On any other night, this would have been bemoaned as a lost opportunity to drop a game against a bad team that should be considered one of the Lakers' "competitors" towards a high pick in the offseason. This is not one of those nights. Against the Boston Celtics, especially when playing in Boston and on a night on which Boston's star in Rajon Rondo is making his return, you can't help but earnestly desire a victory with every last ounce of your soul and the Lakers did not disappoint. Effort has not been the item in short supply as the Lakers have dropped games left and right lately, but the team had noticeably more pep in their step to kick off the game tonight.
Good ball movement was the norm for most of the contest, as the Lakers racked up 27 assists on 37 made field goals, including 14 from Kendall Marshall, who also added 19 points and four rebounds on a 83.0 TS%. Marshall's seven turnovers, however, were indicative of a poor showing from the Lakers in that regard in general, as they constantly coughed the ball up to Boston on bad passes and the like, fueling a Boston offense that was also achieving success in the halfcourt. It is hard to put a lot of blame at Marshall's feet since he was playing a 44 minute night and really is the team's only legitimate point guard, putting an enormous burden on him to constantly initiate the offense. He did end the game with a noticeable exclamation by hitting the go-ahead three in the corner to put the Lakers ahead for good with a minute remaining in the fourth.
Those turnovers allowed Boston to come back in the second quarter after a fairly pristine one turnover effort for the Lakers in the first resulted in a two point lead. Combined with a stellar performance by Celtics rookie Kelly Olynyk, who notched 25 points in addition to five rebounds and seven assists, the Lakers' usually weak interior defense was largely shredded. The wrinkle here was that Nick Young's absence exposed the Lakers' lack of size on the wing, resulting in Brad Stevens playing especially big lineups with Jeff Green and Gerald Wallace on the wings, and the latter in particular was constantly getting easy matchups against the likes of Jodie Meeks and Manny Harris in the post.
As the Lakers' newest D-League call-up, Harris' numbers were fairly pedestrian, as ridiculous as it would be to expect anything different for a guy asked to play significant minutes for a new team out of the blue notwithstanding, but the real unexpected performance came from another of the Lakers who has spent time in the D-League in Ryan Kelly. Part of the regular rotation for a while now, Kelly had arguably his best night in the purple and gold, deftly using ball fakes on the perimeter to set up his midrange shots and in one case, a dunk off a baseline drive. Although his defense still has a lot of rough edges to correct, his overall effort was solid and it wouldn't be surprising to see him starting next game over the struggling Jordan Hill, who only notched two points and one rebound in a fairly forgettable eleven minutes.
The best game of the night came from Pau Gasol, who is beginning to make these kinds of performances look standard. Pau racked up 24 points, 13 rebounds, and six assists on a 64.8 TS%, as an undersized Celtics frontline simply couldn't do a whole lot to slow him down. In the month of January, Pau has been averaging 20.3 points, 11.8 rebounds, and 5.0 assists per game on a 54.9 TS%, so to say that he's returned to form is more or less on point, save for his lack of mobility on defense. Whatever the Lakers plan to do with Pau between now and the trade deadline, his play is certainly increasing the number of options available to them.
A pair of performances from Jodie Meeks and Wesley Johnson, who nabbed 17 points, seven rebounds, and three assists as well as 11 points, 11 rebounds, and three assists respectively, rounded out a generally solid night on offense for the Lakers, even with Johnson nearly giving away the game at the end. Up one with only 25 seconds left, Mike D'Antoni positioned Wes as the inbounder, but he failed to find anyone to enter the ball to, forcing the Lakers to burn their last timeout. He did get the ball out on the second opportunity, but picked up his dribble and was forced by Wallace into a jump ball whose result was ruled inconclusive by the refs on the floor. Following a second jump ball, Kelly secured the ball and nailed two free throws to put the game away for LA.
Those are the small breaks that determine wins and losses for the Lakers against other teams near the bottom of the standings and tonight against their most bitter rival in the league, it allowed them to come away with the victory in a season in which losses probably will end up being more valuable for the team. This noted, no matter what the season context or where both teams currently are in terms of contention or rebuilding, wins against Boston should always be treasured. Always. The tank can continue in earnest against Toronto on Sunday.
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