The Boston Celtics' hot streak continued on Thursday night. The team won their fifth straight game against the Los Angeles Lakers and finished their final west coast road trip of the season with a perfect 3-0 record.
For most of the game, it didn't look like the outcome was in doubt. The C's held the Lakers at an arm's length for most of the contest and at one point in the fourth quarter, they had a 27-point lead.
However, after Brad Stevens put the reserves in to finish out the game, the C's came dangerously close to blowing it. The Lakers went on a massive run that cut the deficit to as little as five points.
As a result, the Celtics had to put their starters in once again to finish out the last two minutes of the game. They secured the win, but surely, that finish will not leave a good taste in anyone's mouth.
Nonetheless, a win is a win and now, Stevens has an A-grade opportunity to coach up his reserves.
Here are three observations from a (mostly) convincing win over the Lakers:
Jaylen Brown took over the Celtics' game vs. the Lakers
Lost amid Jayson Tatum's performance during the Celtics' four-game winning streak was that of Jaylen Brown.
Before Thursday night's win against the Lakers, Brown had averaged 25.5 points for the C's on 49.4 percent shooting from the field. He was just being overshadowed a bit by Tatum's 34.5 points per game and 52.3 percent shooting.
But against the Lakers, Brown came out of the gates red-hot and did a lot to spark the Celtics' offense to victory.
Brown started the game on a tear and scored 10 of the C's first 14 points. He never looked back from there. By halftime, he had 21 points and was 9-of-10 from the field. He did a great job of driving to the hoop and was able to finish strong like this on numerous occasions.
He also threw down an impressive, rim-rattling dunk that helped provide the C's with some energy heading into the halftime locker room.
Brown's strong play continued into the second half. While the Lakers were able to cut into the Celtics' lead at points, Brown always help keep them at an arm's length with timely buckets like this.
All told, Brown finished the game with 40 points on 17-of-20 shooting in 32 minutes of action and was an incredible plus-36 on the right. He was even more impressive than the numbers indicate since one of his misses came on a halfcourt heave at the end of the third quarter.
And when the Celtics reserves faltered, it was Brown who scored four points to put the game out of reach once again.
Needless to say, this was Brown's best game of the year. If he can continue to carry the Celtics like this to take some of the pressure off Tatum, the C's should continue to play very well as they find their stride.
Celtics' increased ball movement is leading to wins
For yet another game, the Celtics displayed pristine ball movement. The impact was seen everywhere: On the court, in the box score, and in the win column.
The Celtics finished their game against the Lakers with 32 assists. That marked their third 30+ assist game in their last four outings and bumped their April assist average to 27.4 per game. That's nearly five better than their average in the previous three-plus months of the season.
The difference has been notable. While the C's held a 23-25 record entering April, they have gone 7-1 during the month to improve to 30-26. That is largely thanks to their great ball movement.
And it hasn't just been one player doing all of the passing. Every Celtic has gotten in on the action. Each of their starters against the Lakers had at least three assists and frequently, players were willing to make the extra pass to get the open shot, as you can see here via this dish from Tristan Thompson to Tatum.
That pass was part of a season-high five assists for Thompson.
As long as every Celtic is willing to move the ball like that, the C's are going to have a chance to continue their hot streak. It's no coincidence that their uptick assists has led to their longest winning streak of the season.
The Lakers were largely easy competition without LeBron James and Anthony Davis
This game comes with a massive asterisk for the Celtics. Their starters may have put a sound beating on the Lakers, but they were playing the team on a night where they were significantly banged up.
Andre Drummond (elbow) didn't play. Dennis Schroder (foot) wasn't at 100 percent. And, oh yeah, neither LeBron James nor Anthony Davis were healthy for this game.
Davis (calf) and James (ankle) have been out for some time -- Davis since Feb. 14 and LeBron since March 20 -- without them, the Lakers have struggled, as they have posted a 10-15 record since Davis' injury and a 6-8 record since LeBron's injury.
Of course, that's isn't a surprise. Without their stars, the Lakers are just a collection of role players that have to find a way to score and defend by committee. Their struggles to succeed in both areas consistently was on display against the C's.
Though the Celtics committed 21 turnovers, the Lakers couldn't take advantage of them. They shot poorly from the field while they let the C's take advantage of them, particularly outside the arc where the C's made 14-of-32 attempts.
When Davis and James return to action, this team will be in significantly better shape. But until they do, the Lakers will just be an inconsistent team looking to avoid slipping in the Western Conference Standings.
But as the C's reserves saw late, the Lakers can't be overlooked entirely. Because when they get hot, they can be dangerous.
The Celtics return home to the TD Garden on Saturday to face the Golden State Warriors. Tip-off is set for 8:30 p.m. ET, with Celtics Pregame Live beginning at 7:30 p.m. ET on NBC Sports Boston.