Celtics blow big lead, fall 129-128 on buzzer-beater from Rajon Rondo
The Boston Celtics, after a week filled with trade rumors, speculation, and expectations, lost 129-128 on a buzzer-beater by old friend Rajon Rondo. After leading by as many as 18 points early in the game, this loss is a tough one to swallow. The loss snaps a 5-game winning streak and puts a damper on what has been a great stretch of basketball.
With the distractions of trade deadline week in the rear view mirror, it was time to roll out the ball and play some basketball again. The Lakers, and especially the young core, were coming off of one of the franchise's most embarrassing losses, while the Celtics were winners of nine of their last 10 games. Jayson Tatum and Kyrie Irving scored 10 of the team's first 13 points, including a few tough finishes around the rim. Brandon Ingram, one of the many players who were reportedly offered up in a deal for Anthony Davis, got off to a very rough start, going 1-5 from the field and 0-2 from the free throw line in the first quarter.
"LeBron should have traded you!" chants break out when Brandon Ingram went to the line. He missed both free throws.— A. Sherrod Blakely (@ASherrodblakely) February 8, 2019
As the Lakers sputtered on offense (5-18 from the field in the first eight minutes), Boston was able to build an early 8-point lead. The Celtics weren't necessarily burning the nets down, but Los Angeles was leaving way too many points at the free throw line. They started just 2-7 from the charity stripe, including two misses from Ingram and LeBron James.
Gordon Hayward, who has been improving his play over the last few games, made the most of his first basket. The points might not be there completely just yet, but we are starting to see that the aggression and confidence in his athletic ability are starting to reemerge. After one quarter, the Celtics led 30-24.
Hayward rises up and throws it down! pic.twitter.com/H7gdUK9Pvw— Boston Celtics (@celtics) February 8, 2019
With the Super Bowl Champion New England Patriots being cheered on the jumbotron between quarters, the Celtics decided to put on an offensive show to get the attention back on themselves. Boston hit seven of their first eight shots in the second quarter, and scored 18 points in the first four minutes to bump their lead up to 48-35. Thirteen of those 18 points came from Tatum and Terry Rozier, who led a mostly bench unit to a stellar run.
Celtics have had so many stretches during this run of wins where they just don't miss.— Adam Himmelsbach (@AdamHimmelsbach) February 8, 2019
Now shooting 56.7 percent overall and 50 percent from three.
A 13-2 run from the Lakers cut the Boston lead down to seven, as the Celtics went cold from the floor and LeBron decided he was ready to try a little bit. The half court offense in LA is horrendous, but they are one of the most potent teams in the league when they get out and run the floor. LeBron and Co. were able to get a few steals and get some transition points to get themselves going. A late three from Al Horford stopped the bleeding for the moment, and the Celtics took a 66-57 lead into the halftime break.
The Lakers maintained momentum early into the third quarter and started the second half on a 18-6 run to eliminate the Boston lead. After being up by as many as 18 points in the second half, the Boston offense had come crashing down to Earth , and LA had found their rhythm. With the young guys carrying a lot of the load for the C's, Irving was having one of his worst shooting nights of the season.
Kyrie's just 2 for 13 and probably got a lucky call there on the LeBron foul, but these free throws might get him going.— Adam Himmelsbach (@AdamHimmelsbach) February 8, 2019
One of the biggest reasons for the LA turnaround was their outside shooting. Starting late in the second quarter, the Lakers were lights out from beyond the arc. With just over three minutes to go in the third quarter, Los Angeles had gone 16-27 (57 percent) from three point range. Not only was this an abnormality for the Lakers, one of the worst three-point shooting teams in the league, but it was one of their best performances of the year.
The Lakers put up 42 points in the third quarter, a number unheard for most of the season against the Celtics' top tier defense. Kyle Kuzma and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope combined for 20 points in the quarter, and LeBron racked up seven assists.
With LeBron on the bench to start the fourth, the Celtics came out on a 9-2 run sparked by the play of Jaylen Brown and Daniel Theis. The pair combined for 38 points on 16-21 shooting and a number of hustle/energy plays.
Perhaps the best game of Theis' career so far. Has been everywhere on the floor. Has 18 pts, 4 rebs and 2 ast. #Celtics #Lakers— gary washburn (@GwashburnGlobe) February 8, 2019
The bench rejuvenated the Celtics early in the fourth quarter. Whether hustle plays, long distance threes, or defensive intensity, Boston had it going in the fourth after some very discouraging play in the middle two quarters. And has been the case over the past few weeks, the depth of the C's was what separated them from the Lakers. Players like Rozier, Brown, and Theis picked up the slack while starters like Kyrie and Marcus Morris were struggling from the floor.
With crunch time approaching, Brad Stevens opted to keep Brown and Rozier in the game while bringing back Kyrie. "Uncle Drew" promptly scored nine straight points and gave the C's some (slight) separation. Just as the Celtics looked poised for a win with a 6-point lead and just 1:22 on the clock, back-to-back threes from Pope and LeBron tied the game 124-124 with 34 seconds left. Two Tatum free throws gave the C's a 2-point lead, and a 2-for-1 opportunity. On the next LA possession, a chaotic sequence ended with a Kuzma three-pointer and a 127-126 lead, but Boston was left with 18 seconds on the clock and a shot to win it. The Celtics went quick and Kyrie got a runner off the glass to give Boston a 1-point lead, but a Horford block led to a loose ball and Rondo of all people gathered in the rebound and hit a midrange jumper at the buzzer for the win.
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Photo via Harry Howe/Getty Images