|Is this really just another game?||02.06.09 at 12:35 am ET|
No one on the Los Angeles Lakers is more outspoken about his feelings toward the Boston Celtics than Sasha Vujacic. Make no mistake, he is not over last season’s loss in the NBA Finals. Less than a year later, the emotional wound is still very open.
“I wouldn’t say it’s hatred,” Vujacic said before the Lakers overtime win against the Celtics (RECAP HERE). “It’s just hard when you lose in the Finals to forget about it and say life goes on. It doesn’t go on. I’m always going to be kind of scarred.”
Kind of scarred? Vujacic won’t even wear green — “I’ve seen too much green in June” — but he doesn’t think these sentiments are over the top. Any player who claims it’s just another game, he attests, isn’t being honest.
“I think that if you go in the Celtics locker room and you ask them about us, they’re going to have the same opinion. The only difference is they have a championship ring and they have a trophy at home,” he said. “I would say that for both teams, no matter what they say or no matter what people think, it will never, ever be ‘just another game’ against the Celtics or against the Lakers.”
For many of the Celtics, this wasn’t just another game. As Ray Allen explained, the Celtics were the hunted against a Lakers team looking for revenge. The Cs knew the Lakers were going to attack with a Game Seven mentality and they wanted to match that energy.
“We approach it as an intense playoff atmosphere,” Allen said. “We definitely don’t take it lightly. It’s a very intense moment for us. We look forward to it and the focus in the locker room is pretty intense … Now we’re on the other side of the fence where we’ve got to pick it up and we’ve got to get momentum going here into the playoffs.”
Kendrick Perkins agreed.
“I thought it was very physical. I thought it was a playoff-type atmosphere game,” he said. “It wasn’t a make-or-break for the season, no doubt about it, but we wanted to win the game. You could tell, any time we go through a game like that, hard fought, you just want to get the win.”
There may have been a playoff atmosphere but that doesn’t mean this game has the ramifications of a postseason match up. Nobody won a ring, no one was sent home for the summer.
“What was it? Game 51? It was Game 51,” said Eddie House. “I think they feel like they won the Finals, the way they were celebrating out there, and it’s Game 51. I think it just meant more to them to come in here and be able to get that monkey off their back to feel like, oh they can get a win out here. So that’s behind us. I think it meant more to them but we just keep it moving.”
At the end of overtime the Celtics were the world champions while the Lakers were still seeking to take the title away. But seasons are not decided in February. Ultimately, it is just another game in the grand scheme of the regular season. Even Vujacic, open wound and all, isn’t celebrating just yet.
“We don’t celebrate,” he said after the game. “We celebrate in June.”
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