An emotional victory over their rivals has the Boston Celtics riding high into a home matchup with the Oklahoma City Thunder on Saturday night.
Jayson Tatum’s 37 points and 11 rebounds carried the Celtics in a 130-108 rout of the Los Angeles Lakers on Friday. Tatum’s big game spoiled the return of Lakers star LeBron James after he missed eight games with an abdominal injury.
“Whether anybody else believed it (or not), I always tell myself when I get on the floor I’m the best player,” Tatum said.
The Celtics trailed by 14 points late in the first quarter before coming to life and outscoring the Lakers 112-76 the rest of the way. Boston won for the sixth time in nine games after opening its season with five losses in seven games.
“I’d say (it was) composure, resilience, and just never hung our head. It never felt like we were out of the game,” Celtics first-year coach Ime Udoka said after making his sideline debut in one of the NBA’s biggest rivalries.
The Celtics benefited from a complete effort as Marcus Smart totaled 22 points, eight rebounds and six assists, Dennis Schroder scored 21 against his former team, Al Horford added 18 points and Josh Richardson chipped in 15.
Boston’s win was all the more impressive considering it came without injured All-Star forward Jaylen Brown, who missed his seventh straight game with a Grade 1 right hamstring strain. Center Robert Williams III was also sidelined due to an ailing left knee.
Oklahoma City is coming off a hard-fought effort in a 96-89 loss against the defending champion Milwaukee Bucks on Friday.
Jeremiah Robinson-Earl’s 3-pointer with 2:36 left pulled the Thunder within 91-89. Neither team scored again until Giannis Antetokounmpo’s 2-footer with 28.7 seconds remaining, and the Bucks closed out the win at the free throw line.
“We gave it everything we had out there,” Oklahoma City assistant coach Dave Bliss said. “Just really proud of these guys.”
Bliss is serving as the team’s interim coach during their three-game road trip with head coach Mark Daigneault away from the team for the birth of his child.
Shai Gilgeous-Alexander had a team-high 17 points on 5-of-20 shooting to pace the Thunder. Josh Giddey totaled 14 points and 12 rebounds, Mike Muscala added 14 points and nine rebounds off the bench while Luguentz Dort and Ty Jerome scored 10 apiece.
The loss was Oklahoma City’s third in four games following a season-best four-game winning streak.
“We’re a young team, we have a lot of flaws,” Jerome said. “But the thing I love about us and I think people will grow to love about us: We have no quit in us.”
The Thunder and Celtics split their two-game series last season. Tatum had 27 to lead Boston in a 111-94 road win on March 27, overcoming a monster 21-point, 23-rebound night from then-Thunder center Moses Brown.
Oklahoma City returned the favor in Boston as Dort’s 24 points helped the Thunder overcome 39 points from Brown to snap a 14-game overall losing streak in a 119-115 win on April 27.