Lakers express mild excitement about facing Boston in the NBA Finals
The Lakers remember all too well the streamers pouring down from TD Garden. They remember all too well Paul Pierce's sideline dance. And they remember all too well the bus ride from the arena, when plenty of Boston fans met them with jeers.
Those old wounds from the Lakers' 2008 NBA Finals loss to the Boston Celtics recently reopened with the Lakers gearing up for Boston on Thursday for Game 1 of the 2010 NBA Finals. Despite the Lakers winning last year's title, Coach Phil Jackson acknowledged the team's shot at repeating also involves "a chance to avenge an uncomfortable feeling that some of these team members went through in Game 6 in Boston," referring to the Lakers' embarrassing 131-92 loss that clinched the Celtics' 17th championship.
However, other than Jackson's suggestion that Boston forward Kevin Garnett played too physical in the Eastern Conference finals against Orlando center Dwight Howard, don't expect the Lakers to engage in trash-talking anytime soon. Lakers guard Kobe Bryant went to his pre-Finals, don't-ask-me-questions, I'm-solely-focused-on-winning-a-championship face and tried convincing the media he could care less that the Lakers are facing Boston in the Finals. "It doesn't matter to me," he said.
With Bryant reflecting that most of the games that were available to him as a child growing up in Italy entailed the Lakers-Boston rivalry, I don't buy it one bit that this series doesn't hold more significance. With Bryant's penchant for remembering negative events to further fuel his insatiable work ethic and motivation, I also don't buy it one bit that he doesn't want to exact revenge on Boston. But there's a pretty easy reason why Bryant made the Lakers-Celtics rivalry sound as exciting and riveting as watching paint dry.
"That's your guys' job; we just do ours," said Bryant, who also insisted he doesn't care that the general public views him as the league's best player: "I'm playing in it. I don't give a damn about it. That's for other people to get excited about. I get excited about winning."
Therein lies how the Lakers approach this upcoming match-up. The Lakers clearly like that they're playing Boston and are harboring ill will toward the Celtics because of the history and the 2008 Finals loss. But by feeding a story line that will already be written, it appears the Lakers are afraid they will become consumed and distracted with exacting revenge rather than just aiming for a championship. Obviously, both approaches technically lead to the same result, but wrongfully channeling that motivation could only result in the Lakers overcompensating.
"There's a lot of hate between teams, crowds and fans and stuff," Lakers forward Pau Gasol said. "But we try to be above that, a little bit, and try not to let that affect our minds. Obviously it's motivating, but you still want to win the Finals and championship no matter who it's against. But obviously it will taste better, to be honest, than what we went through in 2008."
I honestly have no problem with that approach, as long as the Lakers display their passion and hatred toward Boston "while we're playing," as Gasol said. I frankly can see the positives and negatives with both approaches, knowing that resorting to trash talk can help rally a team together and sharpen the motivation that's already been there.
But it can also have detrimental effects if an exchange between certain players makes them more preoccupied with their individual match-up than following the game plan. So instead of Gasol mentioning how he'd love to prove to Garnett he's not soft, Ron Artest boasting he will shut down Paul Pierce again and Bryant proclaiming he'll prove how he's still the best in the game, they'll instead regurgitate boring quotes and dubiously downplay the Boston match-up. That's fine, as long as the Lakers showcase their intensity once the series begins.
-- Mark Medina
E-mail the Lakers blog at firstname.lastname@example.org