BOSTON — The Lakers only come to town once, so I figured a diary of the night was in order.
I’m not a fan of daylight-savings darkness falling on my 5 p.m. drive to the Garden now, and I’m pretty sure I saw a UFO flying above Boston on my way in, but that’s a story for a different day.
The Celtics were riding a nine-game win streak, coming off an MVP-caliber performance from Kyrie Irving, with early awards chatter growing louder for Al Horford, Jaylen Brown, Jayson Tatum, Marcus Smart and Brad Stevens in the All-Defensive, Most Improved, Rookie of the Year, Sixth Man and Coach of the Year discussions. And the Lakers are certainly a team full of basketball players, too, so let’s get to it.
• I’ll give LaVar Ball this: He sold Lakers fans on his son. The number of Lonzo jerseys in the Garden was at Kobe Bryant levels, which is wild for a rookie who came into the game shooting a hair below 30 percent. Autograph-seekers lined the tunnel in No. 2 UCLA and L.A. jerseys. I didn’t see him sign any. Other Lakers did. I did see Ball miss some jumpers in warmups, though.
• One of the Celtics lackeys brought all the players their pregame peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, and only one was toasted. Who gets the toasted one? “I can’t tell you,” he said. This is the biggest mystery of the Celtics season so far. The guess here is definitely Kyrie Irving.
• Dino Radja of 1990s Celtics throwback fame was in the media dining room, just chilling. Didn’t seem like he still smokes a pack a day. Looked more like he could still drop a baby hook or two. Fun fact: Jayson Tatum wasn’t even born when Radja last played for the Celtics, and no player in the Celtics locker room even recognized him. Dino’s son Duje is now a 6-foot-8, 235-pound freshman at Elon. I’m old. And small.
• Fellow former Celtic J.R. Bremer was there, too, asking a front office executive about getting into coaching or scouting. “We always joke about how often we gamble millions on the advice of a 19-year-old,” the exec said. He was detailing the process of deciding between two potential draft picks and how they pick up nuggets about their off-court conduct from low-level volunteers looking for NBA jobs. “College coaches are full of shit,” he said. “The team managers will tell you everything.” The example the exec used in this hypothetical situation: Jayson Tatum or Lonzo Ball.
• The Celtics played a tribute video for Paul Pierce during the first timeout. He was in the building with ESPN. At the end of the production, this message flashed on the screen: “#34 raised to the rafters. February 11, 2018.” The Celtics host the Cavaliers that Sunday afternoon, one more chance for Pierce to stick it to LeBron James. For his part Wednesday, Pierce shoved a fistful of popcorn in his mouth, stood up and saluted the crowd. Retirement looks good on him. Oh, and his only pregame advice for Irving: “Go out there and destroy the Lakers. Every single time.
• Kyrie Irving put the Lakers on skates. This is a nightly occurrence. Dude has the baddest handles in the league. You know you’ve got something special when, after the game, Lakers rookie Kyle Kuzma says of defending you, “It was cool,” because you’re a video game come to life.
• Terry Rozier banked home a 30-foot buzzer-beater to give the Celtics a 33-16 lead after one. Lakers coach Luke Walton suggested between quarters his team might have been scared of the Celtics. They were ready for the fight and we weren’t,” Walton said after the game. “We felt like in the first quarter, they punk’d us. They were bigger than us, they were stronger than us.”
• New Red Sox manager Alex Cora was seated in the front row. They showed him on the Jumbotron, at which point he forced his daughter to wave awkwardly at the camera. The crowd erupted, and he did not seem to enjoy the attention, but Celtics coach Brad Stevens gave him an acknowledgement between quarters, so at least the Boston coaching fraternity is real.
• Marcus Smart threw an over-the-head no-look pass to rookie Semi Ojeleye, who went up and under for a layup that seemed ambitious even for someone like Irving. The 6-foot-7, 235-pound Ojeleye pulled it off. “You almost killed yourself with that shot, mate,” Australian teammate Aron Baynes told Ojeleye in the locker room afterwards. “You’ve gotta dunk that shit straightaway.”
• Jayson Tatum asked out of the game and retreated to the locker room. The rookie was ruled out at halftime with a sore right ankle. He underwent an X-ray during the game and is scheduled for an MRI on Thursday, “at which point they’ll let us know what they find in that,” Stevens said after the game. He left the building in a walking boot for precautionary reasons. None of that sounds great, but I did hear that Tatum was in good spirits, so there’s reason for optimism.
• Irving continued to torch Ball, and Smart unleashed a block of the hard-charging rookie that was purely designed to put Lonzo in his place. This was not Ball’s night, and few this season have been. He can’t shoot, can’t defend and can’t dribble in traffic. His passing is his greatest quality, and even then, he seems all too willing to dump the ball off early in the face of pressure.
• Tommy Heinsohn got some chocolate. Tommy always gets some chocolate at halftime.
