If there’s one game that Celtics fans circle on their calendars, it has to be when the Los Angeles Lakers come to Boston. This is the first of two games between these two historic rivals. They will meet for the second time in Los Angeles on December 7. They split the series last season with the Lakers winning in Boston and the Celtics winning in Los Angeles.
These two teams have met 294 times in the regular season with the Celtics leading all time 162-132. The Celtics lead the series in Boston 82-51. These two franchises have met 12 times in the Finals The Celtics are 9-3 in those Finals matchups. The Celtics won the first 8 and then just 1 of the last 4 matchups. Both teams lead the league with 17 championships each although 6 of those Lakers championships were from the Minneapolis Lakers.
The Celtics are 2-3 at home. They have won their last 2 home games after losing their first 3 home games. They are 1-1 against Western Conference teams. They are 5-5 in their last 10 games. The Lakers are 1-3 on the road and 3-2 against Eastern Conference teams. They are also 5-5 in their last 10 games. The Celtics lost their last game while the Lakers lost their last 2 games.
The Lakers are playing in the 2nd game of a 5 game road trip. They lost the first game to the Bucks on Wednesday and will go on to Detroit, New York and Indiana after this game. The Celtics are playing in the first game of a 4 game home stand. They will face Oklahoma City, Houston and Brooklyn in their next 3 games at the TD Garden.
Jaylen Brown has missed the Celtics last 6 games with a hamstring injury. He had hoped to come back two games ago but was deemed not ready by the medical staff. He was originally listed as questionable for this game but has been downgraded to out. Rob Williams is once again listed as questionable with knee tendinopathy. He will be a game time decision. Dennis Schroder has been added to the injury list as questionable with an ankle sprain.
LeBron James has missed the Lakers last 8 games. The Lakers lost 5 of those 8 games. Reports are that LeBron intends to return for this game. If he does, he will likely return to the starting lineup but will also likely be on a minutes restriction. Anthony Davis is probable for this game after bruising his thigh in Wednesday’s loss to the Bucks. Trevor Ariza (ankle), Kendrick Nunn (knee) and Austin Reeves (hamstring) are all out.
Rajon Rondo is back with the Lakers and always seems to play his best games against the Celtics. Former Celtic Avery Bradley is also back with the Lakers and will also look to have a big game against his former team. LeBron James has played a total of 54 games against the Celtics over his career. He has averaged 28.9 points against the Celtics in those games, which is his highest point average against any team except the Cavaliers.
Probable Celtics Starters
Jaylen Brown (hamstring) out
Robert Williams (knee) questionable
Dennis Schroder (ankle) questionable
Probable Lakers Starters
Trevor Ariza (ankle) out
Kendrick Nunn (knee) out
Austin Reeves (hamstring) out
LeBron James (abdomen) questionable
Anthony Davis (thigh) probable
Marcus Smart vs Russell Westbrook
Westbrook is averaging 19.4 points, 8.4 rebounds, and 8.8 assists per game. He is shooting 42.8% from the field and 30.0% from beyond the arc. Marcus Smart has had the ability to get into Westbrook’s head and frustrate him and hopefully can do that in this game.
Al Horford vs Anthony Davis
Davis is averaging 23.8 points, 10.8 rebounds, and 2.1 blocks per game. He is shooting 51.5% from the field but only 19.4% from beyond the arc. If Rob can play, he will be the one matched up against Anthony Davis for the most part. Davis bruised his thigh in Wednesday’s game against the Bucks and is probable for this game.
Jayson Tatum vs Talen Horton-Tucker
Tucker is averaging 23.3 points, 7.3 rebounds, and 2.0 assists. He is shooting 49% from the field and 40.0% from beyond the arc. If LeBron does indeed come back, he will likely start at at small forward. Hopefully Tatum can build off of his performance against the Hawks because the Celtics will need him to be at his best on both ends of the court.
Keys to the Game
Defense - I can’t say it enough that defense is the most important key to winning. The Celtics are 11th in the league with a defensive rating of 104.8. The Lakers 15th with a defensive rating of 107.2. The Celtics have been struggling with their offense, but if they play tight enough defense, they can still pull out a win. They must stay committed to playing tough, lock down defense, especially against a Lakers team with plenty of offensive weapons.
Rebound - Rebounding takes effort and energy and the Celtics will need both to out-rebound the Lakers. The Celtics need to crash the boards and keep the Lakers from getting second chance points and fast breaks. The Celtics are averaging 43.9 rebounds per game (23rd) while the Lakers are averaging 46.3 rebounds per game (7th). The Celtics must put out extra energy and effort to beat the Lakers to rebounds.
Play Hard for 48 Minutes - The Celtics tend to let up on their effort at times during games. At times they play focused and are able to dominate. Then at other times they seemed to lose focus and let teams out-play them, especially down the stretch. They absolutely have to come out ready to play right from the opening tip. And then, they have to play hard right up until the final buzzer. They need consistent effort, especially against a team like the Lakers.
Be Aggressive - The Celtics must be the more aggressive team. They have to be aggressive in going to the basket, in diving for loose balls, and on defense. They have to aggressively crash the boards. They have to be the team that wants it more. In their losses, they have allowed their opponents to play harder and be more aggressive. They absolutely can’t let the Lakers be more aggressive than them if they want to have a chance to win.
Pride - “Beat LA” is one of the most iconic chants in sports. This is a storied rivalry and no matter the circumstances, the Celtics always want to beat the Lakers. The Celtics have to focus on the game and on playing the right way. It’s a matter of pride and the Celtics need to get the job done and “Beat LA”. On the other hand, the Lakers have lost two straight and they are going to want to right the ship and get back to winning and so will give extra effort to do that against one of their biggest rivals.
Home Game - The Celtics are back at home and should get a boost from the crowd who will hopefully be loud and enthusiastic. The Lakers are on the second game of a 5 game road trip and may have some travel fatigue and also other distractions that come from playing on the road. The Lakers have played just 4 games on the road and have won just one of them. The Celtics should have take advantage of playing on their home court and in front of their fans.
Officiating - The officiating can always be an x-factor. Every crew calls the game differently and the Celtics have to adapt to how the game is being called and not allow bad calls and no calls to take away their focus. If you doubt that officiating is an x-factor, just think back to the last Finals between these two teams. In game 7, the Celtics were up 6 going into the 4th quarter. The refs had called the game evenly up until then. But in the 4th quarter, the referees took over and it cost the Celtics that game. The Lakers took 21 free throws in the 4th quarter alone while the Celtics took 6. The Lakers took more free throws in the 4th quarter than they did in the first 3 quarters combined. Hopefully the refs call it fair in this game and let both teams play.