There’s plenty to unpack after the Celtics’ bizarre, chaotic, and intense 125-121 overtime win over the Lakers on Saturday night …
⋅ Look, it was a foul. LeBron James’s tantrum drew attention to it. Jayson Tatum’s sheepish grin essentially acknowledged it. Referee Eric Lewis later confirmed it.
In the final seconds of regulation with the score tied at 105, James bulldozed down the left side of the lane and had a clean look at a layup before Tatum reached in and hit his arm, forcing a miss. But there was no whistle. James should have received two free throws. He almost certainly would have made at least one, and the game probably would have ended there, sending the Celtics into a season-worst four-game tailspin. The Celtics dodged one.
⋅ That surprising sequence was followed by an odd and, well, sort of funny moment. On the sideline, Lakers guard Patrick Beverley was shown a Lakers team photographer’s shot of the no-call. He took the camera and marched onto the court to show crew chief Lewis his visual evidence. Lewis, understandably, had no interest in glancing at the footage, and assessed Beverley a technical foul. I’ve never seen overtime start with a team holding a one-point lead, but that’s what happened after Tatum hit the technical free-throw.
Patrick Beverly is a generational talent 😂😂😂pic.twitter.com/nfE8Ww0L9s— CJ Fogler AKA Perc70 #BlackLivesMatter (@cjzero) January 29, 2023
⋅ Before every game, the NBA selects a pool reporter who will be able to interview a referee if any big calls or moments deserve further explanation. I’ve been the pool reporter for about half of the Celtics home games over the last couple of years, and before Saturday, I’d never actually been called into duty. But, clearly, there were a few plays from this game that merited further discussion.
The process works like this: The reporter contacts an NBA public relations representative and requests a pool interview with the lead official before sending a list of questions. The NBA then sets up a Zoom call with the official. In this case, Lewis was still in uniform somewhere in the bowels of TD Garden. He graciously answered a couple of questions about the Beverley incident, saying he received a technical because his actions were inappropriate. Then he said that, yes, they had missed the foul call on Tatum.
“There was contact,” Lewis said. “At the time, during the game, we did not see a foul. The crew missed the play.”
The honesty was admirable, but it obviously doesn’t do anything to help the Lakers.
⋅ Wait, can we talk about how Beverley actually brought a camera onto the court to show a referee a picture of a missed call? Oh, that’s right, we already did that.
Anyway, in the final minute of regulation, it appeared the defensive-minded guard had become an improbable offensive hero on a court filled with much more talented scorers. The 6-foot-2 pest drilled a 3-pointer and soared in for a two-handed putback slam that gave the Lakers a 104-102 lead. Then he grabbed a Jaylen Brown miss and was fouled with 14.8 seconds left, putting Los Angeles in control.
But the rest of regulation was forgettable for Beverley. He made just one of two free throws, leaving Boston a glimmer of hope. Then after Al Horford missed a 3-pointer and Brown grabbed the rebound, Beverley hit the top of Brown’s head, resulting in a three-point play that allowed Boston to tie the game with 4.1 seconds left. Beverley’s subsequent technical foul didn’t help, either.
⋅ It can be argued whether Brown made the proper decision by going up for a layup trailing by three points with just over four seconds left. He was fortunate to be fouled, but I still think it was the right play. Grant Williams and Tatum were in the paint with Brown at the time. Malcolm Brogdon was wide open at the top of the key, but Brown had come soaring in for the rebound, with his back to Brogdon, and all of his momentum was carrying him toward the basket. It would have been tough for him to regroup, realize Brogdon was open, hit him with a 25-foot pass, and then hope he could convert the shot, all in four seconds. Furthermore, the Celtics had a timeout, so even if they still trailed by a point, they could have fouled and then advanced the ball before their final shot.
⋅ Kudos to Brown for calmly knocking down that free throw, though. Just two nights earlier he’d missed two big free throws that could have sent the Celtics to a win over the Knicks. He left both shots short and appeared uneasy. But in this case, in an almost identical situation, he calmly drilled it. These high-pressure January moments will only help down the road.
⋅ Just a reminder that James, who erupted for 41 points, 9 rebounds, and 8 assists, and had just 2 turnovers Saturday, is 38 years old. Love him or hate him, you have to appreciate him.
⋅ The Celtics remained shorthanded Saturday, with Marcus Smart and Robert Williams sidelined with ankle injuries. Nevertheless, Tatum’s workload has become concerning. The forward played the entire second, third, and fourth quarters, as well as overtime. Forty-one consecutive minutes in all. He has been battling some left wrist soreness, and he said after this game that he was exhausted. Also, it wasn’t even as if he was carrying the Celtics: He was just 8 for 25 from the field with six turnovers.
Before the game, coach Joe Mazzulla was asked about limiting Tatum’s playing time, and he quipped that playing fewer overtime games would help. Then another overtime game arrived. But Tatum said fatigue caught up to him during the Finals last season, and his current regular-season workload certainly seems excessive. It’ll be something to keep an eye on when the playoffs arrive.
Tatum was used somewhat similarly last season, but the Celtics had plenty of lopsided wins that allowed him to sit the final few minutes. This year’s games have generally been tighter, with seven of the 51 going to overtime.
Adam Himmelsbach can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @adamhimmelsbach.