Antoine Walker's Rookie Campaign
For one night, at least, M.L. Carr proved his point. He insists his team, when healthy, will compete. The Celtics don't have an engaging superstar such as the Lakers' Shaquille O'Neal, but their coach believes the concept of team always will outweigh the single gate attraction. Even if that attraction weighs 300-plus pounds and has a Superman tattoo on his large biceps.
So these forces met at the FleetCenter last night. The Celtics won, 110-94, before 18,624. And they were able to get their second straight win and fourth of the season for this reason: They had more people doing more things than the Lakers.
Los Angeles has O'Neal, whose $10 million salary this season is only $2 million and change less than the Celtics' starting five. He had 22 points and 10 rebounds. But he couldn't make his free throws (2 of 7). And he couldn't do anything about the six Celtics starters in double figures.
Rookie Antoine Walker and veteran Dino Radja led Celtics scorers with 19 points. Walker had 12 rebounds and four assists and played one of his best games of the season with his agent, the powerful David Falk, in attendance. In fact, every Celtic starter scored in double figures. Plus, Greg Minor added 14 points off the bench.
The win was so complete that the FleetCenter was chanting the mantra of the 1980s, ``Beat LA,'' at the end. Even sweeter was that mopup man Brett Szabo, the pride of Postville, Iowa, made the final 2 points. The Celtics made 51 percent of their shots and held the Lakers to 44 percent.
After three quarters, it appeared as if the Celtics were in control. They outscored the Lakers by 10 and were playing better and smarter than the visitors. They led, 82-73, after three. The signature play of the quarter for the Lakers was Corie Blount fouling Rick Fox with 00.2 remaining on the clock and Fox 28 feet from the hoop. Fox was awarded three free throws, made two and the Celtics were looking good.
Of course, fans had reason to believe this was a mirage. The Celtics have no problem getting an advantage; they have great difficulty holding one. This was obvious in two fourth-quarter minutes.
With 4:40 remaining, the Celtics led, 96-85. Two minutes later their lead was down to 3, 96-93, after Elden Campbell made 1 of 2 free throws. The preceding Lakers basket was a beautiful alley-oop to Eddie Jones. But then Dana Barros stopped the run with a 3-pointer, the Lakers turned the ball over and Walker hit a 3 from the left corner to make it 102-93 with 1:33 left.
These teams play twice a year and, of course, we are always reminded of what Celtics-Lakers used to be. Before last night's game, Carr said Boston and Los Angeles used to shut down when their teams were scheduled to play.
``It was all that mattered,'' the coach said. ``It was East vs. West . . . M.L. Carr vs. Jack Nicholson.''
The matchup doesn't mean much today because one team isn't winning regularly. But the first half almost made you forget that. The Lakers, who are off to their best start in five years, looked like a solid playoff team in the first 24 minutes. And, surprisingly, so did the Celtics.
Neither team had more than a 5-point lead in the first half. Los Angeles led, 52-51, at halftime. The Lakers looked as if they would get a decent cushion late in the second quarter. Nick Van Exel hit a 3-pointer to put the Lakers ahead, 48-43. Los Angeles thought it had stopped the Celtics on their ensuing possession, but 18-year-old rookie Kobe Bryant was called for a foul. That stopped the Lakers' minirun.
During the half, the most-watched battle was between 300-plus pound O'Neal and 255-pound Radja. O'Neal provides problems for most natural centers; he is nearly impossible for power fowards. Radja is a power forward. Boston's leading scorer did a decent job, pulling O'Neal away from the basket and using his quickness to score 12 first-half points. O'Neal, though, cannot be stopped when he makes an effort to post up. He took 10 shots in the first half, made seven of them and finished his 18-minute half with 14 points and five rebounds.
The Celtics were concerned about getting good help on O'Neal. They should have been. When he is covered by a single defender, he almost always scores. His success rate drops significantly when an additional defender slides over and attempts to disrupt him. The only problem with this strategy, for the Celtics, was that they didn't always recover quickly from their double teams. As a result, the Lakers had several hoops in which there was no defender within 5 feet.
This poor defense may not have been reflected in the score, but the Celtics had to be concerned about that combined with poor shooting. After hitting 54 percent of their attempts in the first quarter, they evaporated offensively. They made 8 of 25 shots in the second quarter (32 percent).