The Lakers believed they were ready to show their fiercest rival that they could once again hold their own. Save for an ugly stretch in the first half when the listless Lakers fell behind by 21 points, they did, clawing their way back before ultimately losing 107-96 to the Celtics at TD Garden.
Lonzo Ball, the new face of the Lakers who declined to participate in a pre-draft workout with the Celtics, was booed from the outset and finished with nine points, six assists and five rebounds. He was once again outdueled by an opposing All-Star point guard. This time it was Kyrie Irving, who finished with 19 points.
All-Star center Al Horford did not play for the Celtics after he experienced headaches Wednesday and was placed in the league’s concussion protocol. That cleared the way for Aron Baynes to make a spot start. The veteran center poured in a surprising 21 points, a game-high.
The Celtics were also without rookie forward Jayson Tatum, who did not play after halftime due to ankle soreness.
Down two starters, the Celtics still had more firepower than the Lakers, who fell to 5-6 and face three more games on the road, starting Thursday in Washington, before returning home.
The Lakers had their most success with smaller lineups anchored by Julius Randle at center. As a result, starting center Brook Lopez, who averaged 27.3 points over the previous three games, matched a season-low with 18 minutes and finished with 10 points. Jordan Clarkson led the Lakers with 18 points, while Randle added 16 points and 12 rebounds.
“Kyrie’s having a hell of a year so far,” Coach Luke Walton said Wednesday morning. “In this offense he’s a monster to deal with with, all that spacing and cutting and shooting around him.”
It made for a matchup nightmare for Ball.
“He’ll have his hands full,” Walton correctly predicted, “but it’s Zo’s job to push it right back at him and try to attack him.”
It was Boston’s 10th straight win after starting the season 0-2.
The Celtics’ 21-point lead came at the 10:15 mark of the second quarter. It was still a 20-point advantage four minutes later, when Randle hit a turnaround jumper to kickstart a 13-4 Lakers run. By halftime, L.A. had pulled within nine at 61-52.
“In the first quarter they punked us,” Walton said.
The Lakers kept chipping away in the third quarter, continuing to find success with small lineups and pulling within two with 5:42 remaining in the third on a driving layup by Jordan Clarkson.
It was the closest they would get despite twice pulling within three in the fourth quarter.