Lakers-Celtics: Boston Just Couldn't Hang with Improved Los Angeles Squad

Ryan WardCorrespondent IDecember 29, 2008

Coming into the Christmas Day NBA Finals rematch between the Los Angeles Lakers and the hated Boston Celtics, I thought the Celtics were the best team in the East, the NBA and one of the best teams of all time.

But I was wrong.

The Celtics have been damn near unstoppable this season, as much as I hate to say it.

They have been playing with great team chemistry, and just as much heart and determination as they showed all last season.

With that being said, I was on the edge of my seat all game long.  Every shot, every possession I was holding my breath while knocking back beer after beer to ease the tension and enjoy the day.

At the beginning of the game, both teams seemed like equals as they went back and forth, up and down the floor, trying to outdo one another and shake the nerves from all the hype and anticipation of this Christmas Day battle of the best teams in the NBA.

All I could think about the entire game—especially when the Celtics took the lead—were those the huge leads the Lakers blew in the Finals, almost like a nightmare you just can't forget.

But every time Boston went ahead, Los Angeles countered by taking it right back.

The biggest difference between this game and the forgettable NBA Finals last season was one player—and it wasn't Andrew Bynum. It was Pau Gasol.

During the Finals, everyone—and I mean everyone—was bashing the Lakers and Pau Gasol for the lack of toughness and defensive intensity. Gasol has never been an imposing force in the paint, he can score and he can rebound, but the word "soft" he has been called on more than one occasion.

In the first half, Pau looked like the same Pau we saw in the Finals. Soft and completely dominated by Kevin Garnett, Leon Powe and Kendrick Perkins, but once the fourth quarter came around Pau switched it into another gear and was key in giving the Celtics their third loss of the season.

With his 20 points, five assists, and three blocks Gasol showed that his poor performance and lack of toughness in the Finals is a distant memory.

Pau wasn't the only Laker to pick apart the Celtics on Christmas day, Kobe Bryant also had a big role in taking down the defending NBA champs.

During the Finals it seemed like the Celtics finally figured out how to guard Kobe by smothering him and forcing him to beat them with his jump shot, but that wasn't the case this time as he lit up Boston for 27 points, five assists, and nine boards while shooting better than 50 percent from the field 13 of 23.

Both KG and Paul Pierce didn't go down without a fight though as they constantly attacked the basket and crashed the boards. KG finished with 22 points and nine rebounds.  Pierce added 20 points and 10 boards, but had five turnovers.

The Celtic who struggled the most against the Lakers defense was sharp-shooting Ray Allen, who only hit five of 14 from the field, missing eight out of the 11 shots he took from deep. Rajon Rondo was also had a pretty pitiful shooting performance, as he went three for 11 from the floor, but he did dish out a game-high 12 assists.

All and all, the Lakers were the better team on Christmas Day, beating the Celtics 92-83. But we are not even hlafway through the NBA season yet, and things can and will change. Injuries happen, trades get made and team chemistry always goes through ups and downs throughout the season.

So who knows what will happen come June?  But one thing is for certain—this rivalry is here to stay.