Today’s Celtics-Lakers matchup is different. Why? Because it’s a regular season game that means something. Why’s that? Because the Celtics have revenge to inflict. Why else? Because we may actually learn something today.
Can the Kendrick Perkins-Shaquille O’Neal tag team help cancel out LA’s size and length? Can Kevin Garnett hold his own against Pau Gasol, or maybe even outplay him? Or is Garnett’s renewed vigor and athleticism only enough to pick on lesser players? Can Paul Pierce handle Ron Artest’s defense, in a way he couldn’t in June? Is Rajon Rondo better equipped to handle the “Kobe sagging ten feet off” defensive tactic? Can Marquis Daniels, Glen Davis and Nate Robinson hold their own against LA’s improved bench? Can Robinson, for the love of God, please stop shooting pull-up three-pointers on fast breaks?
The Celtics restocked with big men because of what happened last June. Pau Gasol looked like Paul Bunyan during that series, as if it took five storks just to deliver him to his parents at birth. Andrew Bynum was Babe the Blue Ox, and together the two folk heroes made the Grand Canyon using only an axe and their own bodies. In the deciding Game 7, Gasol grabbed 18 rebounds — Kevin Garnett just three. The Lakers as a team notched 53 rebounds, including 23 offensive rebounds — the Celtics registered only 40 boards, and just eight on the offensive glass.
And so the Celtics signed Shaquille O’Neal, and convinced Semih Erden to come overseas. They picked up Jermaine O’Neal, too, but the big man won’t play for at least a few weeks. (Insert your own “Jermaine O’Neal’s body equals glass” joke here.) Don’t think the Celtics made those three signings to match up with Dwight Howard, or to take advantage of Miami’s dearth of big men. They have already shown an ability to match up better with Howard than any other team, and I doubt Danny Ainge spent his summer worrying about whether his centers would outplay Joel Anthony or Zydrunas Ilgauskas. The Celtics took it upon themselves to get bigger for one simple reason — they were exposed by LA’s size, pushed around by a team that was supposed to be soft.
Pau Gasol, Lamar Odom and Andrew Bynum pushed the Celtics to change, to improve. After the C’s ended last season five points shy of an NBA championship, they knew exactly where they needed an upgrade. The Celtics were already big and they were already bad, but they needed to be bigger and they needed to be badder. They needed to be better.
Here we are, back at the scene, seven months after the crime. Kevin Garnett looks completely recovered from his ’09 injury, and Paul Pierce’s body looks better than it has in two or three years. The Celtics have beefed up for another title shot, because the Los Angeles Lakers pushed them to.
Though tonight won’t mean a single thing if the two teams do meet in the NBA Finals, it’s our first chance to begin answering the all-important question: Are the Celtics five points better than they were last June?
Celtics-Lakers: Not your average regular season game — Written by yours truly
Celtics at Lakers: What it means for Boston — Written by Matt Moore