Lakers 102, Celtics 89

Rough start

Physical Lakers make it tough on Celtics in opener

By Julian Benbow
Globe Staff / June 4, 2010

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LOS ANGELES — If the Lakers sent any message, it was that this wasn’t 2008. This wasn’t going to be the type of series in which they were bullied off the floor, in which Kevin Garnett would rip rebounds from his hands, in which the Celtics would walk on the Lakers’ home floor and rip their hearts out.

If these NBA Finals were going to be a fight, the Lakers were going to knuckle up.

After absorbing a 102-89 Game 1 loss last night, Celtics coach Doc Rivers was fully prepared to admit it.

“The Lakers were clearly the more physical team,’’ he said. “They were aggressive. They attacked us the entire night.’’

The Lakers’ strategy was clear. Slow the game to a frustrating crawl, dominate in the half-court offense, abuse the Celtics in the paint with Pau Gasol and a healthier-than-expected Andrew Bynum, and get an occasional highlight-reel play from Kobe Bryant.

They were as effective as they were efficient, setting the tone for the series. In a game devoid of rhythm or flow, the Lakers — considered a finesse team — not only won, they thrived.

“It wasn’t the prettiest basketball game I’ve ever watched in my life,’’ said Los Angeles coach Phil Jackson. “But it was a good win for us.’’

It took Paul Pierce and Ron Artest all of 27 seconds to add another incident to their long list of physical run-ins. Joey Crawford, the official who held up a dazed Glen Davis in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference finals, had to hold back Artest, separating him from Pierce under the Lakers’ basket. They earned double technicals.

From there, the Lakers were the only ones doing the pushing.

The Celtics took just 14 first-quarter shots. The Lakers seemed to be attacking constantly, going 10 for their first 22.

The Lakers did most of their damage feeding the post, and Gasol was gluttonous, finishing with 23 points and 14 rebounds, directly challenging Garnett, who had taken advantage of Spaniard in the 2008 Finals.

“He was more aggressive,’’ Rivers said of Gasol. “I thought he was the best player on the floor at points tonight. Listen, if you heard for two years what you couldn’t do, you’re probably going to come in and try to prove that.’’

The Celtics constantly found themselves taking the ball out of the basket, never getting a chance to ignite their offense in transition. Exactly what the Lakers wanted.

Rajon Rondo, the Celtics’ supposed weak link two years ago but now the Lakers’ point of emphasis, had 13 points, 8 assists, and 6 rebounds, but the Lakers rendered him ineffective by keeping him out of transition for most of the night.

“That was a big part of it, not having a layup line going on with Rondo,’’ Jackson said. “No activity as far as steals in the back court, transition baskets, outlet passes, and things he’s capable of doing. I thought we were careful around him but still respectful of what he can do.’’

With Bryant guarding him most of the night, Rondo drifted into bad habits.

“I thought we fell back into trying to score on [Bryant] instead of trying to run our offense,’’ Rivers said.

At the same time, the height of Gasol, Bynum (who looked sharp after having his knee drained before the series), and Lamar Odom allowed the Lakers to alter shots and control the glass (42 rebounds, 16 second-chance points). They held the Celtics to 43.3 percent shooting, cutting off the fast break (just 5 points) and denying them from the 3-point line (1 of 10).

Meanwhile, Bryant got whatever he wanted, particularly in the third quarter when he scored 14 points, nailing jump shots with multiple defenders lunging at him, polishing off fast breaks with effortless dunks, and finishing alley-oop passes with two-handed flushes.

Bryant finished with 30 points, his fifth straight game with 30-plus and his 10th such game this postseason.

Jackson’s teams win when they set the tone (47-0 in series when they win the first game).

This was expected to be a series in which they would have to be more physical, and they showed that they were more than willing to do just that.

“We knew that. I felt like we pretty much let them run what they wanted to run,’’ said Pierce, who had team highs of 24 points and nine rebounds. “There was no resistance. I looked up and we gave up 100 points, I haven’t seen that for a while. We’ve got our work cut out for us. They definitely put us on our heels.’’

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