Recap: Tatum erupts but Celtics fall to Lakers 114-112 without Kemba

On Sunday afternoon, a 40-point performance by Jayson Tatum was not enough for a Celtics dub as Boston lost a heartbreaker in the final seconds to the #1 team in the West. The Celtics and Lakers split their regular season series. Will they meet again this season?
(Photo: @NBA)

The Celtics headed into Los Angeles to face the #1 in the Western Conference, having already beat the men in purple and gold in a rout at TD Garden. Today, they looked for the regular season sweep against their long-time rivals without their four-time all-star.

Pregame: Kemba still out. After not missing more than 3 games in any of his previous 4 regular seasons, Kemba Walker has already missed 10 games this season. Prior to the game, Stevens expressed his optimism on the situation.

First quarter: Rondo causes havoc to bring spark off Laker bench. Neither team was steller via the jump shot to begin the afternoon, with both teams shooting 2/9 from 3 in the first quarter. During a timeout interview on the ESPN broadcast, Brad Stevens mentioned that he would like to see the Celtics take easier shots en route to some better offensive possessions.

It was the bench of the home team that accounted for the difference in favor of the Lakers. Led by former Boston champion Rajon Rondo, who was a pest on both ends of the floor, the Lakers used an 8-0 run to lead it by 9 at the end of the first quarter. The Lakers bench outscored the Celtics bench 25-5 in the first half. Boston’s bench, in fact, finished the game with only 11 of the team’s 112 points.

The versatile play of Daniel Theis, fresh off his career night in Minnesota, was a positive that reflected on the game early on. Though Theis has made it a habit to make his presence felt on the pick-and-roll Celtics offense, his defense again managed to make some much-needed appearances on multiple high-impact possessions. Most notably, he held his own against LeBron James isolations multiple times and drew an offensive foul from the King in the second quarter.

Second quarter: Jayson Tatum booms the Lakers. He dunked on the best player in basketball his rookie year. He had eight 30-point games on the season before today. He now also sports a back tattoo. He goes by Jayson Tatum. Before us, he has transformed from a first-round pick to a first-year sensation to a first-time all-star. Today, he was a legend. In the absence of Kemba Walker, in a possible NBA Finals preview, JT was magnificent from every spot on the floor, scoring 18 in the second quarter and 18 in the third quarter. He finished the ballgame with 41 points, tying his career high from earlier this season. In the process, Tatum also became the youngest Celtic to score 40 in the great rivalry with the Lakers; the prior record-holder was of course Paul Pierce when he scored 42 in 2001.

Second half: Lakers dynamic duo goes to work while Celtics starters step up. Late into the third quarter, Lakers head coach Frank Vogel got the memo—take the ball out of the hands of Jayson Tatum. With the anybody-but-him mentality, the Lakers forced the other Boston starters to score the ball. Tatum saw double-teams and ball pressure, but made plays for his teammates. Luckily for Boston, the other four starters stepped up in crunchtime.

While Gordon Hayward (10 points, 9 assists, 8 rebounds) and Marcus Smart (14 points, 7 rebounds) didn't necessarily exemplify efficiency, they made the Lakers pay for mistakes in the clutch. However, perhaps the most pleasant surprise of the night was from the all-round consistent play of near-all-star Jaylen Brown. While JB has been an offensive monster all season long in his breakout year, he fought and shone when it mattered on defense against the Lakers, containing every man he faced at an elite level. Whether it be perimeter or post play, he got consistent stops on LeBron James and Anthony Davis. Brown finished the day with 20 points, 6 rebounds, 3 steals, and 1 block. The spoiler? The one stop he was unable to get in the final seconds.

Final minute: LeBron hits eventual game-winner. Doubling on Tatum, a foulout on Daniel Theis, and a rare late-game technical foul on Brad Stevens were the formula for pandemonium in the closing seconds of the game, with LeBron James hitting a fadeaway over Jaylen Brown that would serve as the game-winning bucket on Sunday. The Celtics fought hard without their best player but came up just short against a team that many expect to see in the finals, which is where the Celtics hope to see them next. What are your thoughts on the Lakers, who snuck out of Staples Center with a win against a Kemba-less Celtics today?

The Celtics, who still hold the 3 seed in the East, will stay in LA for a day to attend a Kobe Bryant memorial on Monday. Boston will then continue their road trip against the Trail Blazers on Tuesday at 10 pm Eastern, still chasing the Raptors for the coveted 2-seed in the conference, still well within realistic reach.

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