Celtics

6 takeaways as Celtics go flat in second half and Lakers roll to victory

Jayson Tatum scored 34 points in the loss.

Lakers Celtics takeaways
Los Angeles Lakers forward LeBron James drives past Boston Celtics center Al Horford. AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez

Here are the takeaways as the Celtics went cold in the second half and got blown out by LeBron James and the Lakers on Tuesday in a loss that dropped them from 6th to 10th in the crowded Eastern Conference.

1. Jayson Tatum started strong, burying his first four 3-point attempts. Tatum is often excellent against the Lakers, and he didn’t deviate Wednesday — 34 points on 13-for-22 shooting, 5-for-7 from 3-point range. Robert Williams also towered over Anthony Davis on multiple alley-oops in the first half.

Tatum and Williams, however, were essentially the only offensive highlights. Al Horford was 3-for-9. Dennis Schröder was 1-for-6. Marcus Smart was 2-for-7. As a team, the Celtics apart from Tatum and Williams shot 18-for-53 (33 percent) and 5-for-26 from three (19 percent).

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The Lakers’ defense was uncharacteristically stifling, and the Celtics were due for a regression after scoring 130 and 145 points in their first two games of the road trip. Still, Tuesday’s loss hammered home how tough it was to drop the game where they scored 130 — instead of an impressive 2-1 start to the trip, the Celtics are now a worrisome 1-2 and are back to one game over .500.

2. Ime Udoka is notoriously willing to voice his opinion — in a calm, collected way — when he isn’t pleased. On Tuesday, he said he pulled the starters earlier than usual in the fourth quarter partly because of the looming back-to-back against the Clippers but also because that unit “didn’t have a spark.”

“[Tatum] was scoring, we weren’t defending,” Udoka said. “I don’t feel our defensive effort and overall recognition was very good today.”

“Doesn’t matter who it is,” he later added. “I don’t feel we were sharp tonight on the defensive end or offensively, quite frankly.”

The Celtics did look oddly lifeless for a game against their rivals.

“This may be the second time all season, I think, that we didn’t necessarily play harder than the other team,” Tatum said. “… We just didn’t have that same pop, and that’s the toughest part about it.”

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3. The Lakers dominated in the paint, outscoring the Celtics 66-42. Like most teams, the Celtics had little answer for LeBron James (30 points, 13-for-19), and when they sent a double, he predictably simply passed out of it.

Russell Westbrook, meanwhile, pounded his way to the rim repeatedly in the second half after the Celtics dared him to shoot from 3-point range for most of the game. Matched up against smaller guards, Westbrook simply muscled his way into them then exploded to the rim.

His 24-point performance culminated in a huge one-handed dunk in the third quarter that pushed the Lakers’ lead to 19.

Udoka said the Celtics were “out-toughed.”

“Our shifts and our crowds, helping off certain guys, we were hugged up on guys and allowing guys to go 1-on-1 in the paint,” Udoka said. “Not our best overall focus overall.”

3. The Celtics have punished opponents on the offensive glass with a combination of Robert Williams’s energy and athleticism and Enes Freedom off the bench, but the Lakers turned the tables with 13 offensive boards. In the second half particularly, the Celtics couldn’t end possessions consistently, which killed any chance of a rally.

4. At one point in the third quarter, James chatted with the Celtics’ bench while lining up for a free throw. Whatever the topic, Grant Williams, Jaylen Brown and James all seemed to find it pretty funny.

Freedom was sitting next to Williams. Given the seemingly friendly nature of the exchange, the guess here is James was not speaking to him.

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5. The garbage-time unit sparked a mini-run in the fourth quarter, trimming the Lakers’ lead from 20-plus to 10 before an exasperated Frank Vogel had to call a timeout.

Unfortunately for the Celtics, the timeout was all the Lakers needed to wrestle control back. A 3-pointer and a big dunk by Malik Monk secured a win LeBron James later called the Lakers’ best of the season so far.

6. Tuesday’s loss started one of the toughest stretches of the Celtics’ season — on Wednesday, they face the Clippers (also 13-12, just like the Celtics and Lakers) followed by a showdown Friday against the juggernaut Suns. Those games precede a visit from the Bucks to TD Garden on Monday.

Robert Williams sounded dejected about the Celtics’ performance — particularly on the defensive end — but as he noted, a win on Wednesday would help.

“Just the will in everybody to want a W, want a win,” he said. “We just lost tonight, obviously not happy about that. So as long as everybody is locked in mentally and physically, I feel like we’ll be good.”

The Celtics and Clippers tip off at 10:30 p.m. EST

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