The Celtics finally come to the end of their 6 game road trip with a game against their oldest and biggest rivals, the Los Angeles Lakers. This is the first of two meetings between these two teams. They will meet again in Boston on January 28. The Celtics lead the series overall all time 163-133. They trail 53-77 in games played on the road. The series was tied 1-1 last season with each team winning at home.
Over the last 10 regular season meetings, each team has won 5 of those games. Since the Lakers moved to Los Angeles, before the 1960-61 season, they have met 205 times and the Celtics lead with 109 wins to 96 for the Lakers. The Celtics are 9-3 against the Lakers in the Finals. Boston won the first 8 titles before the Lakers won 3 of the last 4 meetings with the Celtics last title coming against the Lakers in 2008.
The Celtics are first in the East, 1 game ahead of the second place Bucks. They are 10-5 on the road and 8-2 in their last 10 games. They are 7-2 against Western Conference teams, with the losses coming in the last two games. The Lakers are 12th in the West, 7 games out of first place and 2 games out of play in position. They are 6-6 at home and 6-4 in their last 10 games. They are 5-5 against Eastern Conference teams.
The Celtics are playing on the second night of back to back games. They are 5-0 so far in the second of back to back games and they are 4-0 when the games are on the road. The Celtics may run out of gas in this one, though. Both Tatum and Smart played over 30 minutes on Monday, while Brown played just under 30. This is the final game of a 6 game road trip and the 3rd game in 4 nights. This is the 1st home game for the Lakers after closing out a 6 game road trip that ended with a win at Detroit on Sunday. This is the first game of a 3 game home stand for them.
Al Horford has missed 4 straight games in the health and safety protocols and is expected to miss this game also. I expect Blake Griffin to get the start once again. Rob Williams is considered game to game and may return for this game or more likely, they may wait until they get home for his season debut. Danilo Gallinari continues to be out as he rehabs a torn ACL.
The Lakers have had injury woes with Anthony Davis (back) and LeBron James (ankle) each missing time on the court. They are both listed as probable for this game. It appears that both are healthy enough to play in this game although listed on the injury report. Wenyen Gabriel is out with a shoulder injury. Juan Toscano Anderson is out with an ankle injury.
When the Lakers are healthy they have played well and so the Celtics can’t take them for granted even though they are under .500. The Celtics have underestimated both the Warriors and the Clippers and have not played with energy in either game, especially on the defensive end. Both the Warriors and Clippers played tough defense and the Celtics offense faltered. They didn’t have the defensive identity of last year and so couldn’t get stops to keep either team from running away with it.
Probable Celtics Starters
2 Way Players
Danilo Gallinari (ACL) out
Robert Williams III (knee) game time decision
Al Horford (covid) out
Head Coach (Interim)
Probable Lakers Starters
Troy Brown, Jr
2 Way Players
Scottie Pippen, Jr
Wenyen Gabriel (shoulder) out
Juan Toscano-Anderson (ankle) out
LeBron James (ankle) probable
Anthony Davis (back) probable
Blake Griffin vs Anthony Davis
Davis has been on a tear in recent games and is averaging 27.7 points, 12.4 rebounds, 2.7 assists, 1.1 steals and 2.2 blocks per game. He is shooting 59.6% from the field and 31.0% from beyond the arc. I’m hoping to have Al Horford back for this game but if not, the Celtics will have their hands full in trying to slow down a very motivated Anthony Davis.
Grant Williams vs LeBron James
LeBron is averaging 26.2 points, 8.6 rebounds, 6.3 assist and 1.3 steals per game. He is shooting 47.0% from the field and 31.9% from beyond the arc. He has been in and out of the lineup with injuries or for rest but when he plays, he makes a difference for them. He always seems to put out extra effort when he plays against the Celtics also. The Celtics need to try to prevent him from getting inside and from getting open shots.
Malcolm Brogdon vs Russell Westbrook
Since Westbrook was moved to the bench from the starting lineup, he has been thriving in that role. He is averaging 14.4 points, 5.6 rebounds, 7.6 assists and 1.0 steals per game. He is shooting 40.5% from the field and 29.2% from beyond the arc. He is always a threat for a triple double and so the Celtics must stay with him.
Keys to the Game
Defense - I can’t say it enough that defense is the most important key to winning. The Celtics are 8th in the league with a defensive rating of 111.1. The Lakers 14th with a defensive rating of 111.8. The Celtics have played good defense in a few recent games but they still are not consistent on that end. They must stay committed to playing tough, lock down defense, especially against a Lakers team with some very good offensive weapons. The Celtics must especially defend in the paint as the Lakers are 3rd in the league with 56.6 points in the paint per game.
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 as they are 4th in the league with 16.5 fast break points per game. The Celtics are averaging 42.7 rebounds per game (22nd) while the Lakers are averaging 45.3 rebounds per game (5th). The Celtics must put out extra energy and effort to beat the Lakers to rebounds.
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 most of 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.
Play Team Ball - The Celtics are at their best when they keep the ball moving and find the best shot. When they play iso ball and players try to do too much individually, they falter. The Celtics are 8th with 26.7 assists per game. In their loss to the Warriors, they had just 17 assists. They need to move the ball carefully to avoid turnovers and they need to play team ball without any player trying to do too much.
Last Game of Trip - This is the final game of a 6 game 10 day road trip. The last game is always the toughest game to win as players are anxious to get home and often aren’t quite as focused on the game. The Celtics need to come into the game focused, especially the young guys who sometimes struggle on the road. They need to block out the distractions of playing in a different arena and time zone. The crowd will definitely be hostile and the Celtics can’t allow them to rattle them. They have to stay focused and play their game regardless of the distractions.
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 and vice versa. 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, LeBron always has a chip on his shoulder against the Celtics and LeBron and his teammates are going to give extra effort to beat one of their biggest rivals.
Officiating - The officiating is always 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. (Yes, I’m still bitter about this.) Hopefully they call it fair in this game and let both teams play.