BOSTON -- Paul Pierce and Jason Terry were standing shoulder-to-shoulder, grinning from check to cheek as Kevin Garnett, fresh off his on-court induction into the NBA's elite 25,000-point club, grooved nearby to the "American Bandstand" clip that he loves so dearly and punctuates lopsided Boston victories.
At the other end of the court, Kobe Bryant stood a step outside the Lakers' huddle and just glared. Boston danced away with a 116-95 triumph over its rival in the first of two meetings this season and the Celtics were more than happy to add a little bit more drama to the Lakers' soap-opera season.
"Oh yeah, whenever you match up Celtics and Lakers, the rivalry, it always feels good when you can give them an old-fashioned beatdown in your house," admitted Pierce. "No matter what direction each team is going, it will always be a rivalry. Everybody is always going to watch and it feels good when you can do it like that."
Pierce scored a team-high 24 points on 10-of-17 shooting in less than 30 minutes of play. Boston saw its lead balloon as high as 32 in the second half and the veterans were afforded the rare opportunity to kick their feet up while the likes of rookie Fab Melo played the final five minutes of the game.
Pierce did hesitate when asked if he had any flashbacks to Game 6 of the 2008 NBA Finals.
"It's a new day. They've got a new team," said Pierce. "I didn't really think of it that way, but the stakes are always high when you've got the Lakers and the Celtics playing against each other, whether it's there or here. It's always going to have that playoff feel."
This was about as breezy a win as Boston has generated this season, keeping its foot on the gas in the middle frames before blowing the game open with a dizzying outburst late in the third quarter. The Celtics shot 52.9 percent from the floor, limited their turnovers, won the battle on the glass, and emerged with an ultra-satisfying triumph that pushed their winning streak to a season-best six games.
Even Bryant offered high praise.
"It’s typical Celtics basketball. They all just put their hard hats on and they go out and go hard and figure things out," he said. "It always just seems like, whenever their backs are against the wall, you know that’s when you really see the best from them. Then they perform and step up and play well, just like they did last year."
Added Bryant: "That’s just what this team does. They kind of rope-a-dope you a little bit."
C'S WORK THROUGH WHISTLES
The Lakers found themselves in the bonus a mere 2:22 into Thursday's game as the Celtics were whistled for five fouls in that span. Garnett picked up two quick fouls and was on the bench 128 seconds in, and Jason Collins got tagged with three more before the end of the frame, forcing Boston to lean heavily on Chris Wilcox at the center position.
Fortunately for the Celtics, the Lakers bailed them out at the charity stripe, missing seven of 12 first-quarter attempts (Dwight Howard hit just one of four freebies). That helped Boston maintain a 27-23 edge after the first quarter and the Celtics limited their hacking from there.
"You’re in the penalty three minutes into the game and Garnett goes out, that usually is not a good thing for your basketball team," said Rivers. "And the fact that we had –- what did we have, a four-point lead [after the first quarter]? -- that was huge. I thought, honestly, that may have been the difference in the entire game. We played [Wednesday] night [in Toronto], so in a lot of ways, Kevin got a ton of rest. And then he came in in the second quarter and was phenomenal."
The Lakers shot just 18 free throws after the first quarter (missing seven of them while shooting 60 percent at the stripe overall). Boston, meanwhile finished 19-of-25 (76 percent) at the free throw line in the victory.
LEE PLAYS SOLID DEFENSE .. EVEN IF KOBE MADE SHOTS
Courtney Lee wouldn't bite for the fakes and managed to stay in front of Bryant as the shot clock ticked down. After preventing a baseline drive, Bryant settled for a low-percentage fadeaway jumper that -- of course -- found nothing but net.
Rivers could see his player getting discouraged, but tried to rally his spirits.
"We could see [Lee's] spirt getting broken," said Rivers. "I really wanted [Lee] to make that one shot after Kobe had made like four in a row. And he missed that and I thought, ‘Oh, goodness.’ I just told him, ‘Hang in there.’ I kept saying, 'By the way, this is what he’s supposed to do. Don’t overreact. This is Kobe being Kobe. That’s why he’s Kobe.’ What does Kobe have -- 30,000 points? Kevin’s got 25? Wow. That’s my point."
Lee did about as much as he could during his reps on Bryant, who finished with a game-high 27 points on 9-of-15 shooting with seven rebounds and four turnovers. Judging by the stat sheet, it wasn't a particularly crisp evening, but Lee got rave reviews for his defense-minded pals.
"[Lee] made every shot tough on [Bryant] tonight," said backcourt mate Avery Bradley. "What Courtney did was played him hard every possession and it kind of wore Kobe down. His shot started to get shorter, then we switched Jeff [Green] on him. I felt everybody that was on Kobe tonight just tried to make everything hard on him. We played great defense for the most part."
Later, Bradley added: "[Bryant is] a great player, he’s going to make those shots. You can’t let the other guys get rolling. You can’t give anybody else confidence. We can let Kobe score 40 and be fine."
Sure enough, no one else on the Lakers had more than 13 points in Thursday's loss.
BRADLEY PLAYS SOLID DEFENSE ... ON HIS COACH
Rivers picked up his third technical foul of the season on Wednesday night in Toronto for barking at an official. When Bradley realized his coach might be flirting with getting a second technical (and automatic ejection), he stepped in to defuse the situation (and his coach).
"You thought I was close [to getting ejected]? So did all my players," Rivers joked with reporters on Thursday. "It was great, all of them at halftime, they were like, ‘Coach, I got you tonight.’ But that was nice. Our players sense the same thing when I sense it the other way with them. It’s always good. We as a team, have a pretty good open relationship. That was great with Avery. We need that."