The Los Angeles Lakers and Boston Celtics were trending in opposite directions, but things changed in the latest chapter of their historic rivalry.
Boston snapped a three-game losing streak with a decisive 139-107 victory over Los Angeles on Monday at TD Garden, improving to 28-14 in the process. Jayson Tatum, Kemba Walker, Jaylen Brown and Enes Kanter led the way in a balanced effort, clinching the first of two matchups between the teams this season.
As for the Lakers, they are still a Western Conference-best 34-9 following the loss thanks to a 10-1 stretch in their previous 11 games.
Notable Player Stats
- BOS F Jayson Tatum: 27 points, five rebounds and three assists on 5-of-8 from deep
- BOS PG Kemba Walker: 20 points, seven assists and four rebounds
- BOS SG Jaylen Brown: 20 points, six assists, four rebounds and three steals
- BOS C Enes Kanter: 18 points and 11 rebounds
- LAL F LeBron James: 15 points, 13 assists and seven rebounds
- LAL F Anthony Davis: nine points, four rebounds and two blocks
Balanced Effort Finally Gives Kemba Win Over LeBron
LeBron James is an all-time great who has made opponents look downright helpless for much of his career, but it was hard to match Walker's futility in head-to-head showdowns.
Entering Monday's game, Walker had a career record of 0-28 when he was on the floor against a team featuring James. To make matters worse, his Charlotte Hornets actually beat James' Cleveland Cavaliers in 2016 when the point guard was sidelined by an injury.
"What can I say? The guy was the best player to play in my league, in my generation," Walker said, per Tim Bontemps of ESPN. "He's been the greatest player over the last, what, 15 years? So, yeah. It is what it is."
He and his Celtics teammates ensured it was no longer zero wins.
Walker was in full control as the primary ball-handler, darting between defenders, scoring in the lane, hitting from three-point range and setting up his teammates. He was far from the only contributor, though, as Marcus Smart served as a secondary facilitator and dazzled with a behind-the-back pass to Kanter.
Kanter was the best player on the floor for stretches in the first half with 18 points and six offensive boards, consistently creating second chances and posing problems for a Lakers defense that was focused on slowing the trio of Walker, Tatum and Brown.
Tatum consistently unleashed his smooth stroke from deep, while Brown relentlessly attacked the rim and brought the crowd to its feet by posterizing James in the third quarter. Gordon Hayward even mixed in a number of drives when defenders cheated elsewhere.
LeBron will probably always have bragging rights against Walker, but the latter finally broke through in commanding fashion with a little help from his friends.
Anthony Davis Has Limited Impact in Return
Monday marked Anthony Davis' return after he missed five games following a scary fall against the New York Knicks on Jan. 7.
While the Lakers went 4-1 without him, they clearly need his presence in the frontcourt if they are going to deliver on championship expectations. Not only is he a matchup nightmare who can score on the blocks or from the outside while anchoring the interior defense and controlling the glass, but he also takes the onus off the 35-year-old James to lead the team on a nightly basis.
Having a relatively fresh James ready to dominate in the playoffs is the most important thing for the Lakers at this point, and Davis is a primary reason the King has been able to play a facilitator role at times this season.
It appeared as if Los Angeles would follow the same script out of the gates when Davis challenged a Brown dunk attempt and threw down his own slam off a James pass in the first two minutes, but he was a relative non-factor in the blowout loss.
He and the rest of the Lakers' big men struggled to contain Kanter on the boards, while Boston's defense kept the six-time All-Star in check as it built a significant lead.
Davis is capable of spearheading a championship run alongside James, but Monday's game will not make the season-long highlight reel.
Both teams are in action Wednesday when the Lakers are at the New York Knicks and the Celtics host the Memphis Grizzlies.