What a difference two years makes.
A once tough, gritty and a defensive-minded Boston Celtics team was a pathetic shell of their 2008-selves as they fell to the Los Angeles Lakers 102-89 in Game 1 of the 2010 NBA Finals.
Perhaps the most telling play of the game occurred with about 11 minutes remaining in the fourth quarter. As Pau Gasol dribbled the ball towards the basket, Rasheed Wallace made a half-hearted effort to guard him, but ended up having to shove him out of bounds because he couldn’t keep up with the Spaniard.
Play after play, the Celtics could not keep up with a hungrier and more energetic Lakers squad.
Kobe Bryant led the charge for the purple and gold with a 30 point, seven rebound and six assist effort. He systematically destroyed Tony Allen when the overmatched youngster tried to body him up, and he was equally unstoppable when other Celtics tried to switch onto him. Continuing his post-Oklahoma City Thunder efficiency run, Bryant shot a solid 10-22 for the game.
Throughout the game, the Laker captain was a man on a Finals mission. For a player whose athleticism has been said to be "on the decline," Bryant showed no signs of slowing down. With two minutes remaining in the third quarter, the Black Mamba caught a Derek Fisher-thrown alley-oop and slammed it down to get Staples Center on its feet.
Midway through the fourth quarter, ABC caught up with comedian Chris Rock and asked him what he thought of Bryant’s play.
“Yeah, Kobe’s playing great," Rock said. "It’s almost like his contract is up or something.”
As expected, Gasol provided some much-needed interior dominance against a Celtics defense that appeared to be aging two years every two minutes played. Gasol shed his somewhat undeserved “soft” label in the first game of the NBA Finals by putting up 23 points and 14 rebounds. Further, he consistently banged down any big men tossed at him by Doc Rivers.
It was a team effort for the Lakers, though. Ron Artest contributed toughness and grittiness on the defensive end and 15 points on the offensive side. Andrew Bynum, who many considered to be one of the X-factors for the Lakers in this series, scored 10 points in 28 minutes.
A Lakers bench that has been inconsistent during this year’s playoffs, showed spurts of brilliance against the team that took it to school two years ago. While the Lakers’ bench stats don’t jump off the page, those watching the game saw the energy and enthusiasm it provided the Lakers team in the early going.
For the Celtics, fouls were the name of the game. Ray Allen, Kendrick Perkins and Wallace were in trouble with the officials throughout the 48 minutes.
As has been the case all throughout the playoffs, Rajon Rondo led the Celtics with efficient and smart play. With 13 points, 6 rebounds and 8 assists he thoroughly outplayed any point guard the Lakers threw at him. Still, despite his solid play, the Lakers slowed the speedy guard down. He hurt the purple and gold, but he could not kill them.
Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett had 24 and 16 points, respectively. However, both players put up their numbers in a very quiet fashion.
Garnett was a pathetic shell of the once-fierce competitor we saw in 2008. Missed dunks and poor rebounding became trademark plays for the player known as the Big Ticket.
Pierce appeared frustrated by Artest throughout the entire game. The face of the Celtics’ franchise lacked energy and enthusiasm, seemingly giving up after he saw that his team was en route to a Game 1 defeat.
Many critics said if the Lakers wanted to beat the Celtics, they would have to out-hustle them. Rather, the Lakers did just that by out-rebounding Boston 42-31. They also had more blocks and steals than their opponents.
If Boston has any hope of winning the NBA title this year, it must channel the toughness, determination and hustle that won the championship in 2008.
Game 2 can be seen on Sunday at 5 p.m. on ABC.