Hey Boston? Great Celtics? Famed smackdown artists?
Shhh, it's OK, the coast is clear. You can come out now. Those bullies in gold shorts and grimaces are gone. I promise.
Nobody is waiting to wrestle you back to the floor. Nobody is going to bump you back into the marina. Those guys who tossed you around like vacant headbands have the left the building.
It's OK, Celtics, you went into hiding early, but it's fine now, you can come on out from underneath your frayed reputation and dented mystique, it's only one game.
Or is it?
That is the question facing both parties late Thursday at Staples Center after the most one-sided Lakers-Celtics NBA title fight since, well, their last Finals fight.
Two years ago, it was Boston winning by 39 points. On Thursday night, it was the Lakers winning by 13 jabs.
In front of a crowd that lost its hip long enough to roar with surprise and delight, the final score of the first game of the NBA Finals was Lakers 102, Celtics 89, stereotypes zero.
The Lakers too soft? They delivered a Boston Baked beating, outrebounding the Celtics by 11, outscoring them in the paint by 18, and throwing them around so much that the supposedly most intense NBA team scored as many second-chance points as I did, as in zero.
"We're soft?" said the Lakers Shannon Brown.
The Lakers too much finesse? They painted the town green, throwing Paul Pierce on his back, Ray Allen on his butt, and upstart Rajon Rondo to a place where maybe he's now wondering whether this moment is too big for him.
"Finesse?" said Brown.
The Lakers didn't treat it like the renewal of an ancient rivalry, but an old-fashioned comic strip. Pow! Kaboom! Kersplat!
The Celtics didn't act like tough guys but teetering guys, staggering uncertainly into the lane, gasping half-heartedly after loose balls, zero offensive rebounds in the first quarter, never competitive after that.
Did you see this coming? I didn't. I though the Lakers would win this first game, but never fists first, never responding more to the thumping under their jerseys than the glitz across the front. I never saw them beating Boston while playing, like, well, Boston.
After spending five minutes in the Celtics' locker room afterward, I realized I wasn't the only one.
"I was very surprised," said Kendrick Perkins, staring wearily at his shoes after being shoved around by one-legged Andrew Bynum. "They competed harder than us. They worked harder than us. They were all very physical."
On a table in the middle of the locker room sat several containers of food for the Celtics' postgame buffet. Most notable among their choices was a much needed vegetable. Yeah, spinach.
"They definitely pushed us tonight and had us on our heels," said Paul Pierce, who made only six of 13 shots against Ron Artest. "They beat us to the hustle plays. That don't sit well with me at all."
It started with Artest, who wrestled Pierce to the ground on the Lakers' first possession. It continued with Derek Fisher bumping Allen, then throwing down Allen, then Sasha Vujacic blatantly elbowing Allen, all in the first four minutes.
Allen, incidentally, had three baskets and five fouls and disappeared quicker than Kobe Bryant's grin.
"They attacked us the entire night," said Celtics Coach Doc Rivers. "I don't think we handled it very well."
Two years ago, wasn't that a quote from Lakers Coach Phil Jackson? Two years ago, when the Celtics dominated the Lakers in winning a six-game series, wasn't it the Lakers who took every punch?
Just ask Pau Gasol. He will say he doesn't remember, but Thursday night, he played like he will never forget. The guy who served as Boston blacktop while scoring 11 points in the Lakers' final blowout loss two years ago in Boston came up huge with 23 points and 14 rebounds, nearly one for each pound he has gained since then.
Let's face it, compared with the scowling Celtics giants, the thin and scraggly Gasol still looks sort of wimpy. But, finally, looks are deceiving.
"There was no statements to be made," said the modest Gasol after making a huge one.
Finally, of course, there was Bryant, who took the brunt of the last Lakers finals defeat to Boston, the same Kobe who claimed there was no chip on his shoulder this time.
Yeah, right, tell that to Rondo, who was bullied into irrelevance by Bryant. And, sure, tell that to the other Celtics, who were worn out after chasing Bryant's 30 points, seven rebounds and six assists.
"I just responded to the challenge," said Bryant, and by "challenge," he means the one defeat that has spent the last two years gnawing at his soul.
But relax, Boston, it's only one game, even if, um, er, Phil Jackson's teams are 47-0 in series in which they win this game.
"This could get real dangerous quick," said Perkins, peeking out from underneath a strangely torn, surprisingly timid swatch of faded green.
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