BOSTON -- Don't tell Kobe Bryant about leprechauns in the Garden, the mystique of the parquet court and the ghosts that tend to smile upon the Boston Celtics.
He might actually believe it.
Bryant carved out a piece of Lakers lore last season when a small group of fans chanted "M-V-P" after his 43-point, eight-rebound, eight-assist effort in a victory in Boston, but the laws of the shamrock seem to have caught up to him. . . . and then some.
He scored 24 points Thursday on a miserable nine-for-26 shooting night in the NBA Finals opener, a performance similar to his nine-for-21 effort in a loss here last November. (He made only six of 25 shots against Boston last December at Staples Center, bringing up a collision of theories -- either the leprechauns now travel or the Boston defense is simply that good.)
Bryant had been swimming through the playoffs, averaging 31.9 points and shooting 50.1%, before running into the Celtics. The lane was clogged and his mid-range jumper wasn't falling, but the Lakers sure did.
If nothing else, he was a study in symmetry, though not the way he would have hoped, missing six of his first seven shots and six of his last seven shots.
It was indeed a Boston "D" party, Bryant still lamenting his participation in it a day later.
"That sucker didn't want to stay down last game," he said of the ball, which rattled in and out a few times. "Two games we played in the regular season, I shot the ball atrociously. In Game 1 [Thursday], I shot the ball bad too. Hopefully, it just means I'm due."
Based on the Finals opener, he might be the Lakers' only hope to salvage a split in Boston.
Pau Gasol and Lamar Odom have taken turns as the second option behind Bryant, but their play was closer to awful than awe-inspiring Thursday.
Gasol had 15 points and eight rebounds, Odom had 14 points and six rebounds, and neither filled in the gap created by Bryant's off night. They were beaten on the boards again and again, one play in particular summarizing all that ailed the Lakers.
A missed free throw by Rajon Rondo couldn't be corralled by the Lakers with the Celtics ahead by six and 1:49 to play. The second chance turned into the play of the game, a two-handed dunk by Kevin Garnett over Gasol after James Posey's missed three-point attempt.
The Lakers will try to match the Celtics' physical play Sunday in Game 2.
"We have no choice," Odom said. "If you look at the tape, they really take the ball to the hole aggressively, and they rebound as a unit. I think Garnett was the only guy that had double-digit rebounds, but they rebounded more as a unit and they did it together."
Gasol took the blame for not boxing out better on rebounds.
"I didn't put a body on Garnett," he said. "The first two offensive boards he got, it was a consequence of me not going after his body. Second half, I was able to do a better job of that and got myself going a little better.
"I still felt like I could have had a couple more if I was going after him a little better, a little stronger, but hopefully in Game 2, that's going to change."
A reporter then yelled out in Spanish, "mas fuerte," a variation of "toughen up."
Gasol smiled and rolled his eyes, making a side comment about how everybody seemed to know a little Spanish these days.
Viewing from above it all, Lakers Coach Phil Jackson didn't like the spacing of Gasol and Odom -- "I think we can remedy that," he said -- and wanted them to take more mid-range shots when the Celtics packed the lane.
"We're trying to get them to just settle in and take a jump shot," he said. "But more than anything else, we need second shots. We need to be able to get there and get some second shots."
The Celtics, with Paul Pierce (knee) and Kendrick Perkins (ankle) limping around after the game, certainly don't want to see Gasol or Odom start hitting the boards.
They're a little more fearful of something else, though.
"Kobe is a great player, so we're just going to show up again Sunday expecting him to be a great player," Celtics Coach Doc Rivers said. "He's tough. If it was easy to stop him, he wouldn't be a great player."