LOS ANGELES — The Green ran the gamut on their six-game sojourn. The Celtics were dominating, disappointing, brilliant, complacent, and resilient. Fittingly, the spectrum of the Celtics’ road experience was reflected in the way they wrapped up the trip, a tortuous and taxing overtime triumph over LeBron James and the Los Angeles Lakers.
Jaylen Brown said “every game is a different story line.” The 122-118 win at Crypto.com Arena on Tuesday felt like six games rolled into one. The headline is that the Celtics showed genuine grit in their last night in this Land of Make Believe.
Sure, it’s only December, but you get the feeling this 10-day odyssey is going to be a touchstone for the Celtics. The second-longest road trip of the season simulated a playoff series with peaks and valleys, mental and physical exhaustion, and the mandate to respond under pressure. Not coincidentally, the 4-2 mark the Celtics authored on the trip looks like the final tally from a best-of-seven playoff series.
Time will tell if the Celtics redecorate the rafters with Banner No. 18. But they displayed championship mettle after getting drubbed in consecutive games by the Warriors and Clippers, outlasting the Lakers on the second night of a back-to-back in what the locals call DTLA, shorthand for downtown LA.
They could’ve let go of the rope and fast-forwarded to heading home after blowing a 20-point, third-quarter lead and going liquid nitrogen cold for more than six minutes. Instead, they clawed back from 13 down with 3:48 to play to extend the trip another five fruitful minutes. It was an effort that spoke volumes about the Celtics’ composition and fortitude.
“I just think we got so used to winning one way in the beginning of the year, but we have to win different ways,” said Celtics coach Joe Mazzulla, who pointedly challenged his best players before the game to step it up.
“We just have to figure out different ways to win. So, we’ve won by blowing teams out. We won now by coming back, and we’ve won now by executing in the late game … This trip taught us a lot. It taught us what we need to do to win games in different ways.”
Truth be told, the Celtics created their own adversity. They should’ve coasted to an easy victory against the LeBrons after unleashing a 65-point first half and ringing up 81 points midway through the third quarter.
Jayson Tatum should’ve been metaphorically putting his feet up instead of literally doing so in the cramped locker room postgame. Still in uniform, he sprawled his fatigued frame across three chairs, spent after a 44-point, 9-rebound, 6-assist effort.
Normally, I’m not big on giving credit for overcoming self-created adversity, but the Celtics earned it, especially since their tanks were on E on the back-to-back.
Same city, same building, but a different Celtics team in demeanor and execution than the one that sleepwalked through their largest loss of the season (113-93) to the Clippers Monday night.
Tatum said after the loss that the Celtics needed to get back to having fun. He did, dropping 24 points in the first half. It was a far cry from the guy who shot a combined 13 for 41 in back-to-back losses.
This was a Tatum Tour de Force.
“Last game I played like [crap], and [coach] basically told me,” said Tatum. “He told me that the way I play, the rest of the guys are going to follow, then down the line to JB and [Marcus] Smart, said it was our responsibility. If we want to be champions and get to that point it’s a responsibility each and every night.”
The last night of the road trip turned into one to relish and re-live.
The Celtics returned to their regularly scheduled ruthless offensive efficacy for the first 29 minutes. Boston registered 18 first-half assists on 25 baskets.
The ball was popping, and the Lakers’ defense was stretched thin. Tatum drilled a pick-and-pop three out of a partial pick-and-roll with Smart, putting the Celtics up by 20 (79-59) with 7:49 left in the third. At that point, the Celtics had drilled 13 of 27 3-pointers.
Two possessions later, Tatum hit a tear-drop floater from 8 feet to give him 30 points and restore Boston’s 20-point lead.
Then things went hoops haywire. The Celtics’ lead was whittled to 6 by the end of the third. The Lakers used an 18-0 run spanning the final 2:21 of the third and the first 3:05 of the fourth to seize a 92-88 lead on a LeBron triple.
The Lakers’ lead ballooned to 13, as the Celtics missed 11 of 12 threes before Grant Williams connected with 3:40 left to trim the LA lead to 106-96.
Then, it was the Lakers’ turn to squander near-certain victory.
Anthony Davis, who made Celtics fans long for the return of Robert Williams protecting the paint, marred a 37-point night by missing a pair of free throws with 28.2 seconds left and the Lakers up by 2.
Tatum hit a picturesque turnaround jumper over LeBron with 17.8 seconds left to send the game to overtime at 110 apiece.
For so many years when he resided in the Eastern Conference, LeBron was a roadblock for the Celtics. Now, LeBron’s team isn’t in the Celtics’ league.
“That team has played a lot more clutch-time minutes than us. They know what they want to do. They execute. They don’t waver,” said LeBron, who finished with a near triple-double (33 points, 9 rebounds, 9 assists).
The Celtics’ road trip ending got a Hollywood rewrite. Brown, who contributed 25 points and 15 rebounds, sent the beautiful people scurrying for the exits with 53.8 seconds left in OT when he drilled a trey, putting Boston up, 122-114.
“That’s a tough and a perfect way to close out the road trip,” said Brown, adding with expletive emphasis that he was ready to go home.
The one that almost got away portends a special season for the Celtics.
“We could’ve let it go, but we found a way to storm back, made some big plays down the stretch, and found a way to win that game,” said Brown. “That says a lot about our experience and our mental toughness.”
It says everything.
Christopher L. Gasper is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @cgasper.