|Los Angeles Lakers guard Kobe Bryant dunks during the second half of Game 1 of the NBA basketball finals against the Boston Celtics Thursday, June 3, 2010, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill, Pool)|
Celtics stuck on a number they can't ignore
LOS ANGELES—The number can't be ignored.
Not by any of those unfortunate enough to meet a Phil Jackson team in the postseason. Certainly not by the Boston Celtics.
They'll be reminded about it every time someone puts a microphone in their face over the next few days. They'll think about it as they ride to the Staples Center on Sunday for a Game 2 that suddenly doesn't seem nearly so interesting anymore.
47-0. A number so daunting it almost borders on obscene.
It's grown over 19 years into one of the most remarkable, if almost unnoticed, streaks in sports. The way the Lakers manhandled the Celtics in the opener of the NBA finals, there's not a bookie in Vegas who would take bets on it being snapped now.
One game in, and the number says it's all over. The beautiful people who populate courtside in Los Angeles can relax.
Teams coached by Jackson just don't lose when they win the first game of a playoff series.
"It's nice to know that's on our side," Jackson said.
It's nice to have Kobe Bryant on your side, too, and his third quarter dominance helped put away a game that never seemed really in doubt for the Lakers. A scowl seemingly painted on his face, Bryant scored 14 of his 30 points in the third quarter as the Lakers both outmuscled and outhustled a team that got to the championship series by doing just that itself.
Pau Gasol also showed he was determined to shed the "soft" label pinned on him two years ago when the Celtics beat the Lakers by scoring 23 points and grabbing 14 rebounds, and Ron Artest not only played well but played smart.
But there's a reason the Lakers pay Jackson many more millions than any other NBA coach. They lured him to LA to win playoff games and championships, and there isn't a coach in NBA history who has done it better.
And there may never be any coach better at getting his team ready to play from the opening tip of the first game of a playoff series.
"This first game kind of sets the table, and that's important," Jackson said.
The Lakers not only set the table Thursday night, but feasted at it. Up against a team that made its playoff run at the end of sharp elbows, they used Artest to make a statement just seconds into the game and were the more physical team the rest of the night.
Chalk that up to Bryant's seemingly insatiable desire to win another ring, and to Gasol's determination to set matters straight. But it was Jackson who put the game plan in place to outsmart a coach who won raves by just getting his team into the final.
"I thought they were terrific today," Doc Rivers said. "I thought they were by far the more physical team."
The hungriest, too, and that may be Jackson's best work of these playoffs. The Lakers fought for every contested ball, outscored the Celtics 16-0 on second chance points, and earned every cheer from a crowd that believes it is their right to win the NBA title every year.
Bryant was the leader, of course, playing as if chasing his first title instead of his fifth. But his supporting cast helped expose this Boston team for what it perhaps really is -- a group of overachievers who may not have enough left to pull another upset in these playoffs.
The most fire the Celtics showed all night came in the locker room afterward, where the nature of the loss stung more than the loss itself.
"It wasn't a typical loss locker room," Paul Pierce said. "There was some angry people in there and it showed. The guys in there got pride and don't want to lose the way we did. We're down 20 and they beat us to the hustle plays. That don't sit well with me at all."
Pierce and his teammates were at a loss to explain how they could have come out flat when it mattered so much, short of having signed some secret nonaggression pact with the Lakers. They didn't seem to have a clue.
"It's hard to say," center Kendrick Perkins said. "I mean, their intensity wasn't missing. They had the same layoff as us. I just think they wanted it more and they came out and showed it."
Unfortunately for the Celtics, they picked the wrong time to have a bad game. Losing Game 1 on the road usually isn't a death sentence, but losing to a Jackson team in Game 1 on the road may as well be.
His amazing streak began on April 27, 1990 when the Bulls beat Milwaukee at home in a series they went on to win 3-1. Since then his teams have won the first game of a playoff and gone on to win the series 46 more times.
The Celtics claim not to notice, and get annoyed when they're asked about it.
"Those type of historical numbers don't stick out to this team," Tony Allen said. "We definitely don't think about that."
That may be true, at least up to now. With three long days before Game 2, though, that could change.
It's only one win, but history declares it to be much more than that.
The number can't be ignored.
Tim Dahlberg is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at tdahlberg(at)ap.org