Kobe Bryant, Andrew Bynum Close Out Celtics

Gary A. Vasquez-US PRESSWIRE

If the Lakers played with as much heart on the road as they do at home they the impending NBA trade deadline would be an after thought. With the Lakers sporting their Sunday whites and those hideous green guys from Beantown on the other end of the court you already knew what to expect.

Despite Boston getting off to a sluggish start this one was a vintage Lakers-Celtics rivalry game. You can set your watch to that. Oh, you can also pretty much keep time by counting how often the Lakers beat the C’s. You won’t hear this mentioned on ABC or their sports partners in crime ESPN for that matter but since that ugly loss in the ’08 finals this one has been one-way traffic with all signs pointing to Los Angeles.

Everything you’d expect was on display in a rousing 97-94 Laker victory.

There was plenty of physical play as the refs swallowed their whistles this afternoon. Metta World Peace brought some of that Artest intensity to the floor even managing to mix it up with Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett.

There was also a lot of back and forth in the final quarter with the lead changing more often than Mr. Rodgers’ wardrobe.

Much to the liking of Doc Rivers the Celtics dialed up the D and started executing on offense in the second half. Rajon Rondo controlled the flow dropping 24 on an impressive shooting day to go along with his customary 10 assists.

Not to be upstaged by their most bitter rivals the Lakers matched Boston’s energy and new gave up.

All game long Andrew Bynum owned the paint. Despite Boston’s aggressive defense Drew was imposing his will. However his 20 points and 14 boards don’t tell the full story. For the first time we saw Kobe Bryant defer to Bynum in the clutch. A potential monumental moment in Bynum’s continued growth.

What is even more amazing about Bryant going to Bynum with the game in the balance is that it came when Kobe was rolling. The Masked Mamba was being harassed with every touch he got but never seemed phased by it. Down the stretch Bryant scored 8 of his game-high 26 in helping to lead the Lakers from 5 down to 3 three up at the final buzzer.

But it will be Kobe’s deferment to Drew on a game-sealing bucket that will make this a memorable victory.

Proving he can trust his fellow Lakers, Kobe shrugged off a play designed to get him another shot instead giving it to Bynum in the post where he went to work and put in a nice one-handed set shot in the paint. The ball seemed to touch every party of the rim before going down but it counted as two none the less.

After that it was academic. Pau Gasol rushed to close out on Ray Allen’s last second three while Rondo hit the bottom of the hoop in his desperation heave. That would be the last of the game and perhaps the last we’ve seen of this rivalry with these rosters.

But that is something to worry about much later. Today the storyline is Kobe’s act of charity and Bynum’s big step forward. Mamba’s lob to Shaq this wasn’t but it had a very distinct feel to it. For the first time Drew put the team on his back, took the game in his hands and stole a win from the opposition.

Now Bynum didn’t do it alone. Metta World Peace showed up with his defensive swagger on and his jumper working. Bryant was back into his efficient mode, needing only 20 shots for his 26 points. The bench even made a somewhat successful showing.

Still it is impossible to ignore Drew’s coming out party. Last Sunday we thought the Lakers had turned the corner after turning down the Heat. So one week later it is hard to read too much into a win over a Celtic squad on its last legs. However if there is a turning point in this season it might very well be Kobe deferring to Bynum and Drew delivering. Time will certainly tell on that one. Either way the time has come for the Lakers to give this kind of effort every time they take the court no matter where the game is played.

Topics: Andrew Bynum, Boston Celtics, Doc Rivers, Kevin Garnett, Kobe Bryant, Metta World Peace, Pau Gasol, Paul Pierce, Rajon Rondo, Ray Allen, Shaquille O'neal

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