Boston (9-2) are opening a three-game home stand after sweeping their three-game road swing with a 110-107 win at Atlanta on Monday night. Kyrie Irving scored 12 of his season-high 35 points in the final 7:14, including a go-ahead 3-pointer with 1:37 to play that gave the Celtics the lead for good.
Irving finished 14 of 22 from the field in his best game since joining the Celtics in the offseason. Boston are enjoying their longest winning streak since a 14-game run from November 22 to December 22, 2010, and own the NBA’s best record.
Rookie Jayson Tatum added 21 points and eight rebounds and is shooting 18 of 34 from 3-point range and 50 percent overall. The Celtics lead the league in scoring defense at 94.5 points allowed per game and are second in scoring margin at plus-9.1 points per game, trailing only the Golden State Warriors.
The Lakers (5-5) won back-to-back games for the first time this season after defeating Memphis 107-102 on Monday night. Brook Lopez scored 21 points and Brandon Ingram added 20 as Los Angeles had six players in double figures.
Rookie guard Lonzo Ball’s shooting woes continued as he went 3 of 13 from the field. The second overall pick is shooting 23.4 percent from 3-point range and 29.9 percent overall in his debut NBA season. Ball has scored in double figures just twice in his first ten games but is averaging 6.9 assists, second to Philadelphia’s Ben Simmons among all rookies, and 6.4 rebounds.
Three keys to the game
Tatum's coffin corners - Tatum's 52.9 percent shooting from beyond the arc leads all qualifying rookies, and a large reason is he's being left alone in the corner. He's hit 9 of 11 from 3-point range when shooting in the corners and had a key bucket there late in Monday night's win.
No stopping Kuzma - After being the energy guy off the bench the first eight games of his NBA career, rookie Kyle Kuzma has seamlessly slotted into the Lakers' starting five after Larry Nance Jr. suffered a broken hand. Kuzma has posted double-doubles in both games as a starter, and his 62.1 effective field goal percentage leads all qualifying rookies.
Al Horford, chairman of the defensive boards - Boston leads the NBA with 406 defensive rebounds through games played Monday, and Horford is the primary contributor with 85. His 7.7 defensive rebounds per game rank 13th in the league, well above his 5.4 per game from last season and on pace to be his career high. The Celtics are 6-0 when he grabs eight or more boards on the defensive end, and they rank second in the league with a plus-5.9 margin in rebounds.
Matchup to watch
Lonzo Ball vs Kyrie Irving - Ball's on-the-job training at the point continues against Irving, who is arguably the best scoring counterpart he's faced to date. Ball, however, held his own against John Wall in an overtime win over the Wizards, hounding him into a 7-for-22 shooting night and limiting him to 18 points, and the Lakers outscored Washington by 13 points when Ball was on the court.
Irving has scored 20 or more points in 9 of Boston's 11 games and also is an underrated two-way player who meshes perfectly with Brad Stevens' defensive concepts; he has more steals (24) than turnovers (23). It will be difficult for Ball to get going offensively scoring-wise, so he must continue facilitating.
Los Angeles Lakers projected starting lineup
PG - Lonzo Ball | SG - Kentavious Caldwell-Pope | C - Brook Lopez | SF - Brandon Ingram | PF - Kyle Kuzma
Boston Celtics projected starting lineup
PG - Kyrie Irving | SG - Jaylen Brown | C - Marcus Morris | SF - Jayson Tatum | PF - Al Horford
Irving has lit up the Lakers of late, averaging 29.7 points while shooting a stellar 60.7 percent in that span. He had 46 in his last game against Los Angeles, shooting 6 of 10 from 3-point range and 15 of 21 overall in rallying Cleveland to a 125-120 victory.
Despite shooting 4 for 17 in his last two games against the Lakers, Marcus Smart has stuffed the scoreline with 11 assists, 9 steals and 8 rebounds in those games.
Lopez is no stranger to the Celtics from his days with the Brooklyn Nets and has averaged 18.2 points and 6.2 rebounds in 29 lifetime matchups while shooting 50.5 percent. Caldwell-Pope averaged 20.3 points in three games versus Boston last season and hit 7 of 19 from 3-point range.
Surprisingly, this line has dropped 1.5 points since it opened, and the Celtics are now 8.5-point favorites. Boston are 8-1 against the spread in their last nine games after scoring 100 or more points in the previous game and they're also 4-1 against the number in their last five versus Western Conference opponents. The over/under is 208 points, which feels high given how strong the Celtics are defensively along the interior coupled with the fact the Lakers are 29th in the NBA in 3-pointers made (74) and 3-point percentage (31.4). Boston do not give up many easy baskets, and they will be challenged by the Lakers, who are second in transition points at 15.9 per contest.
This was the Kyrie Irving everyone was waiting for in Boston, and the Celtics have the look of a team building a foundation that will let them improve over the course of this season. Marcus Morris should be back at center after being given off Monday to rest on back-to-back nights, and that gives Stevens his usual nine-man rotation with Smart, Terence Rozier, Aron Baynes and Semi Ojeleye on the bench.
The Celtics have also enjoyed an uptick in 3-point shooting of late, hitting at a 39.1 percent clip in their last five contests. The Lakers lead the NBA in points in the paint at 56.4 per game, and they will be hard-pressed to reach that number considering the Celtics give up 43.8 per game in the paint. Los Angeles do not have the backcourt scoring to offset Irving, and the Celtics should extend their winning streak with a 104-94 victory.
The game will be televised nationally on ESPN and TSN in Canada, and locally by Spectrum Sports Net. Tip off time is 8 pm ET.
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