The road trip has ended, and all’s well that ends well.
The Celtics closed their six-game road trip at 4-2, thanks to a scintillating, improbable 122-118 overtime victory over the Lakers that they almost threw away. The Lakers rallied from a 20-point hole, but the Celtics recovered with a late 17-4 run to force the extra five minutes. They then ran off 12 straight in the OT to snag one of their most important wins of the season.
Jayson Tatum was deadly all night, dropping 44 points on 15-of-29 shooting with 9 rebounds and 6 assists. Jaylen Brown added 25 points and 15 rebounds, and Marcus Smart hit several big shots late, scoring 18 and adding 6 assists.
Lakers Anthony Davis and LeBron James combined for 70 points but faded in the extra frame. Russell Westbrook added 20 clutch points off the bench.
Coming into the game, the Celtics had lost two straight that weren’t close to the Warriors and Clippers, and the Lakers were well below .500. Nevertheless, Boston-LA is an event, a tradition, the premiere rivalry in the NBA. In the preseason, LeBron made a point of saying LA hates Boston; obviously, that feeling is mutual. And with the dueling duos of The Jays (combined 56 points per game) versus LeBron and AD (54 ppg), every meeting has the potential to be special.
This was the Lakers’ first game back after going 3-3 on a road trip of their own through the East. The Celtics were once again missing Al Horford, who’s out of health and safety protocols but was with his wife for the birth of their fifth child. Blake Griffin and Derrick White were starters.
The Celtics were looking for a fast start, and they got it with ball movement leading to three layups and three triples for a quick 15-5 lead, forcing an LA timeout. Five of the six hoops were assisted.
Davis scored six consecutive points as the Lakers regrouped, but Boston responded with a 15-4 run. LA continued to ride AD (13 points, 5 rebounds in the quarter) while the C’s used balanced scoring and hot shooting (7-11 threes, 11 assists) to build a 37-24 margin. It was almost more, except Malcolm Brogdon’s halfcourt runner came a second after the buzzer.
Tatum, who had made his first triple in the game’s opening minutes, heated up more in the second quarter. He dropped eight quick points to put Boston up 50-36, but as soon as he subbed out, LA had a 9-2 run. Head coach Joe Mazzulla went back to his starting five and immediately the lead was back to 15.
The half ended with Boston leading 65-50. Tatum led with 24 points, 15 of them in the second. The Cs tallied 18 assists on 25 baskets and were 10-23 from the arc – a huge advantage as LA was only 3-11 on threes.
Tatum remained hot in the third quarter as the lead reached 20.
But this is the NBA, and LA wasn’t going to surrender. The Celtics got sloppy and committed several turnovers, enabling an 11-3 LA run. The lead dropped to 12. A couple of fadeaway jumpers from Jaylen helped Boston stabilize, but it was temporary. LeBron had a pair of open-court steals for breakaways, Jaylen committed a silly foul in the backcourt, and Westbrook’s resulting free throws capped a 17-4 burst that drew LA to within 88-82 heading to the fourth.
They didn’t stop there. Westbrook and James combined to score the first 10 points of the fourth, and the reeling Celtics were down 92-88.
After a timeout, Tatum stopped the bleeding with a layup, but when James fed Davis for an alley-oop slam, it was 98-90, Lakers. The lead peaked at 106-93.
Tatum and Smart battled back, combining for 10 straight Boston points, to pull within 110-108 with 39.7 seconds to play. Davis then missed two free throws, opening the door for this clutch Tatum shot to tie it and go to OT.
After Westbrook scored four quick points to start overtime, the Celtics would score the next 12 straight. Smart hit a floater, Grant Williams drained a go-ahead corner three, and the Jays scored seven more between them to finish the run. A Jaylen Brown deep triple was the final nail.
The Celtics now return to the Garden for a seven-game home stand, welcoming the Orlando Magic on Friday (7:30 p.m. Eastern) and again Sunday (3 p.m.).