Isaiah Thomas plays starring role again as Celtics top Lakers
On a night when a Toronto loss punched tickets for Brad Stevens and his assistants to fly to New Orleans for the Feb. 19 NBA All-Star Game, his own team continued to do its own job.
The Celtics, with Friday night’s 113-107 win over a young Lakers team, are now on a season-high six-game run.
Isaiah Thomas continued his memorable fourth quarter assault, this time scoring 17 of his 38 points in the fourth. Marcus Smart, who thrived pulling the ball away from the younger, skinnier Lakers, had five steals, nine points and seven assists.
The Celtics had pushed ahead by 17 points when the Lakers began pulling them back to earth in the third quarter, cutting the Celtics lead down to eight points (82-74) on Lou Williams’ back cut with the last basket of the quarter.
Thomas began the fourth on the floor, and on his first foray into the paint drew three Lakers, and had to pass out for a Jonas Jerebko miss.
The next time down was different. Thomas hit his fourth 3-pointer of the night, and after a Larry Nance Jr. hoop, came back with a drive for an 87-76 lead.
Kelly Olynyk was suffering through a bad stretch with a pair of bad misses, including a blown layup, when Nance scored again, cutting the C’s lead to 87-80.
But Thomas hit again from downtown, and Terry Rozier grabbed a defensive board and drove the floor for a coast-to-coast drive and a 92-80 Celtics lead with 8:13 left.
The Lakers continued to answer, though Rozier followed up a Thomas baseline jumper with a 3-pointer for a 97-84 lead.
Nance continued to keep the Lakers in the game almost single-handedly, not only with 10 points over the first 7:32 of the fourth, but also absorbing an Al Horford elbow to draw the offensive foul.
That play set up Horford’s foul of Lou Williams in 3-point territory, with the Lakers guard hitting all three free throws, cutting the Celtics lead to 101-94 with 3:50 left.
Horford missed, and the Lakers began prompting boos from the crowd when, thanks to their ability to beat the Celtics to a pair of long rebounds, came up with a four-shot possession, though it came up empty. Jae Crowder finally corralled a defensive board, Thomas sprinted down the other end, drew the foul, and with 2:40 left hit twice.
Jaylen Brown stole the ball and Thomas finished off the play with a drive. Though Lou Williams sandwiched a pair of threes around a Crowder trey, Thomas converted a three-point play the next time down.
The Lakers continued to hit from deep – next time with a Nick Young trey – but the Celtics finally salted this one away when Thomas hit Horford with a pass for the layup and a 113-103 lead with 1:04 left.
The Celtics closed out the first half better than they began it, carrying a 62-51 lead into the locker room, and then coming back in the third with an extended 15-6 run for an 80-63 lead.
That’s when the Lakers, much as they did over the first half of the first quarter, resumed hitting shots.
They answered the aforementioned Celtics run with a quick 9-1 burst of their own, cutting the Celtics lead to nine points (81-72), and after a pair of Kelly Olynyk free throws, cutting the Celtics lead to eight on a quarter-ending back cut by Lou Williams.
Most of the Celtics began last night in a very passive mode defensively, with the Lakers taking advantage from a variety of spots on the floor.
They had all the more gratitude to show to Smart, then, who came up with three strip steals, converting the first himself with a dunk, and dishing on the break to Thomas the other two times.
Smart also kicked out to Rozier in the left corner for a buzzer-beating trey that cut the Lakers lead to 30-29 by the end of the quarter.
That said, the combination of poor Celtics shooting and generous looks by the Lakers played heavily in LA’s early, albeit thin, lead.
By the time Smart stepped in for his fourth steal mid-way through the second quarter, and assisted off a pick for the third straight time, his teammates had picked up on his mindset.
Starting with an Olynyk 18-footer, they ran off seven straight points for a 44-38 lead, and after 10 points in the quarter from Jaylen Brown, hit a peak lead of nine points (53-44) before the Lakers regrouped.
Brown seemed to enjoy this run against the youthful Lakers – most of them drafted over the last three years, and thus more in his peer group.
Smart brought the lead back to nine again (56-47) with his first 3-pointer of the night with 2:28 left in the half, and the Celtics continued to get stronger.
Thomas capped the half by running the clock down at the top of the circle before easily driving past three Lakers for a 62-51 halftime lead.