BOSTON — Celtics head coach Brad Stevens insisted Wednesday’s tilt with the Los Angeles Lakers was just another game.
But when an NBA legend is playing his final game in a building that has produced some of his most memorable moments, it’s hard to stick to the script.
That appeared to be the case at TD Garden, as Kobe Bryant and the lowly Lakers outplayed the Celtics to snap Boston’s four-game winning streak in front of a crowd that featured a healthy contingent of L.A. supporters.
Bryant hit a huge 3-pointer down the stretch and finished with a double-double (15 points, 11 rebounds), but he certainly didn’t kill Boston in his TD Garden farewell. That distinction belonged to the quartet of Jordan Clarkson, Lou Williams, D’Angelo Russell and Julius Randle, who combined for 74 of the Lakers’ 112 points and seemed to thrive off the electric atmosphere that permeated the arena.
“I just didn’t think they felt us enough,” Stevens said after the Celtics’ 112-104 loss. “If you looked at them coming in, it doesn’t surprise me when their players make plays. They have really talented individuals, especially perimeter players. We had trouble with all of them, and they just didn’t feel us.”
Indeed, Boston didn’t make its offensive presence felt until late in the fourth quarter, when a 9-0 run helped erase the club’s 11-point deficit. On the defensive end, things never seemed to click, as the normally sound Celtics allowed the NBA’s second-lowest scoring offense (96.3 points per game) to pour in 112 points on 46 percent shooting.
“We knew coming into this game that if you allow them to get a rhythm, you’re toast,” Celtics coach Brad Stevens said. “… And I don’t know if it was — I don’t know how getting caught up in the moment would affect your body position on defense, but maybe it (does).”
The loss was a disappointing bump in what had been an impressive stretch for Boston. But Evan Turner was one of a few Celtics who insisted their letdown wasn’t a direct result of the fanfare surrounding Kobe.
“I don’t think we worried about him coming back to the Garden for the last time,” forward Evan Turner said. “I think Coach said it: We need to worry about ourselves and leave it at that. I think where we messed up was the urgency, the people without the No. 24 on their chest.”
Thumbnail photo via Mark L. Baer/USA TODAY Sports Images
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