managed to subdue Garnett, and keep him to just 12 points, on 6-14 shooting. He dived for every loose ball around, fought his way to good positions to secure rebounds and was pretty much the defining story of the Lakers today
Celtics Offense lacked direction:
The Celtics managed to script an 8-2 run without their star point-guard in Rondo, and it is a great tribute to the will and the heart of their seasoned veterans in Garnett and Pierce. They slogged their way to victories, using the old-school pick and roll game, and playing good fundamental basketball. They shared the ball, and made the final extra pass, and the offense, though not being very pretty, was certainly very effective. But today the Celtics offense looked lost and lacked direction. Pierce tried his best with a 23 point first-half performance, but with the Celtics failing to knock down open jumpers and missing easy shots around the rim, it proved to be a very tough outing for the green brigade. They did run their sets with the usual dedication, but their offense just lacked enough bite and energy to bother the Lakers. The Celtics half-court offense was also not working great as they chose to rake up perimeter jumpers, and only managed 30 points in the point, compared to the Lakers who earned 54 points in the paint. The bench was woeful, and Doc rivers has serious issues to handle if the Celtics are to keep up with their post-Rondo resurgence. They did manage to score 99 points, and almost got to the verge of denying the crowd gathered at Staples Center their free Taco’s, but the Celtics weren’t trying to be charitable and against a defensive unit like the Lakers, they were expected to do more.
Celtics Defense wasn’t up to the mark either:
The backbone of this Celtics team remains their energy and dedication on the defensive end of the floor, and against the Lakers today they were certainly found lacking on many fronts. They didn’t shore up the paint effectively, as the Lakers scored 54 points inside. The defensive rotations weren’t fast enough, and Garnett and company seemed tired after their match-up against the run-and-gun style of the Nuggets. The Lakers had scored 62 points by half-time, something that you don’t expect from a team that prides itself on its stifling defense. The Lakers shot 50% from the field, and also managed to garner 14 offensive rebounds. The second-chances that the Celtics gave the Lakers proved vital and were maybe one of the biggest contributors to the Lakers win. Doc Rivers for sure would be livid at the same, and this is one high-priority issue that they need to address.
The match may have turned out to be a blow-out victory for the Lakers, but they would be ill-advised to take it as a given. The Rockets are still 3 and a 1/2 games ahead, and considering their superlative scoring form, the play-offs still remain a tough challenge for the Lakers. Today might have been an emotional game for the Lakers, but the next few games are vital and they need to turn up playing with a similar level of energy and dedication, if they are to make the play-offs. Dr. Buss may have envisaged greater things for this team, but for now getting to the play-offs is the minimum that the Lakers would be aiming at.Published 21 Feb 2013, 18:41 IST