In the end, it was hardly worth Dwight Howard bothering to play at all.
The Boston Celtics destroyed the Los Angeles Lakers in what was an exceptional display of teamwork and an unbelievable team spirit.
A stark contrast to this Lakers team.
All the talk, all day, was of Howard and Kobe again. Bryant had called Howard out for not playing through the pain of the shoulder injury he is currently possessing. This whole situation has now become a ridiculous sideshow in an already chaos-filled season for one of the Pre-season favourites for an NBA title.
Bryant seems to be pushing Howard more than he's been before in his career. It is also apparent that Howard isn't responding to it at all well. Howard has had things all his own way throughout his career, he was the Centre of attention in Orlando and could basically do as he pleased there with no real repercussions, as was demonstrated with his behaviour in the Stan Van Gundy situation that saw his then Head Coach fired. The Magic chose to keep Howard in his comfort zone rather that upsetting their prized possession.
Things are different in L.A. He is not the star on this team and has had trouble adjusting to playing with Bryant. It is apparent that they don't get on, despite what they tell the media. However, Shaq and Kobe didn't get on for most of their stay together at the Lakers and that didn't work out too badly did it. Howard has become accustomed to having things easy and this is far from the case here. Bryant is pushing him and he doesn't like it, almost as if the bright lights of Hollywood are too much for him. This injury situation is the last in a long line of tedious media outbursts from this team that is now bordering on the ludicrous.
Whether it was Bryant's pressure or the newly approved protection he was wearing on his shoulder, Howard was playing. Both the Lakers and Boston were in good form coming into this game. Basketball's oldest and most famous rivalry was set to renew and promised to be a tight affair.
The result, no contest.
The Celtics were always in control of this game, even with the loss of Kevin Garnett to early foul trouble. They amassed five fouls in the opening two minutes of the game so the best form of defense for the Celtics was offense. Paul Pierce started off very well, he always seems to fins a little bit extra against the Lakers. Pierce, subject of trade rumours once again, cannot produce as he once could but he is still capable of taking over a game on any given night. With Garnett on the bench it was left to Pierce to pick up the slack. His mid-range jump shot was right on target from the outset and he set the tone for the Celtics throughout this game. He eventually finished the game with superb all-round numbers of 24 points, 7 rebounds and 6 assists.
Boston led 27-23 at the end of the first and that was as close as it got for Lakers. They struggled mightily and when that happens their ball movement suffers and they resort to more isolations from Bryant. During their recent upturn in form Bryant has been more of a facilitator. Willing to give it to the open man rather that putting up tough shots himself. Today was different, his teammates weren't hitting their shots, Ron Artest in particular struggling. Kobe is no fool, he sees this and takes it upon himself to keep the team in the game. Things weren't easy for Bryant, Courtney Lee and Pierce made every shot extremely difficult. Bryant did his best to keep the Lakers in this game but in the end it was to no avail despite his 27 points and 7 rebounds.
With the Celtics up 58-44 at the Half, they really blew it open in the third. This was arguably the Celtics best quarter of the season. Stifling defense created numerous turnovers and they hardly missed a shot, at one stage hitting 13 out of 14 shots for a 37 point quarter. Avery Bradley was outstanding, as he had been all through the game, on Steve Nash. He didn't let Nash breathe, pressuring him on every single possession. Nash, who turned 39 the same day, looked his age against Bradley's defense and had no answer for it. Bradley is going to be an integral part of the Celtics chances this season with Rajon Rondo missing. He is more than capable of shutting down the league's best Point Guards and come Playoff time this will be essential.
The Lakers, on the other hand, were lifeless. Almost every play was a Kobe isolation and the Celtics knew what was coming a mile away. Their defense was atrocious, with Mike D'Antoni at the helm it's not going to get better anytime soon either. They look clueless at times, not knowing the correct schemes and their rotations/help defense is non-existent. There is little or no effort to go with all these complications and unless this improves the Lakers can kiss the Playoffs goodbye. D'Antoni is to blame, he is tactically inept on the defensive end and has been throughout his career. Howard, Bryant, Artest have all been All-NBA first team defenders and while they aren't getting younger, it's D'Antoni's scheme which is letting this team down badly.
So, this game was all but over after the third, the Celtics leading 95-69. D'Antoni kept Howard in the firing line even though the game had gone, fouling out with 5:07 left in the Fourth Quarter. Howard managed 9 points and 9 rebounds in 28 minutes. It might seem like I'm being harsh on Howard, however this is a man with all the potential in the world with probably the worst attitude. If he's not careful the game will pass him by. He wasn't interested in the slightest during this game, happy enough to stand around and let the game go through Kobe, providing the odd screen or post move. Now we don't know how much pain Howard is in. Everybody has different thresholds of pain and Howard's might be lower than Kobe's or Shaq's, who stated on TNT that he played through a similar injury. For whatever reason, things aren't working out for Howard in L.A and if I was the Lakers front office I would be seriously looking into the possibility of trading Howard before the deadline.
That might be controversial in some quarters, but the Brooklyn Nets will no doubt be keen to offer the Lakers a generous sum for Howard. All-Star Brook Lopez, Kris Humphries and MaShaun Brooks with a first round pick would be enough to sway me into dealing Howard. If it was just Howard the player, you would think twice, but everything that comes with Howard now is too much, even for Hollywood.
Injuries have been a concern for both these teams. While the Lakers have used them as an excuse throughout the season, the recent injuries the Celtics have suffered have galvanised them. They have lost Rajon Rondo and Jared Sullinger to season-ending injuries and the Celtics haven't broken stride. Led by Kevin Garnett, who scored his 25,000th career point in the second quarter, and of course Pierce. The Celtics have a chance to be the team nobody wants to play in the Eastern Conference Playoffs.
They have spoken about their resilience as a team and with leaders like Pierce and Garnett it has spurred the role-players on to bigger performances. We have spoke of Bradley, but Jeff Green is another key component off the bench and was dominant against the Lakers. Finishing with 19 points on an efficient night of shooting from a man who has had more bad luck than most. He typifies the Celtics never-say-die spirit, something the Lakers have been severely lacking this season. What will this 116-95 loss do to their morale? Well, if the look at their bench was anything to go by, they will need to pick themselves up, stop feeling sorry for themselves and play basketball the Laker way.
Easier said than done in this Pantomime season with a team of Prima-Dona's
Dean Jones: Follow me on Twitter @DeanJones_