For the last two weeks, the Boston Celtics rarely played up to their capabilities, regressing to what they looked like in a highly disappointing season last year as they had lost three in a row and six of eight.
But that all changed Monday night with a marquee matchup against the Western Conference-leading and rival Los Angeles Lakers.
The Celtics weathered an early jab from the Lakers before storming ahead and throwing their own haymaker that seemed missing lately en route to a resounding 139-107 victory at the TD Garden.
After not playing well against much of the NBA’s elite teams this season, the romp over the Lakers could prove to be the signature win for the Celtics that helps put their recent struggles behind them.
“We needed it,” Kemba Walker said. “This is a really important game for us and we treated it like it and we executed. It’s one of those games to help us realize how talented we are and how good we can be, and pretty much how bad we’ve really been playing. So, hopefully we can just get back on track.”
The Celtics, who had won 13 of their first 14 home games but had faltered on the parquet over the last five games with a 2-3 mark, rose to the challenge of facing a menacing Lakers backcourt featuring LeBron James, Anthony Davis and JaVale McGee, not to mention that L.A. also possessed the best road record in the NBA.
After falling behind 8-0 quickly, it looked like another slow start would doom the C’s and that they would fall in another game this season in which they never led. But then everything clicked to the highest extent and the Celtics looked like they had at the beginning of the season, finding the form of a team that should challenge for an Eastern Conference title.
Jayson Tatum is starting to play like Rajon Rondo during Rondo’s tenure as a Celtic. With the national spotlight on, Tatum delivered by pouring in a game-high 27 points and connecting on 5-of-8 3-pointers.
Walker, who made his return after a brief one-game absence due to a sore left knee, found his offense and ran the point seamlessly as he netted 20 points on 8-of-13 shooting and dished out seven assists.
Like Walker, Jaylen Brown, who was also coming back from injury as he missed the past two games with a sprained thumb, registered 20 points and threw down a highlight-reel slam dunk over James to set the tone for a third quarter in which the Celtics made 14-of-21 field goals to blow things wide open. Gordon Hayward was steady by tallying 16 points, six rebounds and five assists, while Enes Kanter continued to be a spark off the bench by posting a double-double of 18 points and 11 boards.
For the Celtics, having Walker, Tatum, Brown and Hayward all coexist and perform well illustrates the heightened potential of this team.
“This is what we should be on a nightly basis and what we would like to be,” Walker said. “Hopefully the way we played and this win can help us build in the future.”
And while the Celtics somewhat reveled in the much-needed victory, there was also a theme in the postgame that Walker and other players alluded to.
The Celtics can’t rest on their talent or this win thinking that everything is now fixed, they have to keep building.
“It’s a big win, especially after losing three in a row,” Tatum said. “It feels good just to get a win and hopefully we can build off this for the next game.”