It’s another win in January — one of 12 the Celtics garnered for the month — lifting them to 36-11 overall. There are no extra points for winning a “big game” in the regular season, and in just 11 days, they have to suit up against the Lakers again.
But in so many other ways, Sunday’s 109-96 win was hugely important.
For one, the Celts’ visit to the Staples Center was their first since a fourth-quarter meltdown in Game 7 of the NBA Finals that will forever live in Boston sports infamy. This was a chance at some semblance of solace, their last shot (before the playoffs, anyway) to cast off the demons in Los Angeles and re-establish confidence.
“It’s another game, but it was definitely an emotional game, especially because we lost Game 7 here,” said Paul Pierce, who erupted for 32 points on 11-of-18 shooting and solidly outdueled Kobe Bryant by any measure besides points. “It feels good to come back in this building and get a win.”
And in Pierce’s offensive outburst, Kobe revisited his 2005 style of play, which is to shoot every time he touches the ball. As the game wore on, he became more erratic, going 8-for-17 in the second half with two turnovers and two charging fouls. He finished with zero assists.
In other words, nothing has changed — when Kobe tries to take over, his team loses; when he instead lets Shaquille O’Neal (before) or Pau Gasol (now) do his bidding for him, he earns rings.
Which is further good news about Boston’s win Sunday. The Lakers (33-15), who are now 1-5 against top-five competition in the league, continue to inch away from the style of play that made them back-to-back champions.
This, as the Big Three and Rajon Rondo only continue to jell.
In the win over the Lakers, Pierce, Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett combined to post 71 points on 28-of-42 shooting, while adding 20 boards and three steals. Rondo, for his part, mounted another double-double (10 points, 16 dimes), while the bench — Nate Robinson (11 points) and Glen Davis (13 points, four rebounds), in particular — regained some of the Donkey-Shrek fire demonstrated in the 2010 postseason.
In other words, while the Celtics brought a well-coached, organized, balanced offensive and defensive attack, the Lakers watched as Kobe dribbled and shot.
It goes a long way in explaining the 3 1/2-game lead Boston currently holds over the Lakers — and don’t think the records don’t matter. Boston, after slothing to a 50-32 record in the 2009-10 regular season, had to hit the road for two series in the Eastern Conference playoffs before facing L.A. in the Finals.
Come Game 7 at the Staples Center, they were spent, particularly without starting center Kendrick Perkins.
“If we had home court last year, who knows maybe what happens in Game 7?” Pierce asked. “We’re not looking ahead, but maybe if it comes down to another Game 7, maybe we’ll have it at home.”
Sunday’s win certainly gets Boston a step closer — in more ways than one.