• The Celtics played DMX’s “Ruff Ryders’ Anthem” over the sound system, and then showed the rapper in the front row. He’s a 46-year-old New Yorker, which makes him the single most random courtside celebrity ever at a Celtics game? Los Angeles has Jack Nicholson, Leonardo DiCaprio and every movie star looking for screen time. Boston came with the Red Sox manager, DMX and Dino Radja, all of whom seemed to have no interest in being praised. It’s perfect.
• There was just a lot of Baynes, the 6-foot-10, 260-pound Aussie who Tommy Heinsohn once said looked like “all of Australia” in the shower, which is weird until you remember Baynes swam with sharks over the summer and wants to live in a houseboat in Boston. He is Australia, and with that came brute force and a career-high 21 points against the Lakers, highlighted by an and-one dunk during which his elbow leveled a Laker. When it was over, Baynes literally showed up to his postgame interview wearing a cowboy hat straight out of “Crocodile Dundee.”
• The Celtics showed a pre-taped spelling bee on the Jumbotron in which a number of players tried to spell Guerschon Yabusele. All failed but Jaylen Brown, who nailed it on his first try.
• This also happened on the Jumbotron:
(In case you can’t read it, the kid’s belly says, “Lonzo sucks.”)
• Whether it was a hangover from seeing Tatum join the list of walking wounded at halftime or what, the Celtics let a 21-point lead dwindle to six points by quarter’s end. Asked about the injuries piling up after the game, Kyrie took a long pause, sighed and then said, “We’re just trying to be healthy, man.” He was clearly frustrated that his buddy and fellow Duke product Tatum joined Gordon Hayward (fractured tibia) and Al Horford (concussion) on the injury list.
• Irving received treatment on the bench during an extended stretch from the end of the third quarter to midway through the fourth. “Hitting the legs a little bit,” he said. “That’s just natural NBA fatigue.”
• Smart wrestled two Lakers for an offensive rebound and found Terry Rozier from the ground. He then shouted at Walton and laughed in the Lakers coach’s face. After hitting a clutch layup later in the quarter, he gave Walton the business again. It was fascinating to watch from a bird’s eye view on the ninth floor of the Garden. Smart wreaks havoc that’s hard to define. He’s just a pitbull. After the game, he and Celtics assistant Jay Larranaga had a long discussion in the locker room during which Smart appeared to be explaining his side of a story. I hope Larranaga wasn’t asking Smart to dial it down, because nobody should call off the dogs against the Lakers.
• No Hayward. No Horford. No Tatum. So, Irving took over, unloading three crossovers and a spinning fadeaway over Kuzma that can only be described as a combo of Tim Hardaway and Michael Jordan. It put the Celtics back up double-digits with five minutes left and all but ended any Lakers threat. Speaking of Kuzma, when asked about his intro to the Celtics-Lakers rivalry, he said, “We don’t really like them,” even though he just met them. Rude welcome, I guess.
• Irving was feeling himself late in the fourth quarter. He dribbled slowly up the left side of the court to find Ball checking him, and he wanted the rookie all to himself. He cleared out the entire left side and went to work, eventually jacking a contested 3-pointer that sailed wide. After the game, Irving said LaVar Ball’s loud mouth — which included the rookie’s dad saying Irving shouldn’t judge his family because he doesn’t have kids (he has a daughter) and was raised by a single parent (his mom died when he was 4) — played no role in the challenge. It clearly did.
• ESPN’s Doris Burke revealed to Irving after the game that his father, Drederick, who starred at Boston University back in the day, turned down the chance to be interviewed because he wanted to stay in the background. “It’s a dream come true, honestly, to be back in Boston, where I started my Boston University camps, got my first offer,” said Kyrie. “My mom and my dad met here. Rest in peace to her. It’s just awesome. I have nothing but love and so much respect for that man, what he does for my family and what he does for me as my best friend.”
• In the Celtics locker room after a 107-96 win, their 10th straight despite missing three of their best six players, Yabusele got the rookie treatment. Jaylen Brown, only in his second year, made the Frenchman get him a Gatorade. Brown and Irving had a good laugh about that. “We’re all pretty close in age,” the 25-year-old Irving said, “so a lot of our connections run in terms of what we talk about on and off the floor, and we’re able to communicate with one another on a deeper level, because we have that understanding.” Sorry, LeBron.
• Irving brought a stat sheet over to Terry Rozier’s locker to show him that he added another steal to his league-leading total. Rozier doesn’t like that Irving has more steals than him. This is their thing, and that’s pretty fun, since Irving came to Boston with no defensive reputation.
• In the Lakers locker room, Ball addressed the media after a 4-for-15 shooting effort that dropped his field goal percentage to 29.5, worst in the league among players who have attempted at least 100 shots this season. “It’s in my head,” he said, “to be honest.”
• Across the hall, I could finally read Irving’s back tattoo. It says, “The journey is the reward.”
• “You definitely felt a different buzz from the other games,” Irving said of his first Celtics-Lakers experience. “Then, of course, the ‘Beat L.A.’ chants. I’ve only watched that on YouTube. Now I got to experience it out here, so it was exciting.”