The Cleveland Cavaliers aren’t the only team in the Eastern Conference trending in the wrong direction.
The Boston Celtics dropped their fourth consecutive game Tuesday, this time falling to the Los Angeles Lakers 108-107 at Staples Center. Marcus Smart had the opportunity to win it with a jumper at the buzzer after Kentavious Caldwell-Pope missed two free throws, but his three-pointer rimmed out.
Kyle Kuzma led the way for the victors, taking over for stretches in the fourth quarter and tallying 28 points, four rebounds and three assists for Los Angeles, which has won three straight without the injured Lonzo Ball.
Boston got 33 points and four assists from Kyrie Irving, but it was to no avail, as it couldn’t protect a double-digit lead on the road.
The Celtics likely would have rather had Irving take the final shot instead of Smart given the former’s impressive performance and the 12 points he scored in the fourth quarter, but Smart had the hot hand for much of Tuesday’s contest.
He drilled four of his 10 three-pointers on his way to 22 points, 15 of which came in the first half. He also dished out eight assists, taking advantage of openings when the Lakers closed on him. Smart also made two free throws with less than 20 seconds remaining to get Boston within one and help set up the dramatic finish.
Still, neither Smart nor Irving could match what Kuzma did down the stretch.
The rookie poured in 17 points in the fourth quarter alone, single-handedly providing much of the Los Angeles offense with the game hanging in the balance. The Lakers faced an 88-82 deficit with eight minutes remaining but had a 95-91 lead with five minutes left thanks to three triples, two free throws and an assist by Kuzma.
He was more than just a spark off the bench, using his size to shoot over smaller Celtics defenders and his athleticism to get past the likes of Al Horford or Marcus Morris in the paint when he attacked the rim.
It was the type of showing that figures to provide hope in Los Angeles despite what is shaping up to be another lost season, especially if Ball and Brandon Ingram—who shot just 2-of-11—continue to develop alongside him.
Kuzma even mixed in some style throughout the contest:
What made the performance even more impressive was the fact it came against a Boston team that is first in the league in defensive rating, per NBA.com.
It appeared as if the Celtics were going to ride that stifling defense to a win in the early going, as they held the Lakers to 15 points in the first quarter. Los Angeles was stationary for far too many possessions on the offensive end, which allowed Boston to set the tone and contest shots.
Kuzma and Jordan Clarkson changed the tempo off the bench, however, with the latter tallying 22 points, five rebounds and four assists. Their presence helped open up the offense, and Julius Randle (14 points, 14 rebounds) and others took advantage during an 18-3 run in the second and third quarters as the Lakers climbed back into the game.
From there, Kuzma and Irving did much of the heavy lifting.
The Lakers will look to keep rolling Friday when they start a five-game road trip at the Chicago Bulls. The Celtics will attempt to turn things around in Los Angeles against the Clippers on Wednesday.
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