The Celtics and Lakers have played hundreds of games against each other in what is the NBA’s best rivalry. None have ever been quite like this one.
With 6:57 to play in the third quarter, Boston had a 20-point lead. It looked like the Celtics were going to cruise in the final game of a six-game trip. Coming off two disappointing losses, it looked like just what the doctor ordered to get things back on track.
Los Angeles ripped off a massive run to spark a 33-point turnaround. With 4:25 to play, the Lakers led 106-93.
Then the Celtics became the Celtics again.
Here’s how we got there and how some magic happened.
2. The first 29 minutes or so were some of the best basketball Boston had played on the trip. The ball was moving, players were cutting and hitting shots, the defense was active and engaged.
The Celtics were up 15 at the half on the strength of 18 assists (against just four turnovers), good shooting and some really good defense. In addition, Boston had grabbed 10 offensive rebounds, including six from Luke Kornet.
Things were going great.
3. Then, they weren’t.
A big run rarely starts with anything too remarkable. The Lakers hit a couple of shots, then Marcus Smart made a three to push the lead back to 19 for Boston.
The Celtics wouldn’t score again for over two-and-a-half minutes. After a pair of Jaylen Brown jumpers seemed to have stabilized things and got the lead back to 14, Boston fell completely apart.
The final two minutes of the third quarter featured two missed free throws, 0-for-3 shooting and three turnovers. An 8-0 Lakers run made it a six-point game going into the final period. It happens. Get a rest and reset.
Only, it got worse.
The Los Angeles run stretched to 18-0 before Jayson Tatum mercifully hit a layup with 8:04 left in the fourth quarter. That basket by Tatum snapped a 6:18 scoreless stretch for Boston. Overall, Boston scored four points in over a nine-minute portion of the game bridging the third and fourth quarters.
The damage was seemingly done. The Lakers were rolling. The party was on in LA.
4. Then, Hollywood magic happened for the guys in green.
Jayson Tatum made the hard push off the rebound and hit Grant Williams, who spaced out to the wing. Anthony Davis was starting to drag and didn’t bother with a closeout:
Unfortunately, there isn’t a clip of what happened next. Probably because the camera had cut away. But LeBron James threw a lazy inbounds pass to an unaware Russell Westbrook. Because he’s Marcus Smart, Smart was right there to steal it and lay it in.
A quick 5-0 spurt and the Celtics had life.
On an improvised give-and-go, Tatum tried to put LeBron James on a poster again:
Tatum knocked down both free throws and Boston was feeling it. Sandwiched between a couple of tough fallaway jumpers from Anthony Davis and James, Tatum hit the step-back three over Davis:
James’ fallaway with 2:12 left was the Lakers last score of regulation. With LA on fumes and not getting back, Smart went through Austin Reaves for a layup:
It was time for stops and scores.
After a couple of stops, James and Davis keep two on the ball with Jaylen Brown here. Or they were too lazy to switch. Either way, Smart isn’t afraid of the big shot. Never has been:
You felt like the Celtics knew they had it here. For the second time in a about a week, Anthony Davis missed two free throws. Tatum didn’t miss:
5. The brief rest before overtime can be both a blessing and a curse when you had to come back to force that extra period. On one hand, you want to keep rolling. On the other hand, everyone needs that minute or so to catch their breath.
The Celtics had to push so hard to get the five extra minutes, it was fair to wonder if they’d have enough left to get over the hump.
After two Russell Westbrook layups to open overtime, it didn’t look great for Boston. But the Celtics weren’t finished yet.
6. The ball hitting the paint and getting the defense rotating is when Boston looks their best. That’s what happened here before Marcus Smart drove Austin Reaves for the floater:
7. After baiting Russell Westbrook into taking another jumper (Boston had put Luke Kornet on Westbrook, but he guarded the Lakers point guard from a location approximately somewhere in San Diego), Marcus Smart attacked against the weary Lakers. The result was Anthony Davis coming to help and Grant Williams working in his corner office:
8. After Jaylen Brown overpowered the Lakers to earn a couple of free throws, Russell Westbrook was baited into taking two more threes. In between those misses, Jayson Tatum dropped in the step-back pullup to get to 44 points on the night:
9. To close it, Jaylen Brown pulled up from the parking lot:
Goodnight, LA. Back to Boston with an improbable victory.
10. The Celtics had their first protracted stumbles of the season while on this trip. The Warriors game wasn’t a good showing and getting blown out by the Clippers was tough. When Boston fell apart during that late-third and early-fourth quarter stretch, it was hard to not question what had happened over the last week.
But they fought back. They took some punches, picked themselves up off the canvas and started landing haymakers of their own.
4-2 is a very success six-game road trip. Now, Boston has one of their longest homestands in years. The next seven games are at TD Garden and the Celtics won’t go back on the road until the calendar flips to 2023.
That seven-game homestand features at least five games that Boston will be heavily favored to win. And we get our first look at the Milwaukee Bucks on Christmas Day.
It could have been a disaster, but the good guys found a way just when everything looked to be at its bleakest. That’s a Hollywood ending if we’ve ever seen one.