In the month of the Bicentennial of Charles Dickens’ birth, it was the best of games and it was the worst of games. It looked like one of the playoff games between the two teams during their recent championship seasons.
At the same time, it also looked like a game from the 1970s when pushing, shoving and hand checking ruled the courts.
It was also a harbinger of the end of an era.
The Lakers beat the Celtic 88-87 in a thoroughly enjoyable overtime game that brought back memories as well as ghosts of Lakers' and Celtics' pasts. Kobe was being knocked around like a pin ball and "Metta World Disaster" was mugging Paul Pierce as if they were in a back alley.
It was no place for finesse.
These types of games were the hallmark of the NBA in the 1970s.
In the early 1980s, Magic Johnson turned the league on its ear with Showtime and the Lakers, along with Denver and by San Antonio, were scoring points like a teenager on a newfangled pin ball machine. Everything got faster. Point guards broke speed limits. Michael Jordan broke elevation limits. And ultimately, Shaq broke backboards.
But it is 2011 now, and scores are dropping like a rock in the ocean.
There is no question that a lack of preseason, lack of practice time between games, less foul calls and the one-of-a-kind shifting of talent after the strike, have resulted in a dilution in the quality of games.
Jerry West summed up my stance, when he said it "looked like exhibition games" to him.
It is likely that the games will continue to look like exhibition games until mid-March at least, when teams will have had sufficient time to practice together. In the Lakers case, they were still signing players right up to the start of the exhibition season (if there was one) and dealing with moody players like Pau and Odom.
Several players actually thought the strike would not be settled and didn’t bother practicing or conditioning themselves in the off season. You can tell that those players weren't likely business majors or they would have known that the NBA owners could not turn down the revenue past their drop-dead date of Christmas.
Despite denials from the NBA, the preseason is still going on. Why has it gone on for approximately twenty-five games?
Anyone who saw Metta World Peace and Paul Pearce show up for practice after the strike saw two players that looked more like the Pillsbury Dough Boy than NBA players.
This week is the first time Paul Pierce even remotely looks like himself.
It is a good thing that Metta changed his name because the Ron Artest that scored 20 points a game and won the Defensive Player of the Year Award is long gone.
Is this a signal of the end of this Celtics team as we know it?
Garnett can’t jump anymore, Pierce is slowing down to a crawl and Ray Allen can’t keep up the pace much longer despite a devotion to the game that should set an example to the selfish generation of players that follow. Jermaine O’Neal should have retired years ago but plugs along grabbing as many paychecks as he can before exiting the game.
The Lakers aren't fairing any better either.
Kobe, in the twilight of his career, respected the game by getting medical treatment on his knee in the off season, working on his conditioning and continuing his endless shooting practice.
It is no surprise that he is leading the league in scoring. But despite Kobe’s Herculean effort, the current Lakers team should be known as the "Team That Can’t Shoot Straight" which causes Kobe to go back to old habits and shoot too much.
It is not uncommon to watch Kobe come out in the first quarter, as he did against Boston last night, and act as a facilitator trying to get other players into the game. After four or five missed shots by players like Metta (who is shooting seventeen percent from the 3-point line) and Derek Fisher (who is having more and more 0 for 7 nights), Kobe gets frustrated and just starts shooting more and more trying to get his team back in the game and putting it all on his shoulders in the process.
Even worse, much of the Lakers bench will be applying for social security in the near future. Steve Blake is starting to look like he is forty and Troy Murphy’s shooting looks like it died and was buried at half court. Walton’s back has slowed him down to a point he should return to his off-season job of coaching college basketball, or move to the chair in the broadcast booth once occupied by his famous father.
The Lakers are the only team that worked hard to get older rather than younger. Soon Pau Gasol (if he is not traded), will be doing celebrity races against one of the Mummies of film fame. When the team is on the road, they share senior breakfast discounts together. Some should apply for early AARP benefits.
Which gets us back to last night’s game.
Both teams can beat any team in the league without a fast point guard or a team that engages in a slowed-down style of game. But when a team hits the fast forward button, their age shows like gray hairs on a beauty queen. Fans of both teams must gird themselves for the continuing dissipation of talent caused by aging super stars made even worse by lower draft choices.
One of the owners of the Indiana Pacers owners once said to me in 1996, do you think Michael Jordan will ever get old and go away? I said to him, "Have you seen Kobe Bryant yet?"
Now players like Kobe, Garnett, Pierce and Pau have reached the senior player status that Jordan enjoyed in his later years.
Enjoy them now because the bells are tolling for each of them as players.
Soon there will be a host of young lions like Austin Rivers to reshape the NBA’s future.