The Los Angeles Lakers began the second half of their season with a convincing win over the Boston Celtics. On a night that opened with a touching tribute to Dr. Jerry Buss, an eloquent speech from Kobe Bryant, and an emotional Magic Johnson to follow it all up, the Lakers delivered a beat down on their home court floor. The empty, but illuminated, chair belonging to Dr. Buss looked on. The Lakers came out strong, and when it was all said and done had a 113-99 victory in pocket.
Dwight Howard had a fantastic game with 24 points (10-13) and 12 rebounds (7 offensive). What Howard was doing beyond the box score, however, made him stand out in one of his best games as a Laker. He set solid screens and created space for his ball-handling point guards. He rolled to the rim. He battled for position in the paint often and early. He was engaged, and it paid off for the Lakers, who fed the ball to Howard without hesitation. There was rhythm for Howard in the offense tonight and he was off dancing right out of the gates.
In return, Howard took care of the defensive end. He challenged in the mid-range, made plenty of great help defense plays, and was great in pick and roll situations. He's still not playing like the consistently dominant defensive player of the year he once was, but his effort was obvious, and key, in the Lakers building the lead so they could "front run". A great night for a player trying to find it-- the kind of night that can be built upon going forward as the Lakers trudge on.
Kobe Bryant didn't have a great night from the field, shooting only 5-15 for 16 points, but still had 7 assists and 4 rebounds. Most importantly, he made the right play. He didn't force passes and he rarely forced bad shots. He did a great job quarterbacking the offense early and keeping his teammates involved while not going overboard and becoming a detriment with forced, predictable, passes.
Steve Nash passed Magic Johnson on the all-time assists board as he dropped another 7 dimes tonight to go with his 14 points. The Nash of old even made an appearance as he drove baseline past his man, drew help defense, and wrapped a pass around to Earl Clark for an easy dunk.
Things went right for the Lakers, if only for a night.
Clark had a magnificent game with a career-high 16 rebounds (5 offensive). His athleticism and motor remain assets for the team, and a joy to watch as he works his way through defenders for putback dunks. Antawn Jamison and Steve Blake combined for 25 points off the bench. Paul Pierce was the Celtics' high man with 26 points, which almost came entirely from the first half. The Lakers out rebounded the Celtics 49-34.
Over the last few weeks the Lakers have stumbled through many of their games while managing to pick up ugly wins along the way. That was not the case tonight as they looked about as crisp as they have all season. They didn't blow out the opponent because of a ridiculous shooting night, but because of well executed play on both sides of the ball. Having a week of rest and catching a battered Celtics squad on the second half of a back-to-back can do that, but the Lakers dominated, and it was a feel good win on an important night. It's always a good night in Lakerland when "Boston sucks" chants flood the court while the Lakers bulldoze through the green jerseys.
There's a million reasons to be cautiously optimistic about a single Lakers glimmer of hope, but for now, it's worth basking in the glory of an earned win. More in the morning, and throughout the day as the trade deadline passes at 3 p.m. EST.
The lights are out.
- Follow this author on Twitter @DrewGarrisonSBN
- Will Boston be making a move before the deadline? Keep up with the latest at Celtics Blog.