If the Los Angeles Lakers fans have nothing else to cheer about this season, at least they can say Boston couldn’t take them down. Without their leading scorer, Nick Young, the Lakers demonstrated terrific poise in the fourth quarter on Friday evening and defeated the Celtics, 107-104.
The highlight of the night was supposed to be the return of Rajon Rondo after missing nearly a year due to ACL surgery and rehab. It looked as if that would be the headline, after Rondo scored on a series of flashy moves and tough attempts in the second quarter. The All-Star point guard received more rest than the crowd probably wanted, as he played 19 minutes in what was a back and forth battle most of the way. Boston escalated their lead up to 13 in the second half, but Los Angeles was never truly out of it. Rondo finished with eight points and four assists on 4-of-9 shooting.
Los Angeles doesn’t visit Canada until Sunday, but it was the Canadian sensation Kelly Olynyk providing the game-high 25 points in an assortment of offensive moves. Credit the Celtics for taking this rookie in the 2013 Draft and withstanding the criticism they took for it.
Anyone watching the game could get the feel of it being a completely different atmosphere without the marquee veterans of Kobe Bryant, Paul Pierce, and Kevin Garnett, but it still turned out to be a game dependent on defense. Maybe it wasn’t so much the defense for both teams as it was just atrocious offense at times, but fans at the TD Garden still got their money’s worth.
For the Lakers, it was a tale of many tapes.
Pau Gasol, who will still remain in the air when it comes to trade discussions before the February deadline, keeps playing vintage Spaniard basketball. Coming off a solid performance that went largely unnoticed in Phoenix, Gasol posted another strong double double, scoring 24 points and grabbing 13 rebounds. On nights where he’s posting up on at least 80 percent of his possessions, he gives this team the points they need in the paint. On top of that, the nights where his treasured fadeaway jumper from the post is falling, just give us prime examples as to why his skill is being underrated in today’s NBA.
Gasol’s patience with this young group of teammates available to him has been understated, and he truly finds joy in setting up the less experienced players for buckets of their own. One of the beauties of his play Friday came from his favorite post-up position. After connecting on a couple buckets inside the paint, he read the defense accordingly and gave Jodie Meeks and Jordan Hill quick entry passes, on the money, that led to easy scores. Gasol finished with six assists as well, adding another instance to this season in which a triple double wasn’t unforeseeable.
After a sub-par performance against Blake Griffin and the Clippers last week, Gasol has been determined to either bring this team back to relevancy, or improve his trade value. Either way, it’s helping the team on offense. Since that loss against the Clippers, he has averaged 22.7 points and 11.3 rebounds, while shooting 58.3 percent from the field (28-of-48). He’s really never been the type of point producer that we see from Kevin Love night in and night out, but don’t sit there with a straight face and tell me Gasol isn’t one of the best power forwards in basketball at age 33. He’s not the best producer, but he’s the most skilled and understands the game better than any of the top big men, outside of Mr. Fundamental in San Antonio.
The beginning of the Eastern Conference road swing through the Grammy Trip marked a good point for rookie Ryan Kelly and sophomore Kendall Marshall to step up their games as well. Yes, Marshall has been dazzling with his passing since entering the starting lineup on Jan. 3, but his long range shooting has been suspect since joining Los Angeles.
In Friday’s victory over Boston, there wasn’t a more opportune time to hit a huge shot.
Trailing 104-102, the Lakers executed off a Gasol penetration to the rim, which drew most of the Boston defense. One quick dish to Wesley Johnson on the wing, and all of a sudden Marshall found himself all alone in the right corner. Needless to say, Marshall drilled the 3-pointer right in front of the Celtics’ bench, giving Los Angeles the 105-104 advantage with 1:09 remaining. The former North Carolina Tar Heel (that could never shoot from the perimeter) made four of his five shots from beyond the arc and may have given the Lakers a little ounce of hope that he can be a long term option at the point guard.
Marshall added a fifth double double to his season, scoring 19 points and delivering 14 assists. He now has 53 assists in the last four games.
Ryan Kelly’s performance may have been even more spectacular, considering his recent struggles from the field. In his first year out of Duke, he wasn’t even supposed to see the floor this season unless garbage time was in full effect. But … never fear, the injuries are always here! With the decimated Lakers roster, he has found himself playing crucial minutes. Friday, Kelly scored a career high 20 points on 6-of-12 shooting, a type of game that shows he’s not afraid to pick up some of the scoring gap Bryant and Steve Blake can’t provide while hurt.
Perhaps the significant takeaways from Kelly’s game on Friday included his
thunderous surprising dunk that resulted from driving baseline, or his ability to shot fake, put the ball on the floor, and pull up with a smooth mid-range game. Let’s not get ahead of ourselves, but he sure looks as if he’s been watching the Black Mamba with a pen and paper in hand.
After the game, Kelly discussed just how it felt to come through for his team, putting in two clutch free throws with 9.4 seconds left, sealing such a gratifying win:
“It was an incredible experience for me,” Kelly told the media. “We were sliding there a little bit. We needed it and we made the plays that made the difference.”
Altogether, the Lakers are still having problems taking care of the basketball, committing 19 turnovers on Friday. The reason the win was so shocking, at least for me, was due to the turnover differential between Boston and Los Angeles. Boston only gave up possession seven times, which should have won them the ball game considering how sloppy D’Antoni’s group was in both halves.
However, when a D’Antoni-led team shoots 60 percent (12-of-20) from 3-point range AND attacks the paint to create trips to the free throw line, they play like a .500 ball club.
Despite the relieving win, which snapped a six game losing streak, it doesn’t get easier. Up next is the Toronto Raptors in Canada. The team north of the border has been playing with a rejuvenated culture since trading Rudy Gay.
Looking at what transpired with the young studs for the Lakers in Boston, they may have just sparked their own little fuse of motivation moving forward.
Grammy Road Trip: Two down, five to go (1-1)