BOSTON – At one point on Friday night, a scant ‘Beat L-A’ chant was barely audible by the Boston Celtics faithful.
Despite these two being longtime rivals, there wasn’t nearly the kind of buzz or excitement in the building that die-hard fans of both franchises are used to.
That didn’t matter to the Celtics who had some iffy play defensively in the final minutes of play after building a 17-point in the third quarter, a cushion that proved to be key in holding on for a 113-107 win.
Boston (32-18) has now won a season-high six straight.
Even before the victory, Brad Stevens and his staff were going to be coaching the East All-Stars courtesy of Toronto’s loss earlier in the night at Orlando.
But beating the Lakers (17-36) still had significance for Boston.
For starters, it’s a rival that they have had trouble with in recent years having lost eight of the previous 11 matchups.
The victory was No. 3,253 for Boston – tops all-time in the NBA and one more than the Lakers.
The victory continued to distance them from the Raptors and the Washington Wizards who both trail Boston by 2.5 games. In addition, the Celtics are now just 2.0 games behind East-leading Cleveland Cavaliers.
And while Boston led by as many as 17 points on Friday, there’s no such thing as an easy win for the Celtics when they play the Lakers who soon trimmed Boston’s lead down to single digits.
But once again it was Isaiah Thomas coming to the rescue.
The Lakers made a bunch of shots in the fourth quarter, only for Thomas to consistently make the right basketball play whether it be taking a shot himself or finding a teammate for an open look at the rim.
He finished with 38 points, 17 of which came in the fourth quarter. Thomas, the reigning Eastern Conference player of the month, also had four assists.
The Celtics jumped out to a 7-0 lead, only for the Lakers to respond with a 15-7 run of their own to lead 15-14. Los Angeles would go ahead by as many as four points in the first, but a 3-pointer by Terry Rozier just before the horn sounded to end the first cut the Lakers lead to 30-29.
It was a one or two-possession game for most of the second quarter, but a 9-2 run by Boston to end the half gave them a 62-51 cushion which would prove to be their largest lead of the half.
Boston’s control of the game remained steady throughout most of the third quarter with the Celtics’ lead teetering on the edge of being a double-digit margin.
The Lakers backcourt of Nick Young (17 points) and D’Angelo Russell (20 points) were the primary scorers for a Lakers team that surprisingly got very little scoring production from its bench.
But their bench soon came alive, looking in the second half more like the unit that averages a league-best 50.3 points per game. For the game, Los Angeles’ backups tallied 59 points.