“Damn, I’m tired.”
The Celtics rallied back for a wild win over the Lakers on Tuesday, closing their six-game road trip with a 122-118 victory in overtime.
Here are the takeaways.
1. You don’t have to give the Celtics credit for rallying back to win if that feels weird. After all, the only reason they needed to rally was because they surrendered a head-spinning 45-12 run to LeBron James, Anthony Davis, and Russell Westbrook. After taking an 81-61 lead in the third quarter, the Celtics completely collapsed, and the Lakers roared back with the Crypto.com Arena chanting “Bos-ton sucks!”
But the Celtics do deserve credit for the way they steeled themselves. Both their starting centers were shelved. They were at the end of a six-game swing that covered both coasts and wrapped up with a back-to-back. And still, the Celtics roused themselves one more time to beat a mediocre Lakers team that can — on occasion — reach a gear that befits the aging star power on the roster.
“Damn, I’m tired,” Jayson Tatum said, putting his hands on his knees as TNT’s Chris Haynes prepared to interview him postgame.
The Celtics are exhausted, but they finished the toughest road trip of the season 4-2 with some real authority.
2. Tatum was brilliant — 44 points on 15-for-29 shooting, including 5-for-10 from behind the arc as well as nine rebounds and six assists. He scored 18 in the second half, including 12 in the fourth quarter.
The Lakers haven’t had an answer for Tatum defensively for several years at this point. Their bigs are too slow. Their guards are too small — poor Austin Reaves got caught on a switch against Tatum in overtime, and Tatum delivered a back-breaking step-back jumper that brought to mind YouTube mixtapes of Tatum torturing overmatched defenders at Chaminade.
But Tatum picked on someone his own size for the biggest shot of the game — a turnaround jumper that tied the score with just over 15 seconds remaining, which ultimately proved to be what sent the game to overtime.
James is doing a lot of amazing things at 37 years old — look no further than the dunks he threw down earlier in the game — but he doesn’t quite have the same closing speed defensively, and Tatum buried a jumper in his face.
Several members of the TNT broadcast said they believe Tatum is the early-season MVP. The narrative continues to build.
3. The Celtics were once again without Al Horford (and, of course, Robert Williams, who is yet to make his return). Against Davis, the lack of size proved to be major issue — he finished with 37 points on 13-for-24 shooting. For a lengthy stretch in the fourth quarter, the Celtics also looked intimidated by his presence around the rim on the defensive end.
The Celtics’ best resolution proved to be Luke Kornet, Grant Williams, and a steady diet of help defenders. Kornet’s height helped make Davis’ shooting a little more difficult — especially when he was worn down late in the fourth and during overtime — while Williams’ physicality and ability to switch between Davis and James was valuable as well.
Still, the Celtics will be ecstatic to get Horford back on the floor both for his defense and for the spacing they have missed badly in his absence.
4. Marcus Smart told reporters after the game he felt so sick, he needed to vomit. Smart — who is nothing if not considerate — didn’t want to ruin the floor at the Crypto.com Arena (which is such a ridiculous name, we will keep writing it out to emphasize it). So he ran to the back, presumably unloaded his most recent meal, and returned to the floor to finish the game.
Smart finished with 18 points on 7-for-17 shooting and six assists.
5. Westbrook was excellent for the Lakers down the stretch, scoring nine points in the fourth quarter and punishing the Celtics in transition. The Lakers’ offense was predicated almost entirely on points in the paint and transition opportunities — they outscored the Celtics 68-46 in the paint and 26-16 on fast-break opportunities. Celtics coach Joe Mazzulla could be seen imploring his team to limit the Lakers around the hoop and in transition during one of the mic’d up segments on TNT.
Sure enough, when the Celtics stopped the Lakers from getting to the rim, they were dead in the water. The Celtics dared Westbrook to shoot — any shot he wanted, really — and it paid off handsomely. The Lakers went 0-for-5 from behind the arc in overtime, which accounted for five of their six misses.
6. Jaylen Brown scored 25 points and once again punished the Lakers from mid-range, but he nailed the dagger jumper in overtime from far behind the 3-point line.
Longtime TNT announcer Kevin Harlan saves his “right between the eyes!” call for the biggest moments, so credit to Brown coaxing one out of him.
7. The Celtics didn’t *need* that win, exactly. Beating the 10-seed Lakers in mid-December is nice, but it doesn’t really mean much in the long run. As Tatum noted after Monday’s loss, nobody will really remember a run-of-the-mill game early in the season once the playoffs roll around.
But by rallying back, the Celtics ensured that people will remember Tuesday’s win, if only because it was such a roller coaster. More importantly, they seemed to feel they proved something to themselves.
“To come back after blowing a lead a little bit, it shows the resilience of this team,” Brown told NBC Sports Boston’s Abby Chin. ” … We came back, we made some big plays, we didn’t let the wheel go when they came back and stormed back on us, and we made some big plays down the stretch. JT, Smart with a big 3, all of the above. So it just showed what we’re made of.”
If a 45-12 run doesn’t qualify as “letting the wheel go,” we’re not sure what does, but we’ll cut Brown some slack here. After all, damn they are tired.
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