BOSTON - To the supremely confident Kobe Bryant, the Lakers' Game 1 loss here Thursday night barely was worth discussing.
"It was a good experience for us," Bryant said in the postgame media briefing, "a nice little kick in the [rhymes with class]."
Bryant's bemused expression and condescending tone brought back a similar moment from 2001. The Lakers had just lost Game 1 of the NBA Finals to Allen Iverson, and the 76ers. Shaquille O'Neal sat at the podium and remarked that those Sixers were a "feisty team" - as if they were mosquitoes buzzing around the big man's head and would be taken care of when he got around to it.
There are two reasons this memory is significant. First, O'Neal was right. The Lakers won the next four games and dismissed the Sixers, feisty or no.
Second, Bryant is not O'Neal. Not yet.
The story line in this Lakers postseason has been Bryant's quest to win a title without relying on the gravitational pull of Planet Shaq. It is peculiar to the NBA, this idea that a team or a title belongs to one particular player. By winning a championship with the Miami Heat, O'Neal made the case that he was the main man for those three championships with the Lakers.
This is Bryant's purple-and-golden opportunity to even out the resumes.
So it was compelling in the aftermath of Game 1 that Bryant deflected mention of the Boston Celtics and their defensive efforts, blaming the loss on his own poor shooting. Bryant made just 9 of 26 shots from the field and could not drive to the basket or get to the free-throw line the way he normally does.
He didn't call the Celtics "feisty," but he made it clear Game 1 was not an indication of how this series would go.
"I've just got to put the ball in the damn hole," Bryant said last week. "That sucker didn't want to stay down last game."
It wouldn't stay down in the two regular-season games between the Lakers and Celtics. Bryant shot 6 for 25 in Los Angeles and 9 for 21 in Boston. That's 24 for 72 (33.3 percent) in three games against the Celtics' defense.
"Two games we played in the regular season, I shot the ball atrociously," said Bryant, who played at Lower Merion High School. "In Game 1, I shot the ball bad, too. Hopefully, it just means I'm due."
The Celtics' Kevin Garnett didn't find Bryant's attitude feisty or in any way amusing.
"Defense helps you miss some," Garnett said. "Maybe he only knows his capabilities of making shots over [other] defenders."
The Celtics used different players to defend against Bryant. What they did not do, coach Doc Rivers was quick to point out, was focus too much on Bryant.
"We're just a solid defensive team," Rivers said. "We don't want to over-help. We want to be in the right positions. We want to try to contest shots. But it's not just Kobe. We want to keep everybody out of the paint, with a bigger emphasis on Kobe."
Fine, then. Bryant believes he simply missed shots he should have made. The Celtics believe they played sound defense and forced Bryant and the other Lakers to take bad shots. The beauty of a seven-game series is that both sides get the chance to prove they're right.
"Game 2 is always the better game of the first two," Rivers said.
The stakes are high tonight. The Celtics can take a two-games-to-none lead, which would give them control of the series. But the NBA's format puts even more pressure on them. Games 3, 4 and 5 are in Los Angeles. So a split here would give the Lakers the chance to end the series without coming back to Boston.
"You fight all year to get home court and you don't have Game 5 on your home court," Rivers said.
Bryant accomplished one thing with his declaration of confidence. He placed the pressure squarely on himself. It is to his credit that he seems utterly comfortable with that. After all, the pressure of carrying a team in June is what he's wanted all along.
"Well," Bryant said yesterday, "I'd much rather have the pressure of this moment as opposed to having the pressure of deciding which swim trunks I'm going to wear in Bora Bora - the Gucci ones or the Yves Saint Laurent ones. I'd much rather have this pressure."
"Kobe will be back," said Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, a Lakers assistant coach who knows something about big-game players. "He'll be more focused. That's how he responds. He figures out what he did right and what he did wrong. I'm sure he'll have a big game."
The only person who seems more sure is the only person who really matters, and that's Bryant.
Lakers at Celtics, tonight 9 (6ABC)
Celtics lead series, 1-0