There was an assumption heading into Thursday night’s game that the Lakers were in for a rough night.
This assumption was based on Tuesday night’s 42-point loss to the Indiana Pacers. It was based on Boston fans’ rowdy reputation toward visiting teams, and their feeling that they had won the trade deadline because Anthony Davis didn’t get traded. It was based on the tension that was palpable in the Lakers’ locker room for the past week.
Instead, they went into the TD Garden, faced a hostile environment, and topped one of the league’s best teams. There were plenty of Laker fans there to see it too. One wore a Kobe jersey and held a poster that depicted LeBron James and Celtics point guard Kyrie Irving standing side by side wearing Lakers jerseys.
Luke Walton called it a total team win. He was right. The Lakers got contributions from a lot of places.
Here are five takeaways from the Lakers’ 129-128 win over the Boston Celtics:
1. Rajon Rondo’s heroics were stirring for the Lakers and provided an outlet for what seemed like some pent-up emotion. At shootaround on Thursday morning, Rondo downplayed his return to Boston wearing a Laker jersey, noting that he’d been back in other uniforms, too. But he didn’t try to hide his emotions postgame. Boston is a special place for him. The Celtics drafted him in 2006 and it wasn’t always a smooth ride, but he’s still beloved there.
2. LeBron James is back. For the first time since his injury, James looked like himself again, notching a triple double — his fourth of the season — with 28 points, 12 assists and 12 rebounds. Unfamiliar with the process of returning from an injury, James has been trying to ease his way back into things. He returned last Thursday against the Clippers and got a double double in an overtime win. He sat out against the Warriors after playing too many minutes against the Clippers. “Every possession and every quarter, every time I take a hit, and I’m able to nudge it off and keep going,” James said. “So, I’m working my way back and I’m getting better and better, every single minute, so, in that third quarter I was able to get back to my point-forward position, controlling the game, finding my shooters — they were knocking them down.”
3. Kyle Kuzma broke the 20-point mark for the first time since Jan. 19, which was also the first game he played with his hip injury. The second-year forward scored 25 points last night and hit a critical three-pointer to give the Lakers a one-point lead with 19 seconds left in the game. Kyrie Irving countered to take the lead back for the Celtics, which set up Rondo’s game-winning shot. “I told him before the game, I said, ‘Just get back to your competitive self. Don’t overthink anything. Just go out there and compete,’” Lakers Coach Luke Walton said. “And when he competes, he makes big-time plays. … We’ve missed his scoring a lot. So it was nice to have that back but I don’t think he was really hunting shots. He got a lot up but most of them came with a good flow to the offense.”
4. Tyson Chandler didn’t score any points but he was one of the most critical players in the game. His effort gave Rondo the chance to take his game-winning shot. It’s no coincidence that Chandler had the highest plus/minus rating of any Lakers player. The Lakers were 19 points better than the Celtics with Chandler on the floor.
5. In a twist of irony, the Lakers shot the ball extremely well for three quarters even without their two new additions in the fold. They intended to improve their shooting by trading for Reggie Bullock and Mike Muscala, but neither player was with them on Thursday night. The Lakers made 56.9% of their shots from the second quarter onward, and an astounding 59.4% of their three-pointers.