There was 1:10 left in the third quarter and Kobe Bryant had Evan Turner isolated in front of him. A screen came, and he was either going to run Turner into it or bait him into a foul.
Turner took the bait, brushing against the Lakers cornerstone for his first foul of the night.
But right after, Bryant headed to the bench.
He had the look of a player trying his best to mount a one-man comeback knowing it was useless.
He had just scored 6 straight points — weaving through the lane until he found enough room to get up a layup, slithering through the lane for a pull-up jumper in traffic, and shimmying by Turner in the post for a reverse layup.
And the Lakers still trailed the Celtics by 15.
The only reasonable way Brad Stevens could see his team guarding Bryant was in shifts.
So Turner, Jeff Green, and Avery Bradley took turns doing the honors.
“We just decided that we’re going to keep rotating guys,” Stevens said. “If I get a foul, somebody else is going to guard him. If you get a foul, somebody else is going to guard him. We’re just going to keep rotating fresh bodies onto him.
“We wanted to keep freshness, and then the other part about that is you kind of get a glimpse of who you think might have a chance of guarding him, which is all you really have — a chance — because he’s still going to get a shot up, he’s still going to get a good chance of making them.”
As much as Bryant pushed, the Celtics refused to let him shoot the Lakers back into the game.
The Celtics’ 113-96 win gave them back-to-back victories after losing five straight. It’s just the second time this season that they’ve managed to pair wins together, making light work of a Lakers team that has only Bryant as a genuine offensive threat.
Rajon Rondo flirted with a triple-double (12 points, 16 assists, 8 rebounds). With Tyler Zeller going for a season-high 24 points (on 10-of-11 shooting), Jeff Green finishing with 19 points, Jared Sullinger putting up 17, and Avery Bradley scoring 16, Rondo had options everywhere he looked.
Bryant, on the other hand, was on his own island.
He finished with 22 points on 9-of-21 shooting. The rest of the Lakers’ starting lineup combined for 29 points on 12-of-25 shooting.
Green had Kobe duty in the fourth quarter, when Bryant went 1 for 3 in five minutes, after going 8 for his first 18.
“That’s Kobe,” Green said. “He’s going to make shots, he going to make tough shots. You just have to continue to make sure whatever shot he takes that you’re there to contest and I think we did a good job of that.
“But when it’s all said and done, you haven’t seen too many people who can stop him one-on-one. So it was a team effort and we made it tough for him.”
The Lakers needed to play one way — methodically and preferably in the halfcourt — and Boston wouldn’t let it happen.
Instead, the Celtics pushed the ball up the floor, scored on the fast break (27 points), and ran a Lakers team that was on the last leg of a three-game East Coast swing ragged.
The Celtics dominated the glass, 54-38, and doubled up Los Angeles in assists, 29-14.
“It’s important for us as a team to make sure we’re getting out, trying to get easy layups,” Green said. “With that being said, they gave us an opportunity to get back in transition. Sometimes they didn’t get back so we tried to take advantage of that.”
Zeller finished 1 point shy of his career high, working hand-in-glove with Rondo on the pick-and-roll. He went 4 for 4 from the floor in the first quarter, when the Celtics jumped out to a 30-20 lead, and three of his buckets came on assists from Rondo.
“Rondo’s probably the best passer in the league,” Zeller said. “You can argue that, but I’d probably say he’s the best passer in the league and he’s somebody that, if you set the right screen and give him space, he’s going to make the right play.”
In so many of the Celtics’ losses this season, they’ve had large leads crumble. But after outlasting the Pistons in overtime Wednesday and pinning down the Lakers in the second half on Friday, there’s a sense that they’re understanding how to close out games.
“You have to evaluate it for what it is,” Stevens said. “Because sometimes guys hit really tough shots to get back in the game and sometimes you miss some shots and there’s all kinds of reasons why you lose a lead.
“But I think from an emotional standpoint, we were much more solid and we kept the foot on the gas the whole time and I thought that was good.”