The boos serenaded all over Staples Center as the despised Celtics stepped on the court one-by-one during starting lineup introductions. The buzz roared louder and louder like a flock of bees when the Lakers fought for every loose ball and made clutch shots. Once the Lakers concluded a 118-111 overtime victory over the Boston Celtics on Sunday at Staples Center, the purple and gold streams dropped out of the rafters.
With everything else falling apart in this broken Lakers season, it at least appeared comforting that one positive development remained. The Lakers (14-41) snapped a seven-game losing streak by defeating the Celtics (20-33), the team that everyone that bleeds purple and gold loves to hate through both NBA Finals slugfests and otherwise meaningless regular season games.
“The boos were louder than I’ve heard in a while,” Lakers coach Byron Scott, remembering what the atmosphere was like when the Showtime Lakers slugged it out against the Celtics in the 1980’s. “I think our fans understand that history of the two organizations. I’m enjoying it a little bit more tonight.”
Scott sure did.
Player accounts revealed Scott provided an emotional albeit undisclosed speech surrounding his memories about the Lakers-Celtics rivalry, and the importance he believes still exists today. Scott also started veteran forward Carlos Boozer for the first time in two months, admitting that switch gave the Lakers a better chance to win after recently focusing on developing his younger players. Meanwhile, the Lakers showed their giddiness over a rare win when Nick Young, Jordan Hill and Boozer bombed Jeremy Lin’s on-court interview.
“It’s fun. This is why we love the game,” Lin said. “Afterwards we get to celebrate, have fun and joke around. Everyone is having a great time. It brings a little bit extra into everything you do in the game.”
This game may just serve as empty calories if it becomes just a beautiful snapshot lost amid all the ugly images surrounding the Lakers’ 2014-15 season. But it could provide something tangible in the Lakers’ development if they actually apply the lessons they either showed or learned as they slugged against the Celtics.
Lin posted a season-high 25 points on 10-of-15 shooting in 30 minutes off the bench, his increased aggressiveness enabling him to sink reverse layups, pull up jumpers and close the game out. Instead of attacking and showing unmatched confidence, Lin usually spent this season frustrated with his varying roles as a starter, reserve, off-ball shooter and ball handler in an offense he has admitted feels complicated.
“I was able to see more space,” Lin said. “That’s helpful for me. Everybody knows my bread and butter is pick and roll. I can’t take credit for everything.”
That’s because all of his teammates contributed.
Two days after sitting out because of a coach’s decision, Lakers forward Wesley Johnson morphed from showing indecisiveness mostly all season toward displaying relentless in everything. Johnson’s 22 points on a 5-of-9 clip entailed attacking the basket with his athleticism, canning open jumpers as if he was in a shooting clinic and adding swagger to his normally laid-back personality.
“I was [ticked] I didn’t play. But [Scott] came to me after the game and told me. I just knew I’d be ready when I came out tonight,” Johnson said. “When he called me I knew I was going to be effective and just try to have an impact on the game.”
Young also had an impact after laboring through January and February by barely shooting over 30 percent from the field. His 19 points on 5-of-9 shooting marked the first time in the last nine games he has played that he made more than 50 percent of his shots. Despite missing one free throw that set up Avery Bradley’s game-tying trey to force overtime, Young’s lasting impression involved making a key block on Boston guard and former Philadephia teammate Evan Turner as the Lakers led 112-106 with under a minute left in extra regulation.
“I locked him up and put him in jail,” Young boasted.
And Lakers reserve guard Ronnie Price contributed with four steals and disrupting Isaiah Thomas, his frustration boiling up that he eventually earned an ejection with 5:03 left in the game after picking up his second technical.
“Ronnie turned the game around,” Scott said, “with his aggressiveness on the defensive end.”
All of which prompted the Lakers to have a boisterous locker room afterwards.
With Chinese New Year taking place last Thursday, Young said, “my last name is Yung for my Chinese heritage.” Boozer, who added 12 points and eight rebounds, repeatedly yelled his customary “HOLDAT” catchphrase, whose meaning still remains unknown. Lin, a devout Christian, expressed gratitude to God.
Yet, there were still mistakes to learn.
The Lakers nearly blew a 10-point lead with three minutes left, continuing a season-long trend in which the Lakers squander wins with poor late-game execution. Scott conceded he should have ordered his players to foul Bradley before his game-tying three-pointer, marking the second time in three weeks Scott failed to make that decision. Young accused this reporter for “being a snitch” for tweeting he arrived 15 minutes late to the game, his goofiness overshadowing the reality that Scott has fined him recently for his tardiness already. In future games, Scott may revert back to his tendency to play younger players more such as Jordan Clarkson, Tarik Black and Robert Sacre even at the expense of wins.
But for one night, the Lakers finally enjoyed themselves, displaying joy and relief over something that never gets old regardless of the circumstances.
The Lakers beat the Celtics.
“I enjoy this a lot more,” Scott said. “I’m a happy man tonight.”
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