After two deflating losses, the Boston Celtics went into Tuesday night’s matchup with their historic rivals looking to avoid three straight losses for the first time since the 2022 NBA Finals. The Lakers game presented an opportunity to wrap up their west coast trip on a high note and carry that momentum into their upcoming homestand.
Boston led by as many as 20 points over Los Angeles, and looked to be completely in control with little effort — that is until the 3rd quarter hit and the Celtics took their foot off the gas. The Lakers pushed back into the game and jumped into the lead, and led 106-93 with less than four minutes left in the 4th quarter. What had been looking like a comfortable blowout had suddenly turned into a meltdown of epic proportions for the Celtics.
But that’s when the Celtics woke up, ripping off a 17-4 run to close out regulation, with Jayson Tatum hitting a fadeaway jumper over Lebron James to tie the game and force overtime. Boston would go on to win 122-118 behind Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown’s late game efforts, with bigtime shots from Marcus Smart and Grant Williams to make the comeback possible.
The Celtics flirted with disaster on Tuesday night, but found a way to win an ugly game after letting their lead slip away. “Joe (Mazzulla0 came in before the game and set the tone for us,” said Jaylen Brown after the win. “Told us we need to get our s*** together...We could have let it go, but we found a way to storm back.” Boston’s blown lead felt eerily similar to the Celtics of last year, when no lead ever felt truly safe.
Jayson Tatum led all scorers on the night with 44 points on 15-of-29 shooting, including 5-of-10 from deep, 9-of-10 from the stripe, 9 rebounds, and 6 assists. “Last game, I played like s***,” said Tatum. “(Joe) told me that. Told me that the way I play, the rest of the guys are going to follow. ... It’s a responsibility every single night.” Part of the reason why the team has been so good this season is because of the noticeable growth in leadership of Brown and Tatum. The Celtics feed off the energy of their duo, and when they both buy in on each side of the court, the rest of the team follows suit.
One big change going from Ime Udoka to Joe Mazzulla has been the usage of timeouts, and it’s been a major talking point when evaluating about Boston’s interim head coach. Why does Mazzulla never call a timeout when a team is going on a run? Does he just not have a feel for the situation? What it actually comes down to is a level of trust in his players, and putting the onus on them to fix things when the game goes sideways.
The ending to Celtics vs. Lakers was a MOVIE pic.twitter.com/mNjvHoMaTu— NBA (@NBA) December 14, 2022
“Joe tells us all the time he’s not going to save us,” said Tatum of Mazzulla’s timeout strategy. “It’s more of a surprise if he does call a timeout. Twenty-eight games in, we’re used to it... A lot of the time he tells us to figure it out, and he challenges us. Myself, JB, Smart, he challenged us that the way we’ve been playing, it’s not going to cut it.” For better or worse, the Celtics have been left to figure it out on the fly, and for the most part, it’s a strategy that’s paid off dividends.
“He trusts us,” said Grant Williams of his head coach. “He trusts us more than any coach probably has in the league, and he understands what type of character and what type of people we are, and how committed we are to not only winning, and making sure we don’t let it spiral. It’s a learning curve. You know how your parents or someone like that throws you into a pool? You gotta find a way out...that’s how Joe is. He makes sure you keep moving, and find a way out.”
Boston has been able to continue growing and maturing by playing through these types of rough patches, and Joe Mazzulla’s trust in his roster has yet to be proven wrong during his tenure as interim head coach. The Celtics will pick up where they left off on Friday when they take on the Orlando Magic at 7:30 pm EST.