Celtics claim more than a victory over Lakers, taking all-time lead in NBA wins

The history had little to do with any of the players on the court. Most of the championship series between these two teams happened long before these players were born. Some weren’t even teenagers yet during the last one in 2010.

But Friday’s game between the Lakers and Boston Celtics marked a milestone in the history of this rivalry.

At stake was the lead in all-time NBA wins. By pure chance, the Lakers and Celtics met this time with each having won exactly 3,252 games. By the end of it, the Celtics took over.

The Lakers lost to the Celtics, 113-107, making it the first time since the 2000-01 season that the Lakers did not lead the NBA in all-time wins. The Celtics improved on their second-best record in the Eastern Conference and are now 32-18. The Lakers fell to 17-36.

Celtics point guard Isaiah Thomas scored 17 fourth-quarter points, ensuring any comeback bid by the Lakers never truly threatened Boston. He shot three free throws during the period all while being serenaded with an “M-V-P” chant from the crowd.


Thomas finished with 38 points, four assists and two rebounds. The Lakers were led by Lou Williams, who had 21 points, and Larry Nance Jr., who contributed 18 points and 11 rebounds. D’Angelo Russell finished with 20 points, six assists and six rebounds.

“People say, ‘He’s so good for such a short player’ and all that,” Nance said of Thomas. “It has nothing to do with his height. He’s one of the best players in the league, period, let alone his height. I don’t know how he does it, but he’s good at it.”

The game’s start did not foretell how the rest of it would go. The Celtics opened on a 7-0 run, but the Lakers came back to lead by five late in the first quarter. Russell and Nick Young led the team with nine first-quarter points each, with Young having made three of his four three-point attempts.

As they did a night before in Washington, the Lakers struggled in the second quarter. They made only one-third of their shots, which in turn affected their defense too.

“As a team I thought we got selfish and we stopped moving the ball,” Lakers Coach Luke Walton said. “We stopped trusting each other. Because of it we don’t make shots and then we’re not making shots and then our defense gets lazy. For a while there it was the third quarters and now we’ve gotten better at thirds and now it feels like the second quarter lately. We’ve got to get better at putting whole games together.”

The Lakers trailed 62-51 at halftime.

They outscored the Celtics in both the third and fourth quarters, but it wasn’t enough to overcome Thomas. As he does so often, he took over in the fourth quarter, pushing his team and his franchise ahead.

In the scheme of this season, it was only one game, one more opportunity to assess the Lakers and their players, to work on the long list of improvements they seek. In a broader sense it was a rebuilding team against one that’s been rebuilt.

Not long ago both teams dwelled at the bottom of the league. The Celtics only won 25 games during the 2013-14 season, the year their three superstars — Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen — all departed through trades or free agency. The Lakers won 27 games that year, as Kobe Bryant missed most of the season recovering from a torn Achilles’ tendon.

The next three seasons gave the Celtics time to catch up to the Lakers’ all-time lead in wins. The Lakers won 55 games since the start of the 2014-15 season while the Celtics won 119. The probability that they’d meet Friday with the exact same number of wins was one in 8,292, the Celtics said.

“It is crazy; it is crazy,” Walton said. “But one game — and if they lose the next game we win, we’re having the same talk again. It’s definitely crazy it’s happening on a night that we’re playing, but in the big picture it doesn’t mean that much unless one team takes it and runs with it.”

Follow Tania Ganguli on Twitter @taniaganguli