The Celtics fell behind by 8 points less than a minute into their game against the visiting Los Angeles Lakers on Monday, but had no real issues after that, as they snapped a three-game losing streak and stormed to their most impressive win of the year, 139-107.
Jayson Tatum led a balanced attack with 27 points and Kemba Walker and Jaylen Brown added 20 piece. Enes Kanter came off the bench and had 18 points and 11 rebounds. LeBron James led the Lakers with 15 points and a game-high 13 assists.
Observations from the game:
■ The Lakers started the game with about the most dominant opening minute that is possible. Six seconds passed before James lofted an alley-oop to JaVale McGee. After a Boston miss, Danny Green poured in a 3-pointer as he was fouled, and then James lofted an alley-oop to Anthony Davis. In just 55 seconds, the Lakers had staked themselves to an 8-point lead.
■ The Celtics wanted no part of the Lakers’ length at the start, as shots were either swatted away, or the prospect of that happening deterred them. But Davis picked up his second foul just over three minutes into the game and his team leading 12-6. He went to the bench, and the game’s tenor quickly shifted, with Boston’s players suddenly attacking the rim with more confidence and getting better results.
■ The decision to take Davis out so quickly was somewhat surprising. It was his first game back after missing five because of a bruised tailbone, and he was expected to be limited to 28 minutes anyway. There wasn’t really much risk in him fouling out in that length of time.
■ Gordon Hayward has taken some heat for his inconsistent play recently, so it probably felt good to have a hot start. The forward stopped Boston’s two-minute scoreless drought to start the game by gathering a loose ball and drilling a 30-footer, and he added a three-point play a minute later to help steady his team after its wobbly beginning.
■ The first half can best be described as frenetic, with wild, sometimes out-of-control plays that looked as if they needed a brake pedal. In one sequence late in the first quarter, Brown swooped in and stole an inbounds pass under the hoop. His layup attempt missed, and the ball was batted backward before caroming off Walker and through the hoop.
■ It looked as if James was focused on being a facilitator, particularly early in the first half. He had five assists in the first five minutes and took just one shot during that time. There were also moments when he overpowered smaller defenders and got to the rim whenever he pleased, and it was fair to wonder why he didn’t just decide to do that more often.
■ David Ortiz walked to his courtside seat five minutes into the first quarter. He received a big ovation from the fans near him, and then an even bigger one when he appeared on the video board wearing a “Beantown” cap.
■ There’s a lot of chatter about whether the Celtics need to add a big man prior to the Feb. 6 trade deadline, but Daniel Theis and Kanter have played quite well this year, In the first half, Kanter provided strong evidence to keep the status quo. He consistently bullied the Lakers on offensive rebound chances and finished the half with 18 points and eight rebounds. He also held his own on defense.
■ Celtics coach Brad Stevens frequently talks about how important it can be for a shooter to just see the ball go through the hoop. Tatum was 0 for 3 before he slid to the rim for a buzzer-beating layup to end the first quarter. He then started the second quarter with a layup and a 3-pointer and finished the first half with 15 points.
■ The Celtics were excellent, but it also was just not the Lakers’ night. As they tried to craft a comeback early in the third quarter, James leaked into the lane for a wide-open alley-oop, but Davis’s pass thudded off the backboard. One play later, Davis was unable to convert an alley-oop, James grabbed the rebound, and then missed an open layup.
■ Brown has been pretty fearless when trying to dunk on people this year, even if his conversion rate isn’t all that high. With 8:29 left in the third quarter, though, James was lurking beneath the hoop when Brown rose and threw down a two-handed slam over him. Brown started screaming before he had even dunked the ball. He did receive a technical foul for taunting afterward, however.
■ Stevens really tightened the rotation in this one. Over the first 40 minutes, before the game was all but decided, he stuck with an eight-man rotation, aside from a quick 30-second stint from Grant Williams. Williams, Brad Wanamaker, and Javonte Green were the odd men out. They all got a chance when the lead swelled beyond 30 points in the fourth quarter, though.