LOS ANGELES – So the Celtics want to play rough again? Kobe Bryant and the Lakers look ready this time around, and they barged into an early lead in the NBA finals.
Bryant scored 30 points, Pau Gasol had 23 points and 14 rebounds, and defending champion Los Angeles got tough in a 102-89 victory over Boston in the NBA finals opener Thursday night.
Ron Artest scored 15 points after tumbling to the ground in a tangle with Paul Pierce in the opening minute of the 12th finals meeting in the NBA’s most scintillating rivalry. Bryant and Gasol then led a gritty physical effort against the Celtics, who memorably pushed around the Lakers while winning their 2008 finals matchup in six games.
“They were the more physical team by far,” Celtics coach Doc Rivers said. “They were more aggressive. They attacked us the entire night. I didn’t think we handled it very well.”
Pierce scored 24 points and Kevin Garnett added 16 after a slow start for the Celtics, who might not want to know Lakers coach Phil Jackson’s teams in Los Angeles and Chicago have won 47 straight playoff series after winning Game 1.
“I wish I had put it in the bank, so to speak,” said Jackson, the 10-time champion. “We’ve got to play this out. … Our defense stiffened at various points in the game, was very effective. We’ve got a lot of work ahead of us, but it’s nice to know that (the 47-0 streak) is on our side.”
Game 2 is Sunday night at Staples Center.
If the first 48 minutes of the rematch are any indication, this series again will be a knockdown, drag-out physical confrontation – and the supposedly finesse-oriented Lakers held their ground early.
Ray Allen scored 12 points in just 27 minutes, saddled with constant foul trouble while trying to guard Bryant. Pierce also picked up early fouls, while Garnett simply struggled, going 7 for 16 from the field and grabbing just four rebounds – even inexplicably missing an open layup with 5 1/2 minutes to play.
That’s mostly because of Gasol, the Spanish 7-footer determined to assert himself after admittedly getting pushed around by Garnett two years ago. Gasol capped a strong game by sprinting downcourt and catching a long pass in stride for a dunk with 6:21 to play.
“Pau played a big game tonight,” Jackson said. “I thought they did a good job on him in the post, but his movement and his activity was important.”
This one was rough from the opening tumble.
Just 27 seconds in, Artest and Pierce got double technical fouls after crashing to the court back-to-back with elbows locked. The mood didn’t improve much in a game featuring 54 fouls.
“You can’t ease into the game, especially in the finals,” Pierce said. “That’s one of the better rebounding teams in the NBA. We’ve just got to do a better job rebounding the ball, eliminating easy opportunities. When I look up and we’ve given up 100 points, I haven’t seen that in a while.”