Celtics destroy Lakers in opener of five-game road trip
LOS ANGELES—With 4 minutes, 50 seconds left in the third quarter Friday and the Celtics comfortably leading the Lakers by 29 points, Isaiah Thomas broke free on a fast break.
He had an open layup, but he also had an impossibly athletic teammate behind him, and this is Los Angeles, after all. So when Jaylen Brown called for Thomas to toss the ball off the backboard to him, Thomas threw the ball off the backboard to him.
The rookie soared in for the slam, completing a play so gaudy and normally reserved for All-Star games that it seemed to even stun a Staples Center crowd that is rarely nonplussed. After the Celtics finished off their 115-95 win, Avery Bradley joked that Brown was probably already watching replays of his highlight-reel plays online, and Brown sheepishly admitted that is exactly what he had done.
“We got some young guys on the team,” Brown said. “It’s show-time.”
The rookie may not have known that this is actually the home of Showtime, the moniker bestowed on the flashy and often flawless Lakers teams of the 1980s. He could be forgiven because that all took place long before the 20-year-old was born.
Regardless, for Lakers coach Luke Walton, Brown’s off-backboard dunk encapsulated his general frustration with the night and his team.
“Obviously it’s not enjoyable to watch teams showboating on your home court, but if I’m them, why not?” Walton said. “If we aren’t running back on defense, rub it in our face.”
About two hours before the game, Walton had talked about this sometimes magical rivalry while acknowledging that he wished it still felt like it once did. These two teams are on different planes now. The Celtics are on the doorstep of the league’s elite, while the Lakers are simply searching for their identity.
And Friday night offered compelling evidence of these two realities. The Celtics were balanced, free-flowing and relentless, except for one sloppy spurt in the second half that was probably the result of a lead that had simply swelled to a point that was impossible to sustain.
The Lakers, meanwhile, didn’t even get back to stop teams from throwing off-the-backboard alley-oops in their home arena. The large crowd that seemed eager to get excited about something was left to do little more than shout down some sparse “MVP” chants that were directed at the enemy, Thomas.
For the Celtics, this was an encouraging start to this five-game road trip. Even though the Lakers have just 19 wins this year, Boston was coming off its signature win over LeBron James and the Cavaliers on Wednesday. Then the team had spent much of Thursday on an airplane. But no letdown or jetlag was apparent, especially not at the start.
Less than four minutes into the game, four different Celtics had made 3-pointers. That burst set the tone and also seemed to help open the floor for a more wide-open attack.
The frustrations of the Lakers, meanwhile, became increasingly visible. Larry Nance Jr. broke free on a fast-break and dribbled the ball off his foot and out of bounds. The 6-foot-7 Nick Young tried to post up the 5-foot-9 Thomas, who is not a defensive menace but is a pest. After the two collided a few times and no foul was called, the ball bounced out of bounds off of Young, who then picked it up and hurled it toward the fans under the baseline, resulting in a technical foul.
By the time Thomas found Al Horford for a dunk with four seconds left in the half, the Celtics had a 70-45 lead that felt insurmountable despite the large amount of time that remained.
“I feel like we were playing hard on the defensive end, and that’s what got us the lead,” Bradley said. “We were playing the right way. We were talking out there the entire time.”
The Lakers did nothing to dent the lead at the start of the third period, and the margin led the Celtics to play free and easy. With 4:50 left, Thomas lofted the off-backboard alley-oop to Brown, giving the Celtics a massive 89-58 edge.
The rest of the quarter was grisly for Boston, however, as the free and easy play turned sloppy and disjointed. Coach Brad Stevens punched his palm in frustration as the turnovers mounted and the Lakers closed the period with a 20-4 flurry to pull within 93-78.
Los Angeles cut the deficit to 13 points at the start of the fourth quarter and had several chances to get even closer, but the Celtics regained their rhythm and gradually pulled away.
Thomas finished with 18 points and 8 assists to lead the Celtics’ balanced attack. The starters and sixth man Marcus Smart all scored 13 points or more and registered at least two points and two rebounds. Boston shot 51.2 percent from the field, out-rebounded the Lakers 46-34 and won comfortably despite committing 18 turnovers.