LeBron James probably blocked Dennis Schröder cleanly at the rim and the Celtics drew a foul. James sprinted to the other side of the floor in anguish over the call, one of the few times an LA player darted across the floor ahead of everyone else without the ball.
Ime Udoka warned his team about the Lakers’ transition attack last game and the Celtics’ nearly fell prey to it then too. A 37-point effort from Jayson Tatum that night and a second-half Anthony Davis disappearance overcame that early spurt of LA run-outs. This time, the Boston offense slowed past halftime, hitting an 0-for-8 wall while LeBron and Russell Westbrook practically raced end-to-end.
Los Angeles annihilated Boston’s interior for 66 points in the paint, continuing to run it down the Celtics’ interior into the final minutes, returning the favor for a November blowout loss at TD Garden. The Lakers won 117-102, led a by a rejuvenated Russell Westbrook’s 6-for-8 third quarter and paced by LeBron James’ 30 points and five assists on 13-for-19 shooting. Westbrook added 11 assists.
The warnings sounded early, shrouded by Tatum’s scorching start. He threw up a quartet of triples and each fell through the net, supported by a Robert Williams III offensive rebound and Marcus Smart diving on the floor to secure an early steal. Hustle on offense supported Tatum during the first two games of the road trip. This time he needed buckets around him that became more sparse as the game progressed. He finished with 34 points on 13-for-22 shooting, but turned it over five times as no steady hand emerged for Boston’s offense.
They came from above early on as Williams III rained down three alley-oop slams over the head of Davis and other low-residing Lakers. The first was reminiscent of his famous slam where he reached toward the top of the rectangle to catch a lob.
Meanwhile the Celtics begged Westbrook to pull-up on open threes and he obliged, missing three quick ones including two in a row on one possession where Smart gambled in the lane against Davis. As he and Davis struggled, LeBron drew free throws, charged downhill and buried jumpers on the way to 7-of-10 in the first half, keeping pace then surpassing Tatum. Josh Richardson hit three jumpers, Schröder dished five early assists and the Celtics led 33-31 into the second.
It took Westbrook 10 minutes to score his first points and he never stopped rolling from there. LeBron, Westbrook and Carmelo Anthony traded points with Schröder and Richardson, then Tatum began piling up some point blank misses. On the offensive end, Williams III flushed home a loud put-back following one of Tatum’s misses, seemingly alerting LA to his game as they got a body on him for the rest of the night.
The Lakers continued to toss the ball around though. Westbrook and Avery Bradley tossed the ball away on back-to-back possessions, only for Schröder to drive into traffic and get blocked, and Smart to throw a possession away himself. Tatum, still driving on the way to an 8-for-16 start, spun around Anthony from 15 feet and rose over Westbrook for a two-handed slam.
Davis and Tatum traded jumpers closer to halftime, before Westbrook created a pair of buckets and a five-point lead on the way into the locker room. He never stopped running, spinning into an offensive foul on the first play out of halftime. The Celtics failed to take advantage of the overzealous sloppiness though, Tatum charging on the other end after Talen Horton-Tucker threw a pass toward Horford. Smart missed a pair of jumpers and committed two turnovers.
Westbrook went to work and scored on five possessions midway through the third quarter, at one point high-stepping basket-to-basket. Worse, the Celtics missed free throws after shooting better than any team at the line since mid-November. Smart stopped the bleeding momentarily by taking the ball inside and finishing through contact, but only 13 minutes remained to make up 16 points.
LeBron and Westbrook threw two more haymakers early in the first at the rim, Russ finding Dwight Howard into the fourth for a cutting dunk and his 10th assist. Tatum hit two layups, dunked and buried a three back-to-back with Payton Pritchard, but that only drew the Celtics as close as they’d get the rest of the way — 14. A much larger number also stared them in the face: 54 Laker points in the paint.
Aaron Nesmith checked in and Boston went on a cold 1-for-6 stretch through the midway point in the final frame. Davis flushed a pair of free throws and Udoka emptied the bench ahead of a back-to-back. A momentary scare sparked by Nesmith and Pritchard got the Celtics as close as 10 and forced a timeout, but no walk of shame as Malik Monk took care of business and the final 90 seconds ran off.
The Celtics will play in LA again tomorrow against the Clippers at 10:30 EST.