This had nothing to do with future playoff messages. This only had to do with a couple of former heavyweight kings picking up one more payday and giving their fans occasional glimpses of the things that once made them great.
This was no Finals preview. This was a 14-10 Celtics team fulfilling a scheduling date with a 14-11 Lakers squad. TNT showed up with the great Marv Albert, which was nice. The Gronk graced us with his goofy presence, which was also nice, and other featured Faces In The Crowd included Bob Kraft, Vince Wilfork, Julian Edelman, and even Cam Neely.
The crowd even brought back memories of Ye Olden Days with a hearty “Beat LA!’’ chant or two. And for a nice extra flourish, they even played five extra minutes before the visitors squeaked out an 88-87 triumph.
Don’t get me wrong. As Doc Rivers pointed out before the game, in this frantic, shortened NBA season, every win is very important. But Rivers has been around too long, and has seen too much quality basketball, to give his personal seal of approval to the goings-on at TD Garden last evening.
“I thought our execution all night was terrible,’’ he said. “It was an awful game, and they won. If we had won, it would have been an awful game we won.’’
To be fair, he did lose, and it should probably come as no surprise that Lakers coach Mike Brown saw the game in a somewhat more positive light. “I’d have to think about it, but it definitely is a very good win for us on the road,’’ he said. “I thought we were shorthanded in Utah [Jan. 11] and our guys somehow found a way to win in overtime. This win is a very good win for us on the road, especially with the way Boston has been playing, and not losing our composure and getting it done in overtime.’’
The game hardly ended in high drama, given that the winning basket was an Andrew Bynum tip-in of a Kobe Bryant miss with 1:29 remaining. There were subsequent misses on both sides before the Celtics got the ball back with 6.1 seconds left in OT. Paul Pierce got off a shot from the right, which Ray Allen was able to rebound and put back, but Pau Gasol, a menace from start to finish, got a legal hand on it, and that was that.
This box score ought to be preserved for historical purposes.
You won’t see too many modern NBA games in which the winning team goes 1 for 15 on threes. You won’t see too many modern NBA games with just 22 turnovers, combined (more on that later). You won’t see too many modern NBA games in which one team’s substitute attempts more free throws than the other team does, or many NBA games in which a team is out-free throw attempted, 20-5, especially when the 20 belongs to the visiting team and the 5 belongs to the home team.
So in that sense, the game was oddly interesting.
Back to those turnovers for a minute. The Celtics may only have had 10, but turnovers really messed them up, because four of those turnovers came when they were on the verge of taking firm control.
Here is the situation. The Celtics had just taken a 60-53 lead, courtesy of a great crowd-pleasing sequence in which Rajon Rondo and Allen combined to relieve Derek Fisher of the ball, and Allen drilled a transition 3-pointer. They immediately got the ball back on a Bynum turnover, and were now up 7 with the ball when Jermaine O’Neal was nailed for an off-the-ball offensive foul.
That was the first of four turnovers over the next three minutes, and those boo-boos fueled a quarter-closing 14-4 Laker run that sent the visitors into the fourth leading, 67-64.
Little juxtapositions killed the Celtics. Steve Blake hit a three to close the first quarter and keep the Celtics’ lead down to 26-22. Bynum (16 points, 17 rebounds) outfought O’Neal for an offensive rebound and converted a very manly 3-point play of a put-back with four-10ths of a second left to make it 47-45, Boston, entering the locker room.
Yeah, let’s talk about second-chance points!
The Lakers had 24, including the winning basket by Bynum and a tip-in by Gasol with 9.8 seconds left to create overtime. Bynum and Gasol combined for 11 offensive rebounds, and yes, they’re big and athletic, but c’mon. That was Doc’s thinking, anyhow.
“What really burned me is that they probably got 6 second-chance points with the ball sitting on the floor,’’ Rivers sighed. “It’s one thing when it’s above everybody, and they are bigger and longer. It’s another thing when the ball’s on the floor. They can’t get both.’’
Can’t forget Kobe, can we? The great man started out being the Great Facilitator. By the time he decided it was time to take a shot, more than nine minutes had elapsed and Messrs. Gasol and Bynum already had put it up a combined 12 times. But once he kicked into true Kobe mode, he put on a nice little show, finishing with 27 and including among his 11 baskets a requisite amount of you-gotta-be-kidding-me facials, fallaways, and the like. People got their money’s worth.
And people did seem to enjoy the game, even if, as Doc suggested, it wasn’t quite up to the old Celtics-Lakers standards.
“Listen,’’ he said, “both teams shot 39 percent. Someone had to win. You can save all the jokes. Two old teams. Jurassic Park.’’
Hey, he said it, not me.