LOS ANGELES — Los Angeles Lakers owner Jerry Buss loved to win. He especially relished beating the Boston Celtics.
Playing their first game since Buss died, the Lakers earned an emotional 113-99 victory over their greatest rivals on Wednesday night.
Dwight Howard had 24 points and 12 rebounds, Kobe Bryant added 16 points, Steve Nash and Earl Clark had 14 apiece, and Metta World Peace 12 in a game that surely would have delighted Buss.
“It was very fitting,” Bryant said. “You look at all the trophies, parades and support this team has – that all came from one man. The impact is a global one.”
The Lakers won their most recent NBA championship – and last under Buss – in 2010, beating the Celtics 4-3 in the finals. Buss died Monday at 80 after an 18-month struggle with cancer that had forced him to watch his team’s games on TV or an iPad instead of from his suite above the Staples Center court.
His empty seat was illuminated and “R.I.P. Dr. Buss” was written on the board inside the Lakers locker room.
“We got to continue to carry on what he built,” Bryant said.
Paul Pierce scored 26 points for the Celtics, who fell to 8-17 on the road and lost their third in a row away from home. Courtney Lee added 20 points and Kevin Garnett had 12 on 6-of-14 shooting.
“We’ve been in that situation with Red Auerbach, and so many other emotional games – teams are very dangerous, especially in their home building,” Pierce said. “You take a lot of pride in protecting that and going out and getting that first win. You could see it in their eyes. I saw it in Kobe’s eyes. He was really emotional coming out and he wanted this game bad. We understood that.”
Howard’s performance in the Lakers’ first game since the All-Star break came on the eve of the NBA trade deadline. He has been the subject of rumors, but general manager Mitch Kupchak said this week that Howard wouldn’t be going anywhere.
“I was thinking about it all day, getting this win for Dr. Buss,” Howard said. “We came out with a lot of energy, a lot of intensity. We have to keep working every day in practice to get better and hopefully this season can happen for us.”
Howard was among seven Lakers in double figures on a night when they shot 51 percent, dominated the paint 54-30 and were 22 of 31 from the free throw line for one of the most complete games they’ve played in months.
“We looked like a team,” Nash said. “We moved bodies and moved the ball and made it tough on their defense. It gives us a little more of an identity.”
Clark had a career-high 16 rebounds, and Antawn Jamison added 15 points off the bench for Los Angeles.
The Lakers improved to 26-29 and gained a split in the season series, having avenged a 116-95 loss to the Celtics on Feb. 7 when they trailed by 32 points.
“We certainly wanted to return the favor,” Bryant said.
Boston trailed by nine at the end of the first two quarters before the Lakers opened up a 75-57 lead early in the third. Typical of their balanced scoring throughout the game, World Peace, Bryant, Nash, Howard and Clark each contributed baskets in the 11-2 run.
Nash had seven assists, giving him 10,144 while passing Magic Johnson for sole possession of fourth place on the career list. He said he and Howard have talked about trying to work more as a tandem.
“He has to find ways to free me up and therefore, I am going to find ways to free him up,” Nash said. “It is still a work in progress, but the last two games before the break he really committed into running pick-and-rolls, setting good screens, rolling hard and you saw either me free for jump shots or him going down the paint for fouls or finishes.”
The Lakers shot 51 percent in the first half and had four players in double figures, helping them to a 64-55 lead. Howard was energetic in scoring 15 points and setting screens reminiscent of his days with Orlando. Bryant had 14 points, Nash 12 and World Peace 10.
“I thought he was playing through emotion,” Garnett said about Bryant. “You could hear the emotion in his voice.”
Pierce carried the Celtics with 23 points on 9-of-15 shooting in the half, when they shot 49 percent. He said he hadn’t talked to general manager Danny Ainge about the trade rumors involving him.
“I’m sure if something comes up, he’ll probably call me,” Pierce said. “I can’t worry about that. I’ve got a job to do and they’ve got to do what’s best for the franchise. I’ve always understood that this is just a business.”
Buss was remembered in a pregame video tribute featuring photos of him as a child all the way through him hoisting trophies marking the team’s 10 NBA championships won under his ownership. Bryant fittingly spoke on behalf of the Lakers’ players, having been acquired by the Lakers as a 17-year-old.
“He was a brilliant, incredible owner but an even better person,” Bryant said. “His innovation transcended the game and we are all, all spoiled by his vision and his drive to win year after year after year.”
There was a moment of silence in the darkened arena before the crowd broke up the quiet with chants of “Jerry, Jerry.”
“It was very emotional and very nice,” Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni said, noting the crowd’s energy. “You couldn’t help but feel it and I think the players felt it, also.”
A memorial service for invited guests will be held Thursday at Nokia Theatre across the street from Staples Center. Buss will be buried in a private service on Friday.