The difference between 2010 and 2008 was noticed in the opening seconds of the first quarter. Two years ago, Boston used tough, physical and aggressive play to impose their physical will over the Lakers en route to winning their NBA best 17th championship in franchise history.
Fast forward to Thursday night where Ron Artest and Paul Pierce were battling for position underneath the hoop. Both fell to the floor entangled in each other and a double technical was called. It was at that point the Lakers established they were not the same team from two years ago.
Ron Artest could not be more of a different player than Vladimir Radmanovic, who was the Lakers starting small forward in the 2008 Finals and was matched up with Pierce who took advantage of the mismatch all the way to becoming Finals MVP.
Los Angeles gave Boston a taste of their own medicine Thursday night on their way to winning Game One 102-89. In addition to the physical tone established by Artest in the opening seconds, the Lakers dominated the paint by out rebounding the Celtics 42-31 and outscoring them in second chance points 16-0.
Another huge factor in the Lakers Game One win was the play of Andrew Bynum. If you look at the box score nothing jumps out at you as Bynum finished with 10 points and 6 rebounds in 28 minutes. What I saw was a player the Lakers sorely missed two years ago that was able to give them productive minutes by staying out of foul trouble and absorb the physical punishment by Boston’s big men and most importantly allow Pau Gasol to have a more favorable matchup against Kevin Garnett and Boston’s other power forwards. Gasol finished with 29 points, 14 rebounds (8 offensive) and 3 blocked shots.
Last night’s win will undoubtedly give the Lakers much confidence going forward as Kobe Bryant and company look to make amends for the defeat two years ago. However, make no mistake, as this series is far from over. Boston looked completely out of rhythm. Garnett was not at his best and Ray Allen was in foul trouble all night and was never able to get on track.
None of Boston’s “Big Four” shot 50 percent. I look for that to change sooner rather than later. The Celtics will make the necessary adjustments and show the heart of a champion to try to keep from going down 2-0 in the series.
Look for the Lakers to continue to try to impose their physical will and continue to try to break the Celtics spirit. I know past statistics do not guarantee future results but this stat is an impressive one none the less. Phil Jackson coached teams are 47-0 when they have won the first game in a playoff series. Just a little food for thought as the basketball world turns its eyes to Sunday for Game Two.