It goes along with being a Laker fan. Somewhere along the way, the Celtics are going to break your heart.
It happened in the ’60s, in the ’80s, and again Tuesday night, when a close NBA Finals series ended with Boston embarrassing Los Angeles in Game Six.
Everything the Lakers had accomplished in a surprisingly successful season — 57 regular season wins, a Western Division title capped by eliminating the defending champion San Antonio Spurs, a couple of wins in the Finals — was minimized by the final game rout.
The Lakers overachieved and deserve praise for their season, but the lasting impression will doubtlessly be about what they have to do to get better.
I got a sense of what this rivalry is all about when I watched the Laker Girls dance during timeouts at Staples Center and realized they were all about three years old the last time these teams qualified for a Finals series in 1987. So, almost from birth, a generation of Laker fans was coming along.
And now they know how bitter it is when the Celtics whip the Lakers and begin celebrating even before the game ends. It used to be Red Auerbach lighting a cigar on the bench. This time it was the players hugging each other and a Gatorade bucket being poured on the coach – a common occurrence in football but never before seen in basketball.
Getting past the emotion of the moment, I will say the Celtics were the NBA’s best team this season. They emphasized defense, won 66 regular season games and became the first team since the 2000 Lakers to have the best regular season record and win the championship.
From the start of the series it was defense against offense, and defense usually wins. The Lakers outgunned the Celtics a couple of times, but I felt if the teams would begin a new series today the Celtics would win again.
Let’s review how Laker teams have won 14 NBA championships. Every team had a dominating center.
When the franchise was located in Minneapolis, the Lakers won five championships with George Mikan, the best big man of his era. Then the Lakers moved to Los Angeles, won the 1972 championship with Wilt Chamberlain, five more with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, and the last three with Shaquille O’Neal.
That’s 14 with a dominating center and none without one.
Pau Gasol came to the Lakers in a trade this season, was impressive with his skills and intelligence, and had fans believing this could be another championship season.
But Gasol brings finesse, not strength. Playing with Memphis, he had never won a playoff game, let alone a series or a championship. And although he gave the Lakers a big lift after Andrew Bynum suffered a season-ending knee injury, a lot of people I know in the league remained leery of what would happen when play got rough, as it always does late in the playoffs.
The subject came up in a Phil Jackson press conference, and the Laker coach answered the question honestly.
He admitted Gasol had a reputation of being “a soft player,” and that was a reason why the Lakers were able to acquire him.
It would be wrong to blame the Lakers’ Finals defeat solely on Gasol, but compare him to Abdul-Jabbar, O’Neal, and the others, and you do see a problem. The Eastern champ, whether it would have been Boston, Detroit, or Cleveland, was going to play rough and focus on defense.
The Celtics were superior to the Lakers around the basket. Their defense contained Kobe Bryant. And Paul Pierce was the proper choice for MVP.