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Lakers don't play like defending champions in ugly loss to Celtics, 109-96

Lakers look nothing like the team that beat Boston in the Finals last June, breaking down in every area, particularly on defense, in another disturbing defeat against an NBA contender. Kobe Bryant scores 41, but other Lakers struggle, while Celtics shoot 60.3%.

January 30, 2011|By Mike Bresnahan

If the Lakers had played this way last June, there would have been no Game 7 victory, no champagne spray, no championship parade, no chance at a three-peat and, on a positive note, Ron Artest would have taken off his jersey on the night of June 17 instead of three fun-filled days later.

The season that won't straighten out continued to lurch and roll uneasily for the Lakers, who fell to the Boston Celtics, 109-96, Sunday at Staples Center, the latest indication that the defending champs are having trouble defending . . . and scoring . . . and sharing the ball . . . and just about everything else.

Kobe Bryant gave the Lakers an "F" for a defense that yielded a 59-point second half, a one-sided Celtics burst written in black ink on the whiteboard in the Lakers' locker room.

Paul Pierce scored 32 points and Ray Allen had 21 as the Celtics shot a remarkable 60.3% Sunday. Shaquille O'Neal (0 for 2) was the only Celtics player not to make at least half his shots.

The Lakers had a pathetic 10 assists, six fewer than Celtics guard Rajon Rondo, and their fans grumpily filed en masse for the exits during a timeout with 1:29 to play, the Celtics up 14.

The big picture continued to look bleak for the Lakers (33-15), now on a 3-4 skid while falling to the fifth-best record in the NBA. They are 1-4 against the teams ahead of them — Boston, Miami, San Antonio and Chicago.

"I think guys are just upset probably. They should be," Bryant said. "We're not playing very well against these top teams. So we need to elevate our level and we need to get better if we're to defend our throne."

Bryant had 41 points on 16-for-29 shooting, though he failed in his attempt to carry the Lakers to victory. At one point in the fourth quarter, he took shots on 10 consecutive possessions, and an 11th was ended by his offensive foul. He had 11 points on five-for-11 shooting in the quarter.

He was the only Lakers player to take a shot from when Pau Gasol missed a 10-footer with 7:20 to play until Gasol's missed tip with 1:44 to play.

Lakers Coach Phil Jackson pointed the finger not at Bryant, but his teammates.

"I didn't think anybody else wanted the ball," Jackson said. "We did run a couple other things to get people in position but I thought those times he had the best opportunities. A lot of times, it didn't look like we were running anything out there offensively.

"I think sometimes we fold into ourselves and let him have too much space out there at times."

The Celtics (36-11) came into the game as the NBA's top-shooting team, showing 49.9% accuracy, but they kicked it up a level Sunday. It was especially obvious against a Lakers team that couldn't seem to hit anything.

Artest made one of 10 shots and sat out the entire fourth quarter. Derek Fisher made one of six shots. Gasol had 12 points on five-for-13 shooting.

Bryant was irritated by the loss, but Jackson was more light-hearted, telling a reporter that the games didn't really count until the playoffs and also facetiously pointing out that the Lakers did one thing well.

"I think the only good defensive job we did out there was on Shaq," he said. O'Neal was scoreless in almost 13 minutes while battling foul trouble throughout the game.

Making matter worse for the Lakers: Boston was coming off a mystifying 88-71 loss in Phoenix in which Kevin Garnett and Celtics Coach Doc Rivers were ejected.

Garnett clearly outplayed Gasol on Sunday, finishing with 18 points on nine-for-12 shooting, 13 rebounds and five assists.

Pierce, however, was the bigger machine for the Celtics, ripping through Artest's defense from the start and making 11 of 18 shots.

"It's definitely an emotional game especially since losing Game 7 here," Pierce said. "It's a big game just knowing that we can come into this building and get a win."

Bryant was unstoppable in the first half, scoring 22 points on eight-for-11 shooting as the Lakers took a 54-50 lead. It would have been larger but Lamar Odom fouled Glen Davis on a halfcourt shot as time expired, allowing the Celtics forward to shoot three free throws, two of which he made.

The Lakers regressed in the third quarter, Pierce carving them up with 14 points and making all three of his three-point attempts. The Lakers entered the fourth down, 77-72, and moved within four with 5:20 to play before fading badly.

They wore throwback uniforms from the 1971-72 season, which ended with a championship victory against New York, but their effort Sunday wasn't reminiscent at all of their title-worthy performance last June against Boston.

"We have to get better," Bryant said. "There's no other option but that. You've just got to continue to work at it and work at it and work at it until you're at the championship level."

mike.bresnahan@latimes.com

twitter.com/Mike_Bresnahan

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