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Rondo game-winner sinks the Celtics in thriller 129-128

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That one hurt

NBA: Los Angeles Lakers at Boston Celtics David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

On a trade deadline headlined by some of the top Eastern Conference teams making moves to ensure their place among the elite, the vibe in LA had a different tenure. Despite the strong power play by Anthony Davis and his representation to go to the Lakers, New Orleans and his representation rebuffed their attempts, leaving Los Angeles with a team full of young players, expiring contracts, and LeBron James. Presumably, New Orleans reluctance to deal Davis was tied to the Celtics interest whose treasure chest of picks and young talent has been years in the making for this exact move. With one teams fortunes falling short and the others hope being opened, the post- trade deadline was a relief for the players whose lives didn’t get uprooted, but also a shift in focus from the NBA’s robust transactional market to the action on the court, where the Celtics and Lakers set off for the first time this season.

The game did not start fast, both teams had trouble finding their range. Jayson Tatum came out hot scoring 11 points on 5/7 shooting from the floor. The Celtics second unit then came out and began to get some separation hitting 7 of their first 10 shots. Rozier was instrumental in that, scoring 11 points hitting three of his first four three pointers to go along with 4 assists in the first half.

The lead ballooned out to 18 points before James took it to another level as soon as the Celtics took their foot off the gas. With a bloated lead the Celtics got iso happy and the Lakers made them pay with a relentless transition game led by one of the best passers in the game.

Even when the Celtics settled down they were victims to some uncharacteristic shooting form Irving (2/10 in the half) and Morris (0/3 in the half) that didn’t allow the team to push the game out of reach. A late three in the half by Horford was able to preserve the C’s lead at 9.

First half stats

Second Half

The Lakers came out where they left off in the second quarter shooting lights out and hitting 8 three’s in the quarter. Boston’s offense staggered out of the gates while Irving tried his best to shoot himself out of a rare funk but found himself at 3/18 shooting coming into the 4th. The Lakers were good at junking up the Celtics Irving-Horford PnR lead by Rondo who did a really great job reading Irving and doubling on Horford whenever he looked to pass it. On the top of the blistering hot shooting from the Lakers they did a fantastic job cutting hard and moving along the perimeter where James was tearing the Celtics defense apart with fantastic dimes. By the time the dust settled, a 9-point Celtics lead coming into the third was a 6-point deficit closed out by a patent buzzer-beating off-foot layup by Rondo.

To start the fourth, the Celtics bench unit lead by Rozier-Tatum-Theis countered back and retained the lead. Rozier was the story of the game going for 19 points, 6 assists, and 4 rebounds on 5 of 9 shooting from the field. He did a great job boosting the energy of the game by pushing the pace hard and creating good looks.

When Irving returned in the game, he found his groove a bit attacking Kuzma and he was able to be the clutch player that Boston was used to during the end of the game.

With the Celtics up by 124-118 and under 90 seconds left, the Lakers countered back with back-to-back fallaway three-pointers by KCP and James to tie up the game with 34.7 seconds left in regulation. A Lakers foul on Tatum but him at the line without any time expiring where he hit both his FT’s to give the Celtics a 126-124 lead. It was short-lived however, on the ensuing possession the Lakers were able to get a three from Kuzma to take a 127-126 lead.

With 18.7 second left, the Celtics got the ball and Irving was able to go by Ingram to score and put the Celtics up 128-127. Without calling timeout, the Lakers pushed the ball down the floor, Ingram tried to get a layup but it was rejected by Horford, unfortunately the ball took a bad bounce and it landed in the hands of Rondo who hit a game-winner as the time expired.

It was a rough, rough loss for the Celtics who at one point looked like they were going to run away with this one, but it was just the latest reminder that if you let teams stay in the game, anything can happen.