Unhappy scene on the coast
Celtics have little to show in opener
LOS ANGELES — The Graduate was there. So were Rocky Balboa, Jack Dawson, Happy Gilmore, Snoop Dogg, and the Million Dollar Baby. If Jack Nicholson had yelled “You can’t handle the truth!’’, Tom Cruise would have heard him from the front row of the other side of the Staples Center court.
Hollywood A-listers turned out in big numbers for the renewal of basketball’s best rivalry last night, and the front-runners were rewarded with a 102-89 Laker victory in Game 1 of the NBA Finals.
These Celtics and Lakers are NBA royalty — they have combined to win more than half (32 of 63) of all NBA Championships — but last night’s sloppy slugfest triggered thoughts of the Washington Wizards vs. the New Jersey Nets in mid-February. It was an ugly game with little flow and lots of whistles.
The Celtics were outplayed in every aspect. Pick your poison. They were outrebounded, 42-31. LA scored 16 second-chance points, Boston 0. The Lakers shot 49 percent and outscored the Celtics, 48-30, in the paint. Kobe Bryant scored 30 without breaking a sweat.
Dustin Hoffman had “Ishtar’’ and now the Celtics have Game 1 of the 2010 Finals. These were the bad old Celtics who played .500 ball over the last 54 games of the regular season.
“The Lakers were clearly the more physical team,’’ said Celtics coach Doc Rivers. “I thought they were more aggressive. They attacked us the entire night. I didn’t think we handled it very well. They killed us on the glass. It was impossible for us to get any rhythm. Our defense was horrible. That wasn’t our defense tonight.’’
“I felt like all night we let them run what they wanted to run,’’ said Boston captain Paul Pierce. “They scored 100 points and I haven’t seen that for a while. We take a lot of pride in our defense. There were some angry people in our locker room and they showed it. We don’t want to lose the way we did. They beat us in the hustle plays. That don’t sit well with me at all.’’
“It wasn’t the prettiest basketball game I’ve ever seen,’’ acknowledged Phil Jackson, the winning coach. “It was a long game.’’
An awful game.
The Kevin Garnett-Pau Gasol mano-a-mano was touted as the key matchup of the series. If Game 1 is any indication of things to come, the Celtics are in a heap of trouble. The much-mocked Spaniard totally outplayed KG. Gasol outscored Garnett, 23-16, and outrebounded him, 14-4.
“I knew it was going to be physical,’’ said Gasol. “You’ve got to make sure you match that physicality. It was a good step and we’re happy about the result and now we just have to focus on Game 2. I was ready to step up and play.’’
The tone was set 27 seconds into the game when Pierce and Ron Artest wrestled one another to the floor and were tagged with technical fouls by veteran official Joey Crawford. There were 18 personal fouls called (nine each) in the first quarter. Sheer torture. This was a tractor pull of a basketball game.
The Celtics trailed, 26-21, after one and, 50-41, at intermission. Boston was outrebounded, 23-15, in the first half. So much for the Lakers being soft.
“We’ve got to do a better job pushing these guys back for the rebounds,’’ said Pierce.
Midway through the third, Bryant dunked off a fast break after a Celtic turnover to give the Lakers a 65-52 lead, forcing Rivers to call time out with 6:10 left. The Lakers no doubt remembered Game 4 in 2008, when they blew a 24-point lead to the Celtics on this very court. They weren’t going to let it happen again. It was 84-64 at the end of three. Boston never got closer than 10 in the fourth.
Here’s a disturbing factoid for you Celtics fans. Jackson, the only coach ever to win more championships than Red Auerbach, is 47-0 in series in which his team wins the first game.
The good news is that the Celtics seemed to be sufficiently embarrassed by their performance.
“I know my team,’’ said Pierce. “I know we will bounce back in Game 2 with a lot better effort. I know we’ll put together a better game, next game.’’
Pierce sounded a little like Larry Bird back in the 1980s after a couple of the Celtic losses to the Lakers. In the middle of the ’84 Finals, Bird said the Celtics played “like sissies.’’ Boston went on to win that series.
They’re going hear about last night’s stinker for a couple of days before they get a chance to square the series Sunday. It’s going to be humbling.
Dan Shaughnessy is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.