LAS VEGAS – The Celtics-Lakers rivalry has lacked zest over the past few seasons, with Los Angeles slipping to one of the bottom teams the league. Saturday night in Las Vegas, however, the zest was back.
Boston and Los Angeles went back and forth in front of an electric atmosphere on national television, and in the end, it was the Celtics who eventually pulled out an impressive 86-81 win
The Thomas & Mack Center, which is hosting the NBA Summer League, was rocking well before tip-off as fans from both sides of the rivalry filed into the building to watch their top young stars collide. Lakers fans showed up in droves and made the matchup feel as if it was a true road game for Boston.
The Lakers faithful got exactly what they had hoped for out of the gates, as their team, led by strong play from No. 2 overall pick Lonzo Ball, stormed out of the gates to a 15-2 lead. Ball played the first eight minutes of the game and racked up three points, two assists, two rebounds and a steal before checking out. He finished the contest with a triple-double consisting of 11 points, 11 rebounds and 11 assists.
As Ball and the Lakers excelled early on, the pro-Lakers crowd grew louder and louder. Boston had to battle against the atmosphere after being rattled in the early minutes.
“It felt like I was in college and we were playing at North Carolina, and they got on us,” Tatum said of the crowd.
Jaylen Brown added, “There were a lot of Lakers fans out here. The Lakers came out and they played hard – super hard.”
That knocked Boston off balance after the opening tip, but the C’s began to settle down once Demetrius Jackson began running the offense. He checked in at the 7:15 mark with Boston trailing 10-0. By the end of the first period, the C’s had clawed back to within 20-14.
“Demetrius was great because he gives us some stability,” acting head coach Walter McCarty said after the game. “He gets everybody in the spots where they need to be. When they try to pressure him, he’s good under pressure, and he did a lot of great things. I was proud of him making sure everybody was in the right place and making the right plays.”
Boston eventually tied the game up at 32-32 late in the second quarter, but Los Angeles would again pull ahead by double-digits following halftime. The Lakers opened the second half on a 17-9 run to pull ahead 55-43.
The script would soon flip in favor of the Celtics, however, as Semi Ojeleye drilled three consecutive 3-pointers in a span of just 56 seconds to trim nine points off of the deficit. That brief stretch lit a fire under Boston.
Jayson Tatum and Abdel Nader accounted for all of Boston’s final 11 points of the third, with Tatum punctuating the quarter by draining a running 3-pointer at the buzzer from well beyond the arc. That spurt pushed Boston into the fourth quarter with a 63-57 lead.
It only got better from there for the C’s, as Tatum and his teammates continued to excel. Tatum’s three free throws at the 6:58 mark pushed Boston ahead by 10 points, at 71-61, to account for its largest lead of the game.
It wouldn’t be a Celtics-Lakers rivalry game if Los Angeles didn’t make a run at a comeback, and it did.
The Lakers answered with an 11-1 run, highlighted by seven points from Kyle Kuzma and a game-tying layup from Ball to tie the game up at 72-72 with 2:56 remaining on the clock.
Just as the Celtics did during the third quarter, they again leaned on Tatum and Ojeleye during crunch time. The duo combined to score 11 of the team’s final 15 points over the final three minutes of the game to lead the C’s into the winner’s circle while sending the Lakers and their raucous crowd home with a defeat.
“That was just really good composure by our team,” said McCarty of the comeback win in a challenging atmosphere. “We just knew if we just calmed down a little bit, got the ball to the other side and just let the plays develop, we would get what we wanted.
Tatum, yet again, was the top performer of the game. He finished with team highs of 27 points and 11 rebounds to account for his third consecutive double-double during Summer League play. Ojeleye, meanwhile notched his best performance with 19 points that featured a 5-for-9 effort from long range.
Ball and Kuzma, who finished with a game-high 31 points to go along with nine rebounds, were the top performers for Los Angeles.
The C’s will be back on the court again at 8:30 p.m. Sunday night to take on the Trail Blazers and attempt to advance to 2-0 in Las Vegas.