There was nothing finesse about last night’s Lakers victory. They didn’t do anything special, they brought no tricks, and they weren’t trying to fool anyone. They were determined to beat the Celtics the same way the C’s beat them back in 2008 — with brute force and smash-mouth basketball.
And they did just that.
I would say I’ve never seen the Celtics get so thoroughly outworked, but I saw them this regular season. I’ve seen Andray Blatche and Al Horford do the same things to the Celtics that Pau Gasol did yesterday. I’ve seen the Celtics get punched in the mouth and stagger to the floor rather than punch back. But to do it in the playoffs? Against the Lakers? In the motherf*cking NBA Finals? Now THAT was surprising.
This series was supposed to be about tough vs. finesse, and heart vs. length and skill. It was supposed to be the Big, Bad Wolf Celtics vs. the Little Red Riding Hood Lakers. Instead, Game 1 was toughest vs. soft. Little Red Riding Hood grabbed some very heavy artillery and the Big Bad Wolf got a Grade A ass-whipping.
The only good thing about getting punked is that the Celtics know it. They are a prideful team and they do not take getting humiliated well.
“You saw it in guys’ faces,” Paul Pierce said. “You heard it, from reactions after the game, just how guys felt. It wasn’t a typical-loss locker room. There were some angry people in there and they showed it. The guys in there got pride and don’t want to lose the way we did.
“We can deal with losing because it’s part of the game. You lose games, you win games. But you can’t deal with it when you lose the way we did. We’re down 20, they beat us to the hustle plays. That don’t sit well with me at all.”
It don’t sit well with me at all, either. As bad as losses to the Nets and Wizards were earlier this season, at least they were during the regular season. At least there was nothing on the line. At least those losses weren’t in the Finals, against the Lakers, with the Larry O’Brien Trophy going to the series winner.
It’s pretty fitting that pictures of Charles Oakley getting his ass beat came out on the same day that the Celtics got manhandled by the Lakers. Never in a million years did I think any person, or crew of people, or even any army, would be able to batter Charles Oakley. Everything I’ve heard about the guy says he’s the baddest mo’fo to ever walk the face of the earth. I mean, he’s a real life Denzel Washington, except he stands 6’9″ tall and weighs in at somewhere around 250 lbs. And someone beat his ass? I was more surprised hearing about Oakley’s beating than I was to hear that the guy in Sixth Sense was actually dead the entire movie.
And that’s how I felt yesterday about the Celtics getting bitch-slapped by LA. The Celtics were supposed to be the tough ones. They were the indestructible bad guys who get aroused by life in the trenches. Yesterday wasn’t supposed to go down like that. The Celtics weren’t supposed to go down like a bunch of sallies.
There’s a lot on the line this series — a championship, legacies, history, an enormous ring, an 18th banner. There’s so much on the line that pride is probably towards the bottom of that long list. But if the Celtics are to turn this thing around, if they are to regain the collective toughness and swagger that has characterized this team over the past three years, it all starts with pride.
After last night’s game Kevin Garnett said, “I’m better than I was tonight. I played like horseshit.” No kidding, Kev, but you weren’t alone. Everyone else on your team could have uttered the exact same words.
The stakes were high and the Celtics shriveled up and went into hiding. The good news is that it was only one game, only one bad night.
The bad news is that it might represent something far more than that.