CELTICS 107, LAKERS 96
Basrry Chin/Globe Staff
On Wednesday morning Celtics center Al Horford told the team’s medical staff that he was experiencing headaches, the result of being struck during Boston’s win over the Hawks two days earlier. Horford entered the league-mandated concussion protocol, and just like that, the Celtics’ attempt to stretch their winning streak to 10 appeared to hit a snag.
They started brilliantly against the Lakers anyway, bursting to a 21-point second-quarter lead. Then, rookie forward Jayson Tatum injured his ankle and was lost for the game. Now the Celtics had to find a way without two starters, not to mention the All-Star forward Gordon Hayward, who was watching the game at home on television, with his broken left ankle propped up on a pillow.
The Lakers made a push, pulling within two points, but they could get no closer, as the Celtics grabbed a 107-96 win, perhaps the most improbable of this 10-game run, given the circumstances and the sloppy play.
This is Boston’s longest winning streak since it rolled off 14 in a row during the 2010-11 season.
“I thought we made timely plays,” coach Brad Stevens said. “I didn’t necessarily think we played good basketball the whole last 30 minutes or so. We got a little caught up in the flair of the game probably in the second quarter.”
For nine of the 12 Celtics in this game, this was the first taste of the Celtics/Lakers rivalry. Kyrie Irving said he had only heard the “Beat LA” chants watching old games on YouTube, and that it was exciting to hear them raining down from the upper reaches of TD Garden in person.
“You could definitely see it was a different buzz,” Irving said.
That buzz may have led to some bad habits at times, though, with Celtics looking to make highlights rather than sensible decisions. They were fortunate that the Lakers were unable to capitalize on their imperfect stretches.
The Celtics won despite shooting just 38.8 percent from the field and 24.1 percent from beyond the 3-point line. Center Aron Baynes tied his career high with 21 points and added 8 rebounds, and Marcus Morris had 18 points in his Garden debut. Irving had 19 points but made just 7 of 21 shots.
“These last few games, we’ve hit some ruts,” Irving said. “And that’s natural for just how hard we’ve been playing.”
The Celtics remained gritty and determined when they needed to be, forcing 21 turnovers, grabbing 16 offensive rebounds and asking role players to become more than that for a night.
Afterward, Tatum’s ankle was the biggest concern. The rookie forward has been outstanding this season. He was diagnosed with a sore right ankle and Stevens said X-rays were negative. Tatum will undergo further imaging on Thursday and was fitted with a walking boot for precautionary reasons Wednesday night.
“You have to focus forward,” Stevens said. “Until we have only four left, I guess we’re just going to keep playing.”
Like many of the Celtics, rookie point guard Lonzo Ball also got his first taste of this rivalry, and he was greeted with boos whenever he touched the ball.
The Ball family shot back into the headlines this week when Lonzo’s younger brother, LiAngelo, was one of three UCLA players arrested for shoplifting during a team trip to China. Lonzo was asked about the incident before and after Wednesday’s game, but tried to keep his focus on his team.
The Lakers were unsettled for much of the opening quarter, when they missed all five of their 3-pointers, committed nine turnovers and botched several layups. The Celtics, meanwhile, could seemingly do no wrong, even in times of distress.
At one point Irving nearly coughed up the ball twice as he dribbled and danced through defenders. But he gathered possession and then sliced through four Lakers on his way to a layup, bringing the crowd to its feet. At the buzzer, Terry Rozier banked in a 3o-foot 3-pointer, giving Boston a 33-16 lead.
The Celtics extended their advantage to 21 points early in the second quarter, and they were playing with supreme confidence. On one play, Marcus Smart whipped a backward pass over his head to Semi Ojeleye, who converted a reverse layup as he was fouled.
But the Lakers gradually clawed back with a smaller lineup and tried to expose Boston in transition. They pulled within 61-52 at halftime, and with eight minutes left in the third quarter uncorked an 11-2 run.
Missing so much offensive firepower, Boston turned to an unlikely source: Baynes. Over a two-minute stretch the burly center threw down a left-handed follow slam, converted a jump hook and was fouled on another shot.
“If we just live within our system, then the system usually gives us what we need offensively,” Baynes said.
The Lakers continued to linger for much of the fourth , twice pulling within three points. But they also continued to miss layups and opportunities. With six minutes left, Irving made a driving layup and a tough, dancing fadeaway, putting the Celtics ahead 100-90. The Lakers were not close again.
In the final moments, the “Beat LA” chants reverberated through TD Garden one last time. It had not been vintage Celtics/Lakers, but it had been a tough, shorthanded win.
“It’s early in the season, a long, long, long year,” Morris said. “Hopefully we can withstand [the injuries] and keep on winning. Things happen in the league, and we can’t take this as the worst thing.”
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