History fades as Game 1 arrives
BOSTON — It’s in their hands now. All the history, all the memories, all the folklore and mythology will be nothing but an intriguing subplot when the Lakers and Boston Celtics meet in the NBA Finals for the first time in 21 years tonight in Game 1 at the TD Banknorth Garden.
Jerry West can’t help Kobe Bryant sink his jump shots in a renewal of the league’s most storied rivalry. Kareem AbdulJabbar can’t aid Pau Gasol in the low post. Elgin Baylor can’t lift Lamar Odom to greater heights around the basket.
No, these Lakers are going to have to do this on their own.
Think of it this way: The new Lakers will play the new Celtics. It just so happens they’re prepared to write a new chapter in an old book, one that had been closed for a generation, locked away in the form of memories and scrapbooks and grainy films from the 1960s and videotape from the ’80s.
The fact is the 2007-08 Lakers have little in the way of a history against the Celtics, apart from a pair of lopsided defeats in November and December. And Lakers coach Phil Jackson was quick to dismiss those two clunkers yesterday afternoon.
“We were full of turkey,” he said of their loss the day after Thanksgiving. Of their loss Dec. 30 at Staples Center, he said, “We wore those shortshorts (as part of a throwback uniform promotion) and lost our attitude early in the game.”
In a way, the rivalry was reignited when the Lakers and Cetlics each pursued Kevin Garnett, who was on the trading block last summer. The Lakers pushed hard in the wake of their second straight playoff ouster in the first round. In the end — and perhaps not surprisingly — Boston won the Garnett sweepstakes when Minnesota Timberwolves general manager Kevin McHale agreed to a deal with Danny Ainge, his former Celtics teammate from the 1980s.
Garnett joined Ray Allen, who also was acquired in a trade, and Paul Pierce to rejuvenate the long dormant franchise. The Celtics finished atop the Eastern Conference standings with a 66-16 record.
Meanwhile, the Lakers made their own blockbuster move later in the season when they acquired Gasol from the Memphis Grizzlies for disappointing power forward Kwame Brown and rookie guard Javaris Crittenton on Feb. 1. The Lakers finished atop the Western Conference with a 57-25 mark.
“We gave great chase to Garnett last year and put a lot of pressure on the Minnesota franchise, and we felt we had the inside track on that,” Jackson said. “And that we would end up missing out on that opportunity and still be here in this challenge, the finals, is really kind of a great story in itself.
“Disregarding all the other things about the Celtics and Lakers going back for the last 30-some years, 40 years, I think that’s the really interesting part of it.”
Well, it’s one interesting part of it. There are plenty of others in a dream matchup that figures to entice new fans to an old rivalry, lifting interest in the league and raising television ratings after years of disappointing figures.
Bryant’s attempt to win a championship only a year after he called the Lakers a “mess” and demanded to be traded is another. His ability to win without Shaquille O’Neal by his side also will be tested. Together, and with Jackson guiding them, they won three straight titles to start the decade.
Then there is the matchup of the Lakers’ superb offence against the Celtics’ outstanding defence. The Lakers have averaged 105.9 points while going 12-3 in the playoffs, the best of any team in the playoffs. The Celtics have given up a leaguelow 87.3 points.
“Our whole concept is to defend first, and let the offense come from here,” said Boston’s Sam Cassell, a former Clippers guard. “Sometimes the offense struggles, but we’re still defending. But I think every coach in this league would want this problem.”