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Saturday, June 5, 2010

Lakers outmuscle Celtics in Game 1

LOS ANGELES (AP) Ron Artest and Paul Pierce went back-to-back with their elbows locked, both unwilling to yield even an inch underneath the hoop. The veteran forwards crashed to the court together and got up looking to rumble, earning double technical fouls.

News photo
Classic battle: Kobe Bryant of the Lakers drives by Boston's Ray Allen in Game 1 of the NBA Finals on Thursday night. Los Angeles won 102-89. AP PHOTO

And that was just in the first 27 seconds.

This NBA Finals rematch was rough from the opening tumble, but Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol made sure the Los Angeles Lakers landed the first shot on the Boston Celtics.

Bryant scored 30 points, Gasol had 23 points and 14 rebounds, and defending champion Los Angeles got tough in a 102-89 victory over Boston in Game 1 on Thursday night.

Artest scored 15 points after his tangle with Pierce in the opening minute of the 12th finals meeting between the NBA's most scintillating rivals. It was the opening salvo in a gritty physical effort against the Celtics, who memorably pushed around the Lakers while winning their 2008 Finals matchup in six games.

The Lakers are the champs now, and they're not giving it up without a tussle or two.

"I knew it was going to be physical. That's a given," Gasol said. "After consecutive Finals, we understand the nature of the game. We understand who our rival is, how they play. You've got to compete, and you've got to match that physicality, that aspect of the game to be successful."

Pierce scored 24 points and Kevin Garnett added 16 after a slow start for the Celtics, who might not want to know Lakers coach Phil Jackson's teams in Los Angeles and Chicago have won 47 straight playoff series after winning Game 1.

"I wish I had put it in the bank, so to speak," said Jackson, the 10-time champion. "We've got to play this out. . . . Our defense stiffened at various points in the game, was very effective. We've got a lot of work ahead of us, but it's nice to know that (the 47-0 streak) is on our side."

Game 2 is Sunday night at Staples Center.

If the first 48 minutes of the rematch are any indication, this series again will be a knockdown, drag-out physical confrontation — and the supposedly finesse-oriented Lakers held their ground early, leaving the Celtics frustrated after giving up 100 points for just the second time in their last 10 games.

"They were the more physical team by far," Celtics coach Doc Rivers said. "They were more aggressive. They attacked us the entire night. I didn't think we handled it very well."

Ray Allen scored 12 points in just 27 minutes, saddled with constant foul trouble while trying to guard Bryant. Pierce also picked up early fouls, while Garnett simply struggled, going 7-for-16 from the field and grabbing just four rebounds — even inexplicably missing an open layup with 5 1/2 minutes to play.

That's mostly because of Gasol, the Spanish 213-cm star determined to assert himself after admittedly getting pushed around by Garnett two years ago. Gasol capped a strong game by sprinting downcourt and catching a long pass in stride for a dunk with 6:21 to play.

"Pau played a big game tonight," Jackson said. "I thought they did a good job on him in the post, but his movement and his activity was important."

After Artest and Pierce got wrapped up, the mood didn't improve much in a game featuring 54 fouls. But Bryant's play-making and the Lakers' inside advantages drove them to a 20-point lead after three quarters before surviving Boston's final run.

The Lakers' aggressiveness was reflected in 10 free throws apiece for Bryant and Gasol, who made 16 of them, along with steady guard penetration from Bryant, Derek Fisher and backups Jordan Farmar and Shannon Brown.

Bryant also praised the defensive effort of Artest, whose block on Glen Davis triggered the fast break that led to Gasol's dynamic dunk.

"I think he does a great job for us of setting the tone defensively with his intensity and with his energy," said Bryant, who greeted Artest with a hug after that block. "I was just letting him know it was well appreciated."

Los Angeles outrebounded the Celtics 42-31 and put up a strong shooting percentage until a fourth-quarter slump, again excelling at its two biggest areas of strength in this postseason.

Boston's ostensible strengths — toughness, defense and veteran savvy — weren't so much in evidence.

Rajon Rondo had 13 points — just three in the second half — and eight assists for the Celtics, who went 1-for-10 on 3-pointers.

Brown still around

CHARLOTTE , N.C. (AP) Larry Brown has begun preparations for next season in Charlotte and is leaning toward returning for a third season coaching the Bobcats, a person familiar with the situation said on Thursday.

Brown has been at Time Warner Cable Arena this week and is expected to be on hand Friday when the Bobcats work out rookie prospects, the person said on condition of anonymity because the team has made no official announcement on Brown's future.

The 69-year-old Brown, who did not immediately return a phone message seeking comment, could address his plans as soon as Friday and end weeks of uncertainty for the Michael Jordan-owned Bobcats.

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