Sometimes, a week is just different.
This past Valentine's Day, the Los Angeles Lakers were handily defeated by the Los Angeles Clippers. I attended the game, it was awful. The Clippers are championship contenders, and for true Lakers fans, that reality is quite jarring. It seems like that 2010 championship wasn't all that long ago, but a look at this team and the league nowadays, and it's beginning to look like a relic, a triangular one of sorts.
Following the disappointing Clippers' game, Dwight Howard and Kobe Bryant headed out to Houston for All-Star weekend. According to various reports, these two didn't suddenly turn into buddies over the short break. Multiple rumors came out, who knows what is true? This led to all sorts of debate and speculation regarding who leaked what, what it all means, and what's going to happen at the trade deadline.
Then, Dr. Jerry Buss, the greatest owner of any franchise, regardless of sport, lost his battle with cancer, and passed away on February 18th at the age of 80. Dr. Buss hadn't attended a game all season, yet his condition was kept fairly quiet, thus making his passing all the more sudden for the general population. There will never be another Dr. Buss; his presence will be sorely missed.
With the sudden loss, the franchise mourned while also preparing to face the Boston Celtics, a team that handed the Lakers their biggest loss of the season just a couple of weeks ago, and was likely Dr. Buss's least favorite franchise in the NBA. As history would have it, I attended this game as well. With that odd feat, I will likely remember these games with a firm timeline. Namely, one was the final game Dr. Buss would oversee as owner of his beloved Lakers, and the other would mark the first Lakers game without Dr. Buss in over 30 years.
With such a heavy week, here is a quick, light rundown of my thoughts on the Celtics game.
Howard was exceptional against the Celtics. He came out strong with putbacks, dunks, screens, dives, rotations, shot alterations, just everything, even free throws! It was everything that Lakers fans have wanted to see all season long. With 12 points in the first quarter, Howard was a catalyst for the Lakers' impressive 36 point opening quarter.
Howard finished the game with 24 points on 10-13 shooting, along with 12 rebounds, one assist, one steal, and one block. It's these lines that make Howard so disappointing, because we all know he can dominate like this, but this season, it's been a struggle for him to play well consistently. After an awful game against the Clippers, and a rocky extended break, it was great to see Howard bounce back with a worthy performance. If Howard continues to do all the little things, the Lakers may just do some big things.
Along with Howard's impressive play, Bryant was excellent, in stretches. In the first quarter, Bryant supported Howard with 10 points and two assists. Watching each open with a strong performance was a surprising treat. In the third quarter, Bryant continued his strong play by dishing out four assists and helping the Lakers push the lead to nearly 20 points.
Overall, Bryant's line wasn't great, but in typical Bryant fashion, he was able to grind out the game while leaving a lasting imprint upon the win. For stretches, Bryant made every single right decision and he carried the Lakers. If Howard is able to become a consistent force, these two can go far as a formidable one-two punch.
Furthermore, the collective whole of the Lakers really came through against the Celtics. Seven players reached double digits. The defense held the Celtics to just 99 points, a real feat considering Paul Pierce had 23 of the Celtics' 54 points at the half — Pierce finished with just 26 points overall. Also, role players like Earl Clark, Metta World Peace, Steve Blake, Antawn Jamison, and Jodie Meeks each produced solid minutes. World Peace opened with some corner threes, Clark notched a game high 16 rebounds, Blake made plays and hit some shots, Jamison scored at the rim with his keen sense for cutting, and Meeks just played hard and made sure that effort was never an issue.
One final impression. Comparing this game to the Clippers' game is essentially night and day. That performance was about as awful as they come, and it led to a dull crowd that had nothing to cheer for. Against the Celtics, with another national audience, the players responded well, and the crowd poured out support with far greater enthusiasm. "Boston sucks!" along with some "MVP!"'s and even a heartening "Jerry! Jerry!" all contributed to a wonderful Lakers game atmosphere, one that Dr. Buss would have enjoyed.
Overall, the Lakers can do some real damage if they continue to match this effort for the remainder of the season. Maybe it took some grief for the guys to dig in deep. Or maybe it will be just another fluke game.
Whatever the case, I witnessed two polar opposite Lakers' games, and it's all a bit disorienting for just a week's time.
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