In a game where both teams took turns effectively executing offensively, the L.A. Lakers did the most at the end. Helped by Kobe Bryant's 26 points and seven assists and Andrew Bynum's 20 points, Los Angeles defended its home court with a 97-94 win over the Boston Celtics Sunday afternoon.
The Celtics showed their usual balance offensively, with all five starters in double figures while the Lakers nearly matched the effort, with Derek Fisher the only starter short with nine points.
The Lakers had as much as a 15-point lead in the first half, but when the Celtics had the opportunity to land a punch, they did it well, holding the Lakers to seven points over the last eight minutes of the first half while scoring 20 points of their own to get the lead down to two at halftime.
Both sides battled through an even third quarter and into the fourth. Both teams moved the ball well, typified by the combined 58 assists, and got good shots, underlined by the Celtics 13-of-16 field goal shooting in the third quarter.
Down the stretch both teams traded blows, with Ray Allen nailing a three and then Kobe hitting a big shot and Andrew Bynum converting a lob pass by reaching back, as he appeared to be getting nudged under the hoop by Brandon Bass, and somehow managing to guide the ball into the hoop.
In the end, the Celtics blinked first, with misfires from Allen and Bass while the Lakers converted another Kobe jumper and a Bynum hook deep in the post. Boston missed two final three-point attempts to tie in the last 10 seconds, but Paul Pierce missed a very long three and then Rondo misfired after a heads-up tip-out by Kevin Garnett.
The basket by Bynum was out of a timeout and a rare time where the ball didn't end up in Kobe's hands in clutch time. In fact, it was the first time that Bynum had taken that shot with the score within a point either way and the time under 20 seconds left to go in the game.
The only other time that Bynum attempted a shot during that stretch was in 2009 against the Heat, but that was after a Kobe miss and Bynum putting back the rebound. This was Bynum getting the call and coming through. The Celtics had trouble with Bynum's size all night, yielding 20 points and 14 rebounds to the Lakers center.
Rajon Rondo had 24 points and 10 assists to lead the Celtics, who were kept off the free throw line significantly for the game. The Celtics, who were already in the bottom 10 in free throw rate coming into the game, made the task of beating L.A. harder by only going to the line on only 14 percent of their field goal attempts. (The NBA league average is 28 percent).
By contrast, the Lakers free throw rate was 37 percent for the game, though the home team unintentionally tried to help their guests by missing nine of their 26 attempts.
Afterwards, C.A. Clark of Silver Screen and Roll put the focus squarely on Kobe Bryant:
Speaking of Kobe, he had another one of those games that gives fodder to all the elements of the debate surrounding his worth as a player. In the first half, he missed shots and turned the ball over quite a bit, and played a major role in allowing the Celtics to cut a double digit 1st quarter lead down to two at the end of the half. The second half started more of the same, but Kobe hit two big back to back threes in the middle of the 4th, going 4-6 for 10 points and dishing out a vital assist in the final two minutes. Of course, he got that assist because Andrew Bynum made a spectacular play in converting the alley oop lob from under the backboard, but the willingness to make the pass instead of forcing a difficult shot is important.
At CelticsBlog, Jeff Clark sums up the Lakers' victory and their relative height advantage in this 'short' analysis: