Kobe Bryant and the Los Angeles Lakers produced a sizzling, physical display at both ends of the court to overpower the Boston Celtics 102-89 in Game 1 of the NBA Finals on Thursday.
In a bruising contest at the Staples Center, 12-time All-Star guard Bryant scored 30 points and Spanish forward Pau Gasol added 23 for the Lakers, chasing a second consecutive title and 16th overall.
Los Angeles, outplayed and outmuscled by Boston in the 2008 Finals, delivered one of their toughest performances of the season, out-rebounding their opponents 42-31 and sweeping the second-chance points 16-0.
Gasol, considered “soft” by some critics two years ago, contributed 14 rebounds and three blocked shots, while forward Ron Artest, a formidable defender who joined the Lakers in the off-season, weighed in with 15 points.
The Lakers shot 48.7 percent from the floor, while holding the Celtics to 43.3 percent.
“It wasn’t the prettiest basketball game I’ve ever watched in my life, but it was a good win for us,” Lakers coach Phil Jackson told reporters. “We sustained the lead in the second half even though we had some tough sequences out there.”
Ominously for the Celtics, Jackson has never lost a playoff series in 47 attempts with either the Chicago Bulls or the Lakers when his team has won the opening game.
“I wish I had put it in the bank, so to speak,” said the veteran coach, who has won a record 10 NBA Championship rings. “We’ve got a lot of work ahead of us, but it’s nice to know that [the 47-0 run] is on our side.”
Boston captain and forward Paul Pierce finished with 24 points, but guard Rajon Rondo was held to 13 points on six-for-14 shooting for the Celtics, who are bidding for a record 18th NBA championship.
“The Lakers were clearly the more physical team today,” Boston coach Doc Rivers said. “They attacked us the entire night. I didn’t think we handled it very well. We take pride in our defense and we didn’t do it.”
Game 2 in the best-of-seven series between the league’s most storied franchises takes place in Los Angeles tomorrow.
A physical encounter was always on the cards when Pierce and Artest were slapped with technical fouls in the first minute following an off-the-ball grapple.
Defending tigerishly, the Lakers twice led by six points early on, but were pegged back to 18-18, before taking a 26-21 advantage after a first quarter littered with 28 fouls and 27 free-throws.
The Lakers tightened their grip in the second period, Artest sparking an 11-2 run with a three-point jumper and a driving layup as the home team built a 50-41 lead at halftime.
With a sellout crowd chanting “Boston sucks” in the third quarter, Los Angeles maintained control, a superb assist from Derek Fisher setting up Bryant for an alley-oop dunk to put them 75-62 clear.
An Artest three-pointer with 28 seconds left on the clock in the third earned the Lakers a commanding 84-64 lead going into the final period.
Although Boston hit back with a 10-1 run at the start of the fourth, Los Angeles rallied and Bryant fittingly ended the scoring for the night with a three-point jump shot.