The Los Angeles Lakers saved their best performance of the season for their historic rivals, as an offensive clinic saw off the Boston Celtics 117-102 on Tuesday night.
The four-time NBA MVP has struggled for consistent game time this season — Covid protocols compounding earlier absences through injury and suspension — but sparkled in a Lakers offense that pulled away in the second half.
James’ teammate Russell Westbrook scored 24 points, 15 of which came in a dominant third quarter, along with 11 assists, while Anthony Davis had 17 points and 16 rebounds.
Inspired by the sharpshooting of Jayson Tatum, who scored 14 of his game-high 34 points in the first quarter, the Celtics started brightly but were subsequently throttled in the 296th meeting of two of the NBA’s most famed franchises.
Tied for an all-time NBA-high 17 championships, the two have met a record 12 times in the NBA Finals, though both find themselves some way from former glories at present.
Tuesday’s result sees the Lakers avenge last month’s loss in the reverse fixture — a 130-108 dismantling in Boston — to move to 13-12 on the season, an identical record to the Celtics.
‘One of the best games of the season’
“I just like the way we competed tonight, on both sides of the floor,” James told reporters post-game.
“We had a lot of intensity, a lot of ball movement — guys were attacking the rim. I think defensively, besides the first 14-point avalanche on Tatum’s part, we locked in from that point on.
“Tonight, as close to 48 minutes, was one of the best games of the season.”
Sixth in the West, James and the Lakers will hope that victory can spur some consistency, though they face a difficult trip to the Memphis Grizzlies (14-10), who are fresh off of setting a new NBA margin of victory record, on Friday.
Lakers coach Frank Vogel will be as keen as any to see an upturn in form, having faced pressure over the team’s difficult season so far.
James defended his coach on Monday, saying that the “players have to do a better job,” and Vogel is convinced that the team is on the right track.
“We’ve got a strong belief in what this group can accomplish,” Vogel told reporters after the game.
“We knew there was gonna be some bumps in the road early — this is expected for our group — but we’re staying locked in, staying together … and we’re seeing growth each game.”
Durant completes Nets comeback
Elsewhere in the NBA, the Brooklyn Nets rallied from 17 down to edge past the Dallas Mavericks (11-12) with a 102-99 victory.
Kevin Durant — who finished with 24 points and seven rebounds — sunk a three-pointer with just over a minute to go to score the final points of the game and lift the Eastern Conference leaders to 17-7.
The Western Conference leading Golden State Warriors (20-4) host the Portland Trail Blazers (11-14) on Wednesday, as Steph Curry seeks to move a step closer to surpassing Ray Allen at the top of the NBA’s all-time three-point scorers.
Curry trails Hall of Famer Allen by 16 threes ahead of Portland’s visit, who will be without CJ McCollum after he sustained a collapsed right lung in the 4th quarter against the Celtics on Saturday.
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