The Boston Celtics’ West Coast Extravaganza kicked off the first night of its Staples Center doubleheader tonight, facing the Los Angeles Lakers. And…well, it’s a rivalry for a reason, folks. Despite a halftime lead and another outstanding Kyrie Irving performance, the Lakers rode Kyle Kuzma’s offensive explosion to a narrow win.
THE GAME FLOW
[Note: It’s late. I might get delusional.]
L.A.’s flagship NBA team has exactly two strengths when their rookie point guard Lonzo Ball is off the court (as he was tonight with a bum knee). Those are their hyperspeed offense in transition, and…I’m just kidding. That’s all they really have, and that’s kind of true when Lonzo’s playing as well, but he can at least create opportunities for others. The distinct nature of this limitation showed itself immediately after opening tip.
Which is fortunate, because Boston wasn’t exactly setting the world on fire. (They got pretty much every shot they wanted, but NBA rules dictate that shots must go in the net to score points.) Much of the quarter played out like something of a slap-fight, with L.A. more successful at reaching the free-throw line than getting buckets. Only in the last two minutes did the Celtics start resembling the powerhouse that they’ve been for much of this season. And they spread the scoring around the roster sheet—a Mook Morris ISO jumper here, Marcus Smart open triple off a reverse Kyrie Irving assist there. Even if they looked far from flawless, the Cs held the Lakers to 15, their lowest score of the season in a first quarter since…the last time these two teams met. (•_•)
(⌐■_■) deal with it.
Anyway. Kyle Kuzma, who anyone with a brain realizes is the Lakers rookie worthy of the most praise, came off the bench in Q2, energizing his squad and quickly scoring 11 points. This counterpunch caught the Celtics by surprise, and while Morris, SMARF and Jaylen Brown quickly started firing back with equal intensity, they couldn’t assert any great lead over the Lakeshow and on a few occasions fell slightly behind. GET FLOYD MAYWEATHER AND HIS WIFEBEATING ASS THE FUCK OFF MY SCREEN RIGHT THE FUCK NOW. Sorry for the rush of swearing, but that man is disgusting.
Brown and Irving started to take command of the court just after the 5:00 mark of the second quarter. They scored off a quick succession of wide-open layups and treys, padding Boston’s lead up to something more substantial, and putting serious pressure on their frisky but ultimately quite inexperienced opponent. Aside from their aforementioned transition offense, L.A.’s only real advantage (and Boston problem) came from Julius Randle and his knack for creating second-chance opportunities in the low post. The Laker-friendly whistle in the second quarter’s waning minutes might have been a problem—7 free-throws off 11 attempts compared to the Cs’ 5-5—if the Celtics hadn’t created a double-digit lead by that point. Jordan Clarkson made a layup off of a nicely done drive for the quarter’s last bucket, but the Celtics held a respectable 53-45 advantage at the half.
(A mildly troubling halftime note: Jayson Tatum went scoreless in the first two frames, and got rung up for three fouls. He may at long last be running into the rookie wall.)
Whatever Luke Walton (or LaVar Ball via Skype, from Transylvania or wherever he and his failsons are) said to the Lakers during the break, it worked. L.A. came out ready to fight and Boston wasn’t up to the task. Randle and Tyler Freaking Somehow Still in the League Ennis scored quickly on them and motivated Brad Stevens to call timeout almost immediately after the second half started. It didn’t really help, and to make matters worse, Aron Baynes, who’d been a net negative all night, somehow managed to get to his 5th foul, necessitating his substitution. (He might be needed later, is the issue.)
For a dude who didn’t have an objectively thrilling stat line, Randle continued to make trouble for the Cs, as did Clarkson and Brook Lopez, of all people. Re: Randle, it felt like deja vu of last year’s Celtics, when the squad was getting trucked on the boards constantly. Irving started to get rolling and kept the ship basically upright, passing the 20-point threshold with two minutes left in the quarter…a little while after SMARF, who was having a great shooting night. Unfortunately, Marcus Smart great shooting nights have an uncanny tendency to occur when Boston is behind, which Boston fell near the quarter’s end. Frustration started seeping into the team’s play, and the game grew considerably more physical as a result, but for naught: L.A. had a slim lead at the quarter’s end, 76-74.
Tatum scored his first bucket—a corner trey from a Kyrie assist—barely 30 seconds after the final 12 minutes kicked off, and given his proclivity for clutch performance, that was a welcome sight for Cs fans. Mook Morris, who’d been quiet since Q1, followed that up with a roll to the rim, and then Terry Rozier foiled a Lakers possession and bolted down the floor for an easy FG at the other end. Clarkson and Kuzma (who’d also hushed up after his loud first quarter) fired back, particularly the latter, who went from 11 to 19 points in what felt like no time. And then with an authoritative Larry Nance Jr. dunk over a dazed-looking Horford and Daniel Theis, the Lakers were ahead again.
This was starting to get bad, especially the fact that Horford couldn’t keep up with Kuzma, as he began to heat-check and get relentless. Only four minutes remained and the Lakers held a 6-point lead. (Given the past several games, that little time feels like a death knell.) Despite some truly heroic Kyrie baskets, the Celtics’ seeming inability to protect the rim at all made things look really goddamn bad. Both teams were in the bonus but only the Lakers benefited from it. Finally, some life showed for Boston, as a combination of clutch play by Terry Rozier and mediocre L.A. free-throw shooting got the Celtics within a point.
Naturally, because we live in a stupid, cruel and meaningless universe, after Kentavious Caldwell-Pope bricked a pair of FTs and the Cs got the ball up the court lightning quick…Marcus Smart decided to take the final shot from three, when:
- they didn’t need a trey to win
- Rozier was open
- Kyrie was sorta open
- Marcus is still ultimately a bad shooter despite a relatively good performance tonight
And despite all that, Smart chucked, and came close but close does not count in this league, and the Lakers managed to split the season series for the fourth consecutive year with a 108-107 victory. No matter how awful the Lakeshow has become, how hubristic and foolish, they still somehow can win one game per season against the Celtics. We get the world we deserve.
HOT ISH: Uhhhhh…Kyrie was great again; Morris’s effectiveness off the bench (as opposed to his starting inefficiency); Horford, despite a slow start and some defensive lapses, showcasing the versatility that makes him a deserving All-Star.
NOT ISH: 4-game losing streak; Tatum’s bad night; Marcus not passing to a shooter with better odds; nonexistent defense around the low post; the team’s inability to establish and maintain commanding leads.
Rozier’s transition heroics:
Kyrie’s dance of death: