It tugged at the Lakers, played with their minds during the off-season, a 39-point loss to the Boston Celtics in an elimination game in the NBA Finals that made the next 3 1/2 months seem longer than they ever thought possible.
The reminders were sprinkled throughout what was left of June, followed by July, August and September.
The Celtics returned to Los Angeles for a sports awards show and bragged on stage of "another win in L.A." after taking the category for top team of the year in professional sports.
They partied here, and in VIP sections of swank Las Vegas nightclubs, and, really, anywhere people would host the symbols of the return to Celtics glory.
Meanwhile, there was no fun for the Lakers. The players scattered to their cities of comfort. They were asked quietly by friends what had happened. Family members gingerly poked around the collapse.
"We still think about it," forward Luke Walton said. "It still hurts. We know that this one game isn't going to change anything, even though it's a game that's going to be exciting. Winning a best-of-seven championship is really the only thing that could satisfy us and help take away the pain from last year."
The Lakers (23-5) play host to the Celtics (27-2) today at Staples Center, though before a final score is established, another one keeps coming up: 131-92, the second-most lopsided game in Finals history.
The TD Banknorth Garden crowd derisively chanted "Where is Kobe?" while the Celtics hovered near a 30-point lead early in the fourth quarter and Kobe Bryant sat on the bench with three other Lakers starters.
The "Hey, Hey, Hey, Goodbye" chant began with five minutes left. Then came a "Seventeen" chant, a reference to the Celtics winning their 17th NBA title. Celtics players stood on their chairs and danced in front of the bench.
The Game 6 stats underscored how physically they had played. They had 48 rebounds to 29 for the Lakers. They had 14 offensive rebounds, the Lakers a meager two. They had only seven turnovers, the Lakers 19.
Indeed, it all took place without Andrew Bynum in the middle and with Trevor Ariza watching from the end of the bench, unable to gain any traction in the rotation after missing more than four months because of a broken foot.
Still, Coach Phil Jackson left many of the players with one final question before concluding their annual end-of-season exit meetings: How can you help this team?
Now the Lakers find out exactly where they stand against the largely intact Celtics, who have won 19 in a row.
"It's just a matter of seeing how much better we got, how much we learned from that series last year," Bryant said. "We've got a couple guys, obviously, that weren't there for us last year that are here now. That helps our depth tremendously."
It might not be easy for Bynum, who tends to struggle against physical, bull-like center Kendrick Perkins.
Bynum missed the playoffs because of a knee injury, but his stats were meaningless in two regular-season games against the Celtics last season -- four points and four fouls in a 107-94 loss and eight points, two rebounds and six fouls in a 110-91 loss.
"He's got a little challenge," Jackson said. "Perkins is an aggressive, physical, active player. This is the kind of player that Andrew has to work against because [Bynum] is so long and lanky, and a lot of times he can just body them off and do what he has to do. So this is a growing point for Andrew."
Said Bynum: "I've got to keep him moving so I can duck in and get low position and just try and attack him. I think at this point, we're both foul prone, so we're going to be attacking each other to try to get each other out of the game."
Either way, the Celtics have that team-record winning streak, an "unbelievable" feat according to Bryant.
"They're just playing phenomenal basketball," he said.
Jordan Farmar will be sidelined approximately eight weeks after undergoing surgery Wednesday to repair a torn lateral meniscus in his left knee. Clarence Shields of the Kerlan-Jobe Orthopaedic Group performed the 30-minute procedure on Farmar.
Farmar, averaging 7.9 points and 2.4 assists a game, was hurt last Friday against Miami.