BOSTON — The Celtics had every opportunity to win Thursday night against the Los Angeles Lakers, but if you ask their head coach, they probably didn’t deserve to.
Boston led its longtime rival by as many as 18 points and even held a six-point advantage with just 1:24 left to go at TD Garden. But the C’s crumbled down the stretch, and ex-Celtic Rajon Rondo completed the Lakers’ comeback by sinking a game-winning shot as time expired to hand the visitors a 129-128 victory.
It truly was a tale of missed opportunities for Boston, even down to the bitter end. Rondo’s clutch bucket came on a second-chance opportunity, as the Celtics failed to secure a rebound on Brandon Ingram’s missed wraparound layup. Not to mention, LeBron James and Kyle Kuzma drilled 3-pointers on back-to-back possessions in the final minute of the fourth, with Kuzma’s trey being made available by a C’s defensive breakdown.
So while some might chalk up the Lakers’ stunning win as luck, Stevens believes the right team came out on top.
“I thought the basketball gods rewarded the right team,” Stevens said. “I hate to say that, but we had a chance to wrap that game up with a rebound. That was kind of the whole night. In the first half, they weren’t converting on all of those and they got a ton of them — the offensive rebounds. They had to make big shots late to beat us, those two threes in the deep corner opposite our bench were big-time shots and really hard shots. And then Kuzma was too open on his and Rondo was in the right place at the right time. I thought the middle of the game is what really hurt us. So that’s where everybody gets feeling a little more comfortable, the basket looks a little bigger.”
Thursday marked the fifth-most points the Lakers have scored this season. While L.A., of course, deserves credit for its offensive efficiency, Stevens wasn’t at all pleased with his team’s defensive effort.
“Our defense wasn’t very good,” Stevens said. “I didn’t think it was very good the whole game. I mean, I thought they missed free throws and layups at the start of the game otherwise they would have scored a lot more than they did. I thought when we got the lead we played very passive offensively and defensively really until late third quarter. I thought, obviously, Jaylen (Brown), Terry (Rozier) and (Daniel) Theis gave us a chance — that group. But we didn’t guard them tonight and they made shots. You still have to make them but we have to play a lot better defensively if we want to be a good team.”
Here are some other notes from Thursday’s Celtics-Lakers game:
— Theis was one of the few bright spots for Boston. The second-year big man provided 20 points on 9-of-11 shooting with six rebounds over 22 minutes.
— The Lakers’ offensive surge largely was sparked by 3-point shooting. In fact, L.A. had a higher success rate from distance (22-of-41, 53.7 percent) than from the charity stripe (7-of-18, 38.9 percent).
— The Celtics featured three bench players in double figures. In addition to Theis’ 20, Rozier provided 19 points while Brown notched 18 points.
— Rondo has seen and accomplished quite a bit in his 12-plus seasons of NBA service, but he managed to achieve a first against his former team.
— There were a number of notable attendees for this highly anticipated matchup. The New England Patriots were celebrated for their Super Bowl LIII victory, while Kevin Garnett and Mookie Betts also took in the action.