LOS ANGELES - The team that used to do the pushing turned into pushovers.
The guys in green couldn't take nearly as well as they gave two years ago, and if they don't regain their toughness, the Boston Celtics might quickly be shoved right off the NBA finals stage.
The Celtics were dominated in the paint, the area they usually control, sending them to a 102-89 loss to the Los Angeles Lakers on Thursday in Game 1.
The stats were stunning: The Lakers outrebounded the Celtics 42-31 and had a 48-30 advantage in points in the paint. Second-chance points were 16-0.
It was a surprising collapse for a team that seemed to rediscover the rugged defence it rode to a victory over the Lakers in 2008 for its 17th NBA title.
Kevin Garnett, the leader of that defence, didn't grab his second rebound until the fourth quarter -- and it turned into a botched follow dunk attempt that was blocked by the rim. Center Kendrick Perkins finished with only three boards, and the Celtics' duo up front was badly outplayed by the Lakers' tandem of Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum.
In the third quarter, Gasol followed his own shot attempt by batting the ball off the backboard to keep it alive, then regaining it and scoring. Two years ago, the Celtics either would've come up with the ball, or knocked Gasol on his back.
Asked before the game to compare this Boston defence with the one of two years ago, Lakers coach Phil Jackson said, "It's still a very good defence."
It had been for most of the post-season. The Celtics limited opponents to 91.4 points in the first three rounds, knocking off teams with Dwyane Wade and LeBron James to earn another shot at Kobe Bryant.
But the Lakers seemed to be playing at a different speed, and on multiple occasions Boston coach Doc Rivers had to rise from his seat near Jack Nicholson after a Lakers dunk.
At times it seemed the only way Boston could get a stop was when it fouled -- which it did often and complained nearly as much. In fact, the only thing that looked familiar about the Celtics on defence was Rasheed Wallace getting a technical foul after a call went against Boston.