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Sunday, May 9, 2021

What we learned from the preseason meeting between Boston and Los Angeles

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The third game in the regular season hasn’t exactly settled into a rhythm, but the date holds both good and bad news for the Los Angeles Lakers, who finally concluded their quest for a 15th NBA championship. On Friday, the Lakers and their NBA-record $310 million payroll rallied to beat the Boston Celtics 113-102 at Staples Center. Los Angeles’ second consecutive victory of the preseason does not exactly change the picture for the Lakers. They are expected to finish with somewhere between 43 and 46 wins, the lowest tally under the star-laden underfoot of Lakers head coach Luke Walton. The Lakers did find some bright spots, though. LeBron James was absolutely dominant against his former team. And rookie Lonzo Ball continues to improve.

LeBron James doesn’t have to win in Boston to achieve a career milestone

This matchup between LeBron James and Kyrie Irving—both former representatives in the NBA and two of the league’s brightest stars—is about more than bragging rights and in-fighting in the Eastern Conference. The Celtics’ star point guard showed on Friday why he is one of the game’s most dynamic players. Irving finished with a team-high 27 points, as well as six assists and two steals. And he was far from the only Celtics player with outstanding games. Jayson Tatum continued his Rookie of the Year bid, scoring 13 points and grabbing seven rebounds. Terry Rozier had an efficient outing as well, scoring 15 points and adding four assists. The Celtics shot a bit under 30 percent from the 3-point line, but they held the Lakers to 37 percent shooting and 28.3 percent from distance. They also forced 13 turnovers and blocked four shots.

A record-setting season in Staples

The attention surrounding Friday’s game in Los Angeles was not misplaced. Though the Lakers and Celtics have two of the league’s most high-profile point guards—and sports TV companies around the globe consistently show shots of both James and Irving with the word “shoutout” splashed across the screen—a regular-season game between the two teams is rarely a must-see event. But this time was different. There was a league record for airtime broadcasted on the networks, with ESPN and TNT both handing out 100 minutes of game coverage. Almost three hours into the game, fans had become restless, and at one point the Knicks’ first-round NBA playoff opponent in 2015—yet another fresh-faced young star named Anthony—once again made a show of fitting in. With a score of 7-3, New York fan Stephen Bear suggested to fellow Lakers-watcher Dieter Bergdahl that “the [Lakers’] [team mascot] needs to get killed!” Bergdahl, who is part German, pulled an Alec Baldwin look-alike from the crowd and injected, “Time to say something else.” Bear quickly endorsed his choice, noting, “Time to stick your legend up the backside of King James.” With the Knicks after taking a 7-0 lead with approximately seven minutes to go in the first quarter, Bear and Bergdahl reverted to Lakers fan-bashing mode, proclaiming James a “skull,” “clown” and a “ho.” James was being booed, but he did not show it. At one point, the 2018 NBA MVP, who spent his first seven seasons in Cleveland, looked around the arena at the grumbling about his support of his old team and visibly showed little emotion. He even showed a hint of respect for the criticism he took for a lackluster performance against the Chicago Bulls on Tuesday night, saying, “Hey, you know what, that’s the tough part of playing in the league. You’ve got to be able to deal with people making comments.”

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