BOSTON — This was not just another game. When the Celtics and Lakers play, even if their cumulative records are below .500 and their seasons have been more disappointing than triumphant, nobody in green or purple tries to give the old sports trope about every game counting the same.
This game means a little extra, especially to Paul Pierce, born and raised in Inglewood, Calif., just outside of Los Angeles, as a Lakers fan who idolized Magic Johnson and now plays for that franchise’s biggest rival.
“It always does [mean a little more],” Pierce admitted. “It’s never going to change. You walk down these hallways and when you come in here, you see the whole rivalry, pictures, throughout the decades, regular season, playoffs, championships. It’s always going to have that extra little edge to this game.”
Pierce likes it that way. As he put it, “it always feels good to give [the Lakers] an old-fashioned beatdown at your house.” The Celtics’ captain went for 24 points on Thursday, leading a consolidated offensive attack to dismiss the Lakers 116-95. Kobe Bryant scored a game-high 27 points, but the Lakers star knew what type of game he was in for.
“It’s typical Celtics basketball,” Bryant said. “They just put their hard hats on and they go out and go hard and figure things out. It always just seems like whenever their backs are against the wall, you know that’s when you really see the best from them. ”
From the get-go, Pierce was ready to take it to his hometown team. He took 10 shots in the first quarter, testing out the on-ball defense of Metta World Peace and probing the help rotations by a tentative Dwight Howard, who was playing with a torn labrum. Pierce led all scorers with 10 points after playing all 12 minutes in the first quarter, although he deferred to Kevin Garnett and the second unit in the second quarter.
When the Celtics made their decisive push in the third quarter, though, Pierce was not about to let any of his teammates steal his fun. He canned a jump shot with two minutes left in the frame to extend Boston’s lead to 21 points. Then, after Jason Terry slowed the ball up on the break when he recognized that the Celtics did not have numbers, Pierce collected a swing pass at the top of the key and fired a contested 25-footer that plunked through the net and gave the Celtics a 26-point advantage, their largest lead to that point.
Celtics coach Doc Rivers expected nothing less than that level of aggression from the L.A. kid in a Boston uniform.
“Well, he’s from L.A.,” Rivers said with a grin. “It’s like me going to Chicago as a kid, or I guess I was an adult by then. Then there’s the rivalry, as well, so he has the double whammy. He’s with the Celtics, playing the Lakers, from L.A., lives in L.A. in the offseason. It’s probably really important for him to play well and win, so he can walk the streets and talk, as Paul probably does.”
Barring an unforeseen trade, Pierce will make his next visit home in a couple of weeks, a day before the Feb. 21 trade deadline. Unfortunately for him, it will be the second leg of a back-to-back road set for the Celtics, so there will not be much time for walking and talking beforehand. He will have to preserve his energy for the game and hope to get twice the bragging rights to save for the summertime.
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