The last time the Celtics were in Los Angeles, they were ready to wrap up their 18th NBA title. They took a four-point lead to the fourth quarter, only to watch it evaporate in front of their eyes, helping ensure the Lakers would walk away with the hardware.
While the stage was admittedly much smaller on Sunday, the Celtics earned what may have been their biggest win of the season, and they did so thanks in large part to a resilient fourth-quarter performance.
The Celtics took a 77-72 lead to the fourth quarter on Sunday after trailing at halftime. However, with fate of Game 7 looming, and with a bit of a reputation for failing to close out games, the lead was not safe. When the Celtics pushed their lead to 91-83 halfway through the fourth, things looked even better.
On cue, however, Kobe Bryant was able to cut the lead in half, forcing Doc Rivers to burn a timeout.
With 5:19 to play, the Celtics found themselves in an eerily familiar place. Not only that, the team was looking at a win slip away in the midst of a less-than-impressive road trip.
The Celtics, on the other hand, had different plans for Sunday.
While it wasn’t the NBA Finals, the C’s went on a prolonged 18-9 run in the final 5:19 to ice the 109-96 win. They got contributions from everyone. Kevin Garnett got things going with a jump shot, and also had an alley-oop and an assist mixed in. Rajon Rondo picked up five of his 15 second-half assists. Paul Pierce got in on the act adding to his team-high 32 points. Even Glen Davis scored a couple of key buckets.
The Celtics reverted to the type of play they had gotten away from in the last couple of games.
They looked like the team everyone expected them to be. The C’s got back to playing suffocating defense. The Lakers picked up five of those nine points during the Boston run in the last minute when it no longer mattered.
When they forced misses, they crashed the boards. A lot was made in the wake of the Game 7 loss of Boston’s struggles on the glass. They drastically turned the tables on Sunday, out-rebounding the Lakers 43-30, led by Garnett’s game-high 13 boards.
The Celtics also got back to moving the basketball. Rondo’s 15 helpers in the second half obviously proved that, but on the afternoon, the Celtics shared the basketball from start to finish, dominating the assist battle easily, 34-20. Bryant, by the way, scored a game-high 41 points, but had a grand total of 0 assists.
Sure, you need perspective, as well. At the end of the day, it was one of 82 regular-season games, one that took place in January even. But what it hopefully does, from a Celtics standpoint, is reaffirm that they are one of the game’s more dominating teams. Maybe Sunday’s performance helps springboard a stretch of more consistent play for a team that’s struggled at times all season with finding consistency.
Playing well now will obviously only benefit them in the long run. They saw firsthand last season, at Staples Center, what homecourt advantage can do.
If the Celtics play like they did on Sunday, however, that won’t matter.
